Vehicle Arson

     Automobiles seem to be very combustible…they contain flammable liquids, have many electrical circuits, and their interiors are made of combustible material. Combine that with a careless smoker and you have a vehicle fire, or so you would think. But actually, with new technology, most interiors are fire resistant–a cigarette will seldom ignite a seat cover or a floor  mat, the fuel systems are designed with safety in mind, and the electrical circuits are shut off by fuses and other interrupt devices.

     Accidental vehicle fires do occur, but the fire generally remains in one compartment, i.e. engine, trunk, glove compartment or interior….

     There are two types of vehicle arsonist: amateur and professional. An amateur is usually behind on his car payments and desperate to rid himself of the car. He knows that the vehicle must be declared totaled by his insurance company, so he will go for mass destruction. The professional criminal uses vehicle arson to conceal other crimes: stolen cars used during the commission of a crime, or a homicide, for example.

     In general, after driving a car to a remote location, the arsonist will completely dowse the interior and exterior of the vehicle with a combustible material such as gasoline and set the fire. A one- to five-gallon gas can is generally found at the scene. Using five gallons is quite dangerous, and the arsonist may end up like the car if the flammable vapors have saturated the area.

     The arsonist might make what are known as trailers by pouring a stream of gasoline from the vehicle to a location he feels is far enough away from the vehicle to ignite it safely. These types of fires are easily tagged as arson because of the evidence left behind….

Mauro V. Corvasce and Joseph R. Paglino, Modus Operandi, 1995 

     Automobiles seem to be very combustible…they contain flammable liquids, have many electrical circuits, and their interiors are made of combustible material. Combine that with a careless smoker and you have a vehicle fire, or so you would think. But actually, with new technology, most interiors are fire resistant--a cigarette will seldom ignite a seat cover or a floor  mat, the fuel systems are designed with safety in mind, and the electrical circuits are shut off by fuses and other interrupt devices.

     Accidental vehicle fires do occur, but the fire generally remains in one compartment, i.e. engine, trunk, glove compartment or interior….

     There are two types of vehicle arsonist: amateur and professional. An amateur is usually behind on his car payments and desperate to rid himself of the car. He knows that the vehicle must be declared totaled by his insurance company, so he will go for mass destruction. The professional criminal uses vehicle arson to conceal other crimes: stolen cars used during the commission of a crime, or a homicide, for example.

     In general, after driving a car to a remote location, the arsonist will completely dowse the interior and exterior of the vehicle with a combustible material such as gasoline and set the fire. A one- to five-gallon gas can is generally found at the scene. Using five gallons is quite dangerous, and the arsonist may end up like the car if the flammable vapors have saturated the area.

     The arsonist might make what are known as trailers by pouring a stream of gasoline from the vehicle to a location he feels is far enough away from the vehicle to ignite it safely. These types of fires are easily tagged as arson because of the evidence left behind….

Mauro V. Corvasce and Joseph R. Paglino, Modus Operandi, 1995 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Who Murdered Jessica Chambers?

      Jessica Chambers, an attractive, blond 19-year-old, lived with her family in Courtland, Mississippi, a village of 460 people 50 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee. The recent high school graduate, a former cheerleader and softball p…

      Jessica Chambers, an attractive, blond 19-year-old, lived with her family in Courtland, Mississippi, a village of 460 people 50 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee. The recent high school graduate, a former cheerleader and softball player, hoped to start college soon. She had just started working at Goody's Department Store in nearby Batesville.

     At six in the evening of Saturday December 10, 2014, Jessica drove to a gas station and convenience store on Highway 51 not far from her home where she pumped $14 worth of gasoline into her car. Inside the store, a cashier asked Chambers why she had bought more than her usual $5 in gas. Chambers said she was going somewhere and needed the fuel. About that time she called her mother to inform her she was on her way to Batesville to clean her car.

     Before walking out of the convenience store, Chambers purchased a pack of cigarettes and received a call on her cellphone. A few minutes later, just before six-thirty, she climbed into her vehicle and drove off. Surveillance camera footage revealed that she wore a dark sweater and pajama pants that looked like sweats.

