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Arson Case Briefs

Summaries of arson case briefs provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms are provided below. The full case brief can be viewed by clicking on the link in the summary entry. The case briefs are instructive in both the format of the crimes and in the methods employed in their investigation.

For more information on these and many other cases, contact the ATF, Arson and Explosive Programs Division - (202) 927-7930

Case Summaries:


Charter Mortgage
Modesto, CA
December 11, 1990

On December 11, 1990, an arson destroyed the Charter Mortgage office building in Modesto, California, at a loss of $500,000. The fire started in the basement and spread rapidly throughout the building. The structure, which housed five separate commercial office spaces, was owned jointly by Lloyd Ploutz and Sheldon Thompson. Ploutz was indicted on April 15, 1992, for arson and mail fraud.

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Multiple locations (business and residential) owned by Gary L. DeTemple
Wheeling, WV
Between September 1988 and April 1992

This investigation involved four fires and related offenses that occurred between September 1988 and April 1992. The investigation revealed a scheme in which Gary L. DeTemple, a prominent area businessman, set the first two fires in an effort to obtain insurance proceeds to save his troubled businesses. When this failed, DeTemple used Federal bankruptcy laws to limit both business and personal financial exposure. During the course of the bankruptcy process, DeTemple was found to have committed bankruptcy fraud. The investigation further disclosed that DeTemple set the other two fires in an attempt to use the insurance proceeds to fund his bankruptcy reorganization plan.

DeTemple owned and operated three businesses: Imperial Marine (a boat sales and service business), Imperial Pools (a hot tub and swimming pool installation and service business), and Gary L. DeTemple Construction Company. DeTemple also owned approximately 65 rental units in the Wheeling, West Virginia area.

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Fur Breeders Agricultural Co-Op
Sandy, UT
March 11, 1997

On March 11, 1997, an explosion and fire occurred at the Fur Breeders Agricultural Co-Op in Sandy, Utah. Upon investigation by the fire department, it was apparent that an explosion had occurred on the second level. Further investigation revealed that a number of delivery trucks parked outside, on the south end of the building, had also suffered explosive damage.

The investigation revealed that individuals had entered the structure by breaking the glass in the front door, and had set a fire and placed at least five pipe bombs. That day, an individual telephoned a radio station in Salt Lake City, Utah, and claimed the act was committed in support of animals and "in support of political prisoner Jeff Watkins." Watkins was at the time on a hunger strike in a jail in New York, where he was being held for criminal mischief. An individual who was involved with animal rights groups--specifically, the "Straight Edge" and "Vegan" movements in Utah--was identified and approached about this incident.

With the help of the radio caller, a subject named Douglas Joshua Ellerman was identified. Ellerman subsequently confessed his involvement to ATF agents and members of the investigative group.

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The Future Now, Inc.
Carrollton, TX
October 24, 1994

This case involved the burglary/theft of approximately $1.5 million worth of computers and an associated $4.5 million arson fire that was set to cover that theft on October 24, 1994, at a branch of The Future Now, Inc., located in Carrollton, Texas. An organized criminal enterprise responsible for theft, arson, and the interstate/international distribution of stolen goods was identified as the perpetrator of the subject arson and eight separate commercial thefts involving loss figures in excess of $10 million. Eight of the 16 were charged in Federal court with felony offenses involving conspiracy and arson in The Future Now, Inc., fire. The majority have either pled or been found guilty. One remaining defendant is a fugitive, and the other is awaiting execution on Texas death row for capital murder.

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The Georgetown Mall
South Bend, IN
December 28, 1992

On December 28, 1992, an arson occurred at the Georgetown Mall, 52303 Emmons Road, South Bend, St. Joseph County, Northern District of Indiana. Damages were estimated at approximately $800,000. "Tony" Macri, operator of Macri's Pizza's and involved with Club Shenanigans (the primarly locations of the fire) had been experiencing declining sales. Investigation revealed Macri had stated he would burn the businesses. Roxanna and Tony Macri were separately interviewed. Investigation revealed that they made numerous false statements to investigators. Both stated that they were financially secure and that the business was doing fine. Investigation determined that this was not the case. Most of the evidence against Tony Macri was circumstantial. In addition, Tony Macri's trial was approximately 3 years and 7 months from the date of the fire. Prosecution witnesses were difficult to locate. Furthermore, some of their memories of circumstances and events related to the fire were less than precise. Tony Macri, his brother, and his attorney allegedly approached two prosecution witnesses away from the courtroom during a recess in the trial. The three attempted to persuade the Government witnesses to change their respective testimonies to the grand jury. The witnesses refused and notified the U.S. attorney's office. A hearing was held to discuss the alleged witness tampering, however, the Government chose not to pursue the matter.

