Method of Study
Purpose of the study: This study was conducted to identify characteristics
of arson-homicides and to provide arson and homicide investigators with information
on patterns and common characteristics of such crimes. Examination of a large
number of cases, widely dispersed geographically, could provide information
helpful to investigators of these difficult cases. This study is one of a series
of related research projects conducted by the Arson and Bombing Investigative
Services Subunit of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, housed
at the FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia. The subunit has conducted a series of
studies on arson and serial arsonists (see Icove and Estepp, 1987; Icove and
Gilman, 1989; Icove and Horbert, 1990; Sapp, Gary, Huff and James, 1993; Sapp,
Gary, Huff and James, 1994; Sapp, Huff, Gary, Icove, and Horbert, 1994, among
others; see also Douglas, Burgess, Burgess and Ressler, 1992).
The Population Studied: Data for 183 cases of arson-homicide were obtained
from the Federal Bureau of investigations Violent Criminal Apprehension
Program (VICAP), located at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. A data search
was conducted for fire-related homicide cases from the synopses of almost 10,000
cases reported to VICAP from throughout the United States since 1985. The data
set is made up of 183 cases from 36 states and the District of Columbia reported
to VICAP between 1985 and 1994. Only 31 of the cases have been cleared by arrest.
The 183 cases comprise the total population of cases reported to VICAP that
involved significant burning of the body, regardless of whether the burning
was prior to death (ante-mortem) or after death (post-mortem).
Cases reported to the VICAP are not randomly selected but are based on reporting
criteria that is consistent across the nations law enforcement community.
These cases do not represent all arson-homicides that occurred during this period
but probably do include most of the unsolved cases. Since the analyses below
are based on the total cases in VICAP, the differences noted are real differences
and not an artifact of sampling or statistical analysis.
Variables Examined: The study examined variables related to the victim, to
the known offenders, and the offense. Since the data were collected from case
synopses provided by over 150 different law enforcement agencies from 36 states,
data for all of the variables were not always available for analysis. Since
some of the cases had more than one victim, the only victim data included in
the analyses were those available for the primary, or targeted victim. As an
example, in one case, a former boyfriend killed a 26 year old female and subsequently
set her house of fire. Her children, aged six and four, died in the fire. Only
the 26 year-old females characteristics were included since she was the
targeted victim. This protocol was followed throughout the analyses, thus precluding
multiple compounding of data on the offenses and offender.