     At eight o'clock that night, local firefighters responded to a call regarding a burning vehicle along Herron Road in a remote part of Panola County not far from the gas station. The emergency responders came upon a person walking down the road near the car. Jessica Chambers had been doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire.

     Chambers was airlifted to a hospital in Memphis where, a short time later, she died from burns on 98 percent of her body. Only the bottoms of her feet were not charred.

     At a law enforcement press conference the next day, the local district attorney labeled Chamber's death a criminal homicide. The Panola County sheriff told reporters that before she died, Chambers had spoken to firefighters. "She told them who had done it," he said.

     According to some media reports, the murder victim had also been bludgeoned on the top of her head with a hard object. There were also reports that the killer had squirted lighter fluid down her throat, a detail not confirmed by the authorities.

     While the victim's older sister informed reporters that she didn't know of anyone who had a grudge against Jessica, friends of the murdered girl posted online messages about a former, abusive boyfriend.

     At the press conference, law enforcement authorities said they had questioned several people but didn't have a suspect in the murder.

     The U.S. Marshals Service offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Chamber's killer. The local Crime Stoppers group posted a separate reward of $1,000.

    The Chambers case remained unsolved. Investigation had revealed, however, that the victim had been hanging out with a rough crowd that included local drug dealers. Her latest boyfriend, Travis Sanford, had been in jail on a burglary charge at the time of her murder. In the weeks before she died, Jessica Chambers told her father, a mechanic with the sheriff's office, that "Everybody thinks I'm snitching because you work for the police."

     In February 2016, police arrested 27-year-old Quinton Tellis after deleted data from his cell phone possibly placed him with Chambers just before her murder. There were no eyewitnesses, no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, and he didn't confess. His attorney contested the accuracy of the cell phone evidence.

     In October 2017, a jury sitting in Batesville, Mississippi failed to reach a verdict in the Tellis case. The judge declared a mistrial.

     Quinton Tellis was tried again in October 2018. The jury, split 50-50, was unable to declare a verdict after 12 hours of deliberation. After the judge declared another mistrial, District Attorney John Champion said he was not sure if he'd try the case for the third time.

     Tellis, having been indicted for the August 8, 2015 murder of Meing-Chen Hsaio in Monroe, Louisiana, remained in custody following the Chambers mistrial. Tellis had been linked to the Louisiana murder after being caught with the victim's debit cards.

     

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

The Young Wildfire Arsonist

     Arson-for-profit is generally an adult male crime while serial, pathological fire setting is often committed by teenage boys. The rare female arsonist is likely to be a 30 to 50-year-old woman who set the fire in her own dwelling to…

     Arson-for-profit is generally an adult male crime while serial, pathological fire setting is often committed by teenage boys. The rare female arsonist is likely to be a 30 to 50-year-old woman who set the fire in her own dwelling to attract attention and sympathy. It's even rarer when a young girl intentionally sets a fire that causes extensive property damage. Because fires set by females are generally not motivated by financial gain, they are by definition pathological offenses. This doesn't necessarily mean that these fire setters are legally insane. In cases of  young female arsonists, the perpetrators set the fires because they are angry with their parents, their teachers, or the world in general. While these fire setters are rare, they are dangerous.

     On May 14, 2014, someone set a fire north of San Diego that raged for eight days and burned 2,000 acres and destroyed 40 buildings including homes in the towns of San Marcos and Escondido, California. The so-called Cocos Wildfire threatened several schools including California State University in San Marcos.

     The Cocos Wildfire cost $28 million to extinguish and destroyed $30 million worth of property. According to cause and origin investigators, the fire had been intentionally set.

     In July 2014 arson investigators identified an unnamed 13-year-old girl as the suspected Cocos fire starter. She resided near the point of origin with her parents who schooled her at home. She was also a top competitor in the San Diego area junior cycling program. (Investigators have not revealed how they solved the case.)

     Rather than being placed into a juvenile detention facility, the authorities released the suspected arsonist to the custody of her parents. Under the terms of this arrangement she is not allowed out of the house from six in the evening to six in the morning. The rest of the day she has to be accompanied by a parent when she leaves the house.

     Superior Court Judge Aaron Katz ordered that the young defendant undergo psychological evaluation to determine if she is mentally competent to stand trial on the charges of felony arson. On August 20, 2014, following a three-week evaluation process, Juvenile Court Judge Rod Shelton found the suspect mentally competent to stand trial. She has, according to the psychologists, the capacity to understand the nature of the charges against her as well as the ability to help her attorney plan a defense.

     At the suspect's arraignment on the felony arson charges she pleaded not guilty.

     In March 2015, the young fire setter was found guilty of several counts of arson, The judge sentenced the juvenile to 400 hours of community service.

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

The Carlos Diaz Attempted Murder-Arson Case

     Carlos Diaz and Cathy Zappata were married in 2007. He worked at W. D. Auto Repair at Tenth Avenue and 207th Street in Harlem, New York. A year later, the couple had a son. In 2010, Diaz lost his job at the body shop, and shortly af…

     Carlos Diaz and Cathy Zappata were married in 2007. He worked at W. D. Auto Repair at Tenth Avenue and 207th Street in Harlem, New York. A year later, the couple had a son. In 2010, Diaz lost his job at the body shop, and shortly after that his marriage fell apart. He became homeless, moving from one parking lot to another where he slept in his van.

     Although estranged from his wife, Diaz refused to accept the fact they were finished as a couple. He resented it when Cathy, to improve her looks, had cosmetic breast surgery and liposuction. She also made him jealous by going out with other men.

     On January 15, 2013, Diaz flew into a rage when he discovered that Cathy had sent a nude photograph of herself by cellphone to another man. This was the straw that broke the camel's back. The next morning, at eight o'clock, Diaz asked Cathy to meet him at a Pathmark parking lot on Ninth Avenue at 207th Street where he had spent the night in his van. The lot was a block from the auto body shop where he had once worked.

     As Cathy sat behind the wheel of her car, Diaz sprayed the 38-year-old's face, head, and neck with lighter fluid, then ignited the accelerant with a blowtorch. With her entire head engulfed in flames, Cathy managed to exit the vehicle and extinguish the fire by rolling in a puddle of water. (The victim was rushed to Harlem Hospital's burn unit with second-degree burns on her lips, eyelids, nose, cheeks, and neck. Her hair had been burned off to the scalp. Doctors listed her condition as critical.)

     After setting his estranged wife on fire, Diaz, in possession of a can of gasoline, walked to W. D. Auto Repair. He found the owner, Helson Marachena, the man who had fired him, in his office. Diaz doused the room with the accelerant, but when he tried to ignite the place, his lighter wouldn't fire. The malfunctioning lighter gave Mr. Marachena the opportunity to escape.

     Later in the day, the 35-year-old arsonist turned himself in to the New York City police. When questioned by detectives, Diaz said, "I had to teach her a lesson. To give her a little pain. Now she can worry about our kid and get serious instead of focusing on going out with other men." In relating how he felt when he discovered the nude photograph on his wife's cellphone, Diaz said, "I couldn't think straight. I wanted to pass out. I had to do something. I had to be a man about it. She hurt my pride." Diaz described his perception of his marriage this way: "She was my right arm. I did everything for her. I forgot all about my own life. I just worked to support her and to pay the rent. And this is what she does."

     Charged with attempted murder, arson, assault, and attempted assault, Diaz was held at the city jail on Riker's Island. A magistrate denied him bail.

     On December 15, 2015, a jury in New York City took just four hours to find Diaz guilty of attempted murder and the other charges. Three weeks later, the judge sentenced Diaz to 35 years to life in prison.

     Jealous boyfriends, discarded husbands, and rejected suitors can be dangerous. In the annals of crime, men like Carlos Diaz have done terrible things with fire, including mass murder. It's extremely difficult for women to protect themselves from these angry, sociopathic losers who feel justified in their acts of violence. 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

New Wave of Prosecutors Push ‘Boldly Liberal Agenda’

Newly elected district attorneys from Texas to Boston are freezing use of the death penalty, decriminalizing marijuana possession, diverting low-level offenders to classes and treatment instead of jail, seeking less severe sentences and vowing to prosecute police-involved shootings aggressively.

The improbable ascent of self-styled “Mexican biker lawyer” Mark Gonzalez as district attorney in Nueces County, Tx., speaks to the profound change sweeping dozens of local prosecutors offices, the Washington Post reports.  From the Gulf Coast to Denver, Chicago and Philadelphia, voters have turned to a new wave of district attorneys pushing a boldly liberal agenda. They are freezing use of the death penalty, decriminalizing marijuana possession, diverting low-level offenders to classes and treatment instead of jail, seeking less severe sentences and vowing to prosecute police-involved shootings aggressively. In a field that is 95 percent white and overwhelmingly male, many are minorities, women or gays and hail from unlikely backgrounds, such as civil rights work or the public defender’s office.

The push intensified in this month’s elections, with liberal groups including George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, the American Civil Liberties Union and a political action committee created by Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King contributing millions of dollars or resources to expand the small pool of progressive prosecutors. They had successes in Boston, Dallas and San Antonio, as well as in the race for Delaware attorney general. Te prosecutors represent one of the biggest hopes for criminal-justice reformers in an era when President Trump has largely pushed for a harsher approach. This new breed of prosecutors is upending a traditional tough-on-crime focus by emphasizing a holistic approach over conviction rates and long sentences. In Texas, Gonzalez plans in January to roll out a cite-and-release program that will keep those charged with low-level offenses out of jail. He said the program will save the county $24,000 a month and also keep the poor, addicted and mentally ill from languishing behind bars.

from https://thecrimereport.org

The Female Arsonist

     Arson is mainly a man’s crime, but women have gotten into the act. Men usually use arson to defraud insurance companies while women tend to set fires for pathological reasons.Sadie Renee Johnson     In July 2013, a wi…

     Arson is mainly a man's crime, but women have gotten into the act. Men usually use arson to defraud insurance companies while women tend to set fires for pathological reasons.

Sadie Renee Johnson

     In July 2013, a wildfire broke out on the Warm Springs, Oregon Indian Reservation. Before being brought under control it scorched 51,000 acres and cost the federal government $8 million to extinguish. At least no one was injured.

     Two day after the start of the blaze, 23-year-old Sadie Renee Johnson wrote this on her Facebook page: "Like my fire?"

     Interrogated by detectives, Johnson confessed to intentionally setting the fire by throwing a firecracker from her car into roadside brush. She said she had no idea the fire would spread so fast, burn so much land, and threaten so many people. Asked why she committed arson, Johnson said she thought her firefighter friends were bored and needed work.

     On May 19, 2014, Johnson pleaded guilty to arson in federal court. Pursuant to the plea agreement the judge will sentence her in September to 18 months in prison. Under federal law the maximum penalty for this crime is five years behind bars and three years probation.

     To quote John Wayne, "Life is tough. It's even tougher when you're stupid."

Martha Dreher

     In early August 2014, Adam Williams came home to his empty house in Austin, Texas to find the dwelling filled with smoke. His father, Glenn Williams and Adam's two pre-teen sisters were out of town.

     Fire investigators determined that fires had been set in each of the girls' bedrooms. Due to lack of oxygen and highly combustable fuel, the fires had burned themselves out. Nevertheless, the 90-year-old  historic house, due to smoke damage, had to be gutted. So, who had committed this arson?

     Glenn Williams told detectives that a couple of months ago he had hired 57-year-old Martha Dreher to babysit his daughters. According to him, she had recently complained that the girls treated her with disrespect. As a result, she had threatened to quit.

     In reviewing surveillance camera footage, investigators saw Martha Dreher drive up to the Williams house. Twenty minutes later, when she drove off, flames could be seen in the bedroom windows.

     Based on this circumstantial evidence, a Travis County prosecutor charged Dreher with felony arson. At her arraignment, the suspect pleaded not guilty. Her attorney, Amber Bode, in speaking to reporters, said, "The thing that we are going to be pushing for--in addition to lie detection tests and everything else that we can do to prove her innocence--is evidence." (I cannot find a disposition of this case.)

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Earl Albert Moore Tried to Bomb Colorado Mall on Columbine Anniversary

  ​ Breakfast reading from the True Crime Report archives: Just seven days before his attempted attack, he was released from prison in Georgia, where he was serving a bank-robbery jolt. And now he’s the subject of a nationwide manhunt. Westword has the story.

The post Earl Albert Moore Tried to Bomb Colorado Mall on Columbine Anniversary appeared first on True Crime Report.

  ​ Breakfast reading from the True Crime Report archives: Just seven days before his attempted attack, he was released from prison in Georgia, where he was serving a bank-robbery jolt. And now he’s the subject of a nationwide manhunt. Westword has the story.

The post Earl Albert Moore Tried to Bomb Colorado Mall on Columbine Anniversary appeared first on True Crime Report.

from http://www.truecrimereport.com

The Laquanta Chapman Chainsaw Murder Case

     On the afternoon of October 30, 2008, Aaron Turner, a 16-year-old high school student in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, a Chester County town in the southeastern part of the state, walked home from a community service program for juveni…

     On the afternoon of October 30, 2008, Aaron Turner, a 16-year-old high school student in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, a Chester County town in the southeastern part of the state, walked home from a community service program for juvenile delinquents. He wore an electronic ankle monitor. Before he reached his parents' house, Turner encountered 28-year-old Laquanta Chapman and two other men. Chapman, who lived across the street from Turner, lured the boy into his house. (It is not clear from the reporting on this case why Chapman did this.)

     Chapman, his friend Michael Purnell, his cousin Bryan Boyd who was visiting from Newark, New Jersey, and Aaron Turner were together in Chapman's basement. Chapman told his 19-year-old cousin to go upstairs and turn the music on as loud as possible. After he did this, Boyd returned to the basement where Chapman and Purnell were screaming at the terrified teen. (Turner either owed Chapman drug money, or had stolen marijuana from him.) The two men pointed handguns at Turner and ordered him to strip off his clothing. Once he was nude, Purnell, then Chapman, shot him. Turner died on the spot.

     When Aaron Turner didn't come home that day, a member of his family called the Coatesville Police Department and reported him missing.

     Five days after the cold-blooded murder, with Aaron Turner still missing, and his decomposing body still lying in Chapman's basement, Chapman decided it was time to dispose of the corpse that was starting to give off a telltale odor. With his cousin's help, Chapman laid Turner's body on a makeshift table. Bryan Boyd and Laquanta Chapman used a pair of chainsaws to cut the body into pieces small enough to fit into trash bags. Chapman, in an effort to destroy DNA evidence left in the chainsaws, used the tools to chop up his pet pit bull. (Chapman, a man with a history of animal abuse, killed his dog for nothing because the ploy didn't work.) Chapman placed several trash bags containing Turner's body parts on the street for refuge pickup.

     More than a year passed, and the police still hadn't recovered Aaron Turner's body. (The teen's dismembered remains had been hauled by trash pickup workers to a local landfill. It was never recovered.) In the meantime, Laquanta Chapman had become a suspect in Turner's disappearance and presumed murder.

     On November 15, 2009,  Coatesville police raided Chapman's house and conducted a search. Officers recovered the two chainsaws which contained DNA evidence that linked Chapman to Turner's murder and dismemberment, and gave the prosecutor circumstantial evidence of Turner's death. (It's hard to believe these killers didn't dispose of the chainsaws.)

     Laquanta Chapman and Bryan Boyd were charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and abuse of corpse. The Chester County prosecutor also charged Chapman with a cruelty to animals offense. Under Pennsylvania law, both defendants had qualified themselves for the death penalty.

     On November 20, 2011, Bryan Boyd, the cousin from Newark, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and abuse of corpse. While he would avoid the death sentence, Boyd could be sentenced up to 97 years in prison. Boyd, as part of his plea deal, agreed to testify against his older cousin.

     Laquanta Chapman went on trial on October 24, 2012 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. On November 9, following the testimony of his cousin, the jury of seven men and five women found him guilty of first degree-murder. He was also convicted of the lesser offenses. The jurors deliberated less than three hours before delivering their verdict.

     A week after the guilty verdict, the judge, following a sentencing hearing, sentenced Laquanta Chapman to death.
       

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Potato Chips As Arson Tool

Crime laboratories do not always detect accelerants that were used in an incendiary fire. Accelerant-sniffing dogs, whose sniffers are more sensitive than even the most sophisticated laboratory equipment, don’t always, either. If it is believed that an…

Crime laboratories do not always detect accelerants that were used in an incendiary fire. Accelerant-sniffing dogs, whose sniffers are more sensitive than even the most sophisticated laboratory equipment, don't always, either. If it is believed that an accelerant was used in the fire, it might be that the accelerant itself is undetectable. One such accelerant could be a bag of potato chips. It is possible to set a bag of chips on fire and throw it on a couch, creating an accelerant-like effect. The fat in the chips make them extremely volatile when ignited (think of a kitchen grease fire). An accelerant-sniffing dog won't even detect the chips, and the labs won't be testing for them, either. The crime scene investigator should always question finding a couch with too many crumbs in the cushions.

Jarrett Hallcox and Amy Welch, Bodies We've Buried, 2006

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

The Charles Smith III and Tonya Bundick Serial Arson Case

     The incendiary fires started on November 12, 2012 in Hopeton, a town 100 miles east of Richmond on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, a peninsula along the Chesapeake Bay. Over the next four months, volunteer firefighters in the county respo…

     The incendiary fires started on November 12, 2012 in Hopeton, a town 100 miles east of Richmond on Virginia's Eastern Shore, a peninsula along the Chesapeake Bay. Over the next four months, volunteer firefighters in the county responded to 77 intentionally set fires involving abandoned houses, barns, camper trailers, and various out-buildings that included a chicken coop.

     Arson investigators with the Virginia State Police and the Accomack County Sheriff's Office suspected that the serial fire-setter was either a disgruntled firefighter, a teenage boy sexually aroused by flames, or a young man committing arson simply for the thrill and excitement of causing havoc. Given the nature of the places burned, financial gain was not a motive. These were pathologically motivated arsons.

     Since the vast majority of arsonists are men, the fire investigators were not looking for a woman. Female arsonists usually have histories of mental illness, and set fire to their own property. A vast majority of the fires set by women are motivated by the need for sympathy and attention.

     On April 2, 2013, forty-five minutes after midnight, a Virginia State Trooper near the Eastern Shore community of Melfa, pulled over a vehicle with an expired inspection sticker. (This was probably not the real reason for the stop.) The traffic stop occurred shortly after a nearby abandoned house had been torched. Later that morning, a local prosecutor charged the occupants of the car, 38-year-old Charles Smith III and Tonya Bundick, his 40-year-old girlfriend, with setting the Melfa house fire.

     Smith (also known as Charlie Applegate) and Bundick were held without bail at the Accomack County Jail. They were both from Accomac, Virginia. Smith, the owner of a body shop, was once captain of the Tasley Volunteer Fire Company. Smith and Bundick had planned to get married within a month.

     A Virginia State Police spokesperson, at a press conference on April 2, 2013 said, "We are confident that Bundick and Smith are guilty of the majority of fires."According to reports, arson investigators watched Smith set the Melfa house fire. He started the blaze with a towel soaked in gasoline.

     Tonya Bundick resided in a dwelling that sat next door to a shed that had been set on fire in December 2012.

     The authorities did not identify the motive behind the arson spree. Since the couple received no monetary gain from the fires, their motives were probably pathological. Perhaps they were bored, or simply angry at the world.

     In October 2013, Smith pleaded guilty to 67 counts of arson. He faced life in prison, and $5.6 million in fines. As part of the plea deal, Smith agreed to testify against Tonya Bundick.

     Bundick's arson trial got underway in Virginia Beach in January 2014. Smith took the stand against the defendant as the prosecution's star witness. Following his testimony, Bundick entered an Alford plea to one count of arson. (She faced dozens of other arson charges.) By this plea, Bundick did not admit guilt, but acknowledged that the prosecution had enough evidence to convict.

     On September 15, 2014, the judge sentenced Tonya Bundick to ten years in prison. The judge, on April 23, 2015, sentenced Charles Smith III to fifteen years behind bars. 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/