On July 18, 1996, following a 9-day Federal trial, Tony Macri was found guilty of two of the three counts charged. He was acquitted by a jury of Count I - Arson, and found guilty of Counts II and III - Mail Fraud. On November 7, 1996, Macri was sentenced to 42 months' incarceration, 2 years' supervised release, and fined $5,000 for each of the two counts for which he was found guilty.

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Kabob House Restaurant
Fargo, ND
October 23, 1995

On October 23, 1995, at approximately 8:40 p.m., a fire occurred at the Kabob House Restaurant. At the time of the fire, Sarabakhsh was found by the front door of the restaurant with her wrists and ankles bound with black tape, and her mouth was gagged with tape. Additionally, a rope tied in a noose had been placed around her neck, and a large "X" had been cut in her abdomen. A subsequent crime scene search revealed the presence of four 1-gallon plastic containers containing flammable liquid marked "Splash" windshield washer fluid; plastic jugs; playtex gloves; and "Ruffies" garbage bags. On October 26, investigators canvassed area Target stores, the exclusive dealer for Splash windshield fluid and Manko plastic tape in the Fargo/Moorhead area. This canvass, along with an examination of the transaction tapes, revealed that on October 22, 1995, at 12:55 p.m., a customer had purchased 5 gallons of Splash windshield washer fluid; two rolls of Manko plastic tape; one pair of playtex gloves; one box of Ruffies plastic garbage bags; and a funnel. On October 27, investigators interviewed a witness who gave a tentative description of Sarabakhsh as the individual who had made the purchase. On June 7, 1996, after several psychiatric evaluations, Sarabakhsh was found to be suffering from psychotic depression and not criminally responsible for these crimes due to her mental condition.

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H.L. Davis & Co.
Rotan, TX
October 17, 1995

On October 17, 1995, an arson occurred at the H.L. Davis & Co. clothing store at 116 W. Sammy Baugh Avenue in Rotan, Texas. The H.L. Davis store was a retail clothing store that was the largest commercial business in the rural town. The fire resulted in the total loss of H.L. Davis & Co. and two other commercial businesses. Damages were estimated to be in excess of $1 million. A local citizen who was assisting the Rotan Volunteer Fire Department during the fire fighting operations was killed when a brick wall collapsed on him. Two Rotan volunteer firemen were also seriously injured when the wall collapsed. The fire destroyed a large section of the downtown area of Rotan, Texas, which had a significant economic impact on that small community. A subsequent investigation revealed signficant financial motive on the part of the owner and comspiracy with others to burn the store for insurance money. Convictions were obtained on a number of involved individuals.

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Howard Johnson Hotel
Bowling Green, KY
January 6, 1996

On January 6, 1996, the Bowling Green Fire Department responded to a fire at the Howard Johnson Hotel. There were three immediate fatalities, and a fourth victim expired the next day. Approximately 15 injured persons were transported to emergency medical facilities. Two of those who died were the parents of three children. The three children were rescued by fire fighters and survived. ATF's National Response Team assisted in the investigation.

An intensive investigation, led by the Bowling Green Field Office, culminated in a 2-month jury trial. Investigation revealed that Suresh Kumar and Devinder Deo Sharma (two of the three owners of the hotel) and Joe A. Logan (a maintenance man employed at the hotel) conspired to set a renovation fire that subsequently raged far beyond the scope of the damage originally planned.

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Linda's Stop and Shop
Houston, TX
December 20, 1994

On December 20, 1994, the Houston Fire Department responded to a reported smell of gasoline fumes at Linda's Stop and Shop, a convenience store in Houston, Texas. Upon arrival, fire department personnel saw shredded papers in two locations that had burned briefly and then extinguished. Inside the store, they also saw several open plastic containers containing possibly flammable liquid inside the store, as well as poured suspected flammable liquid throughout the store. The Houston Arson Bureau and ATF were notified. Store employee Theu Thi Nguyen, no relation to the owner At Thi "Linda" Nguyen, was interviewed and stated that when she arrived to open the store at 7:00 a.m. she found the front door unlocked and the lights turned off. She notified Linda Nguyen, who arrived, acknowledged the gasoline fumes, and told the employee to go home and not call the police. Linda Nguyen was also interviewed and provided suspicious and conflicting accounts as to why the business was found unlocked and why no action was taken to notify police or the fire department when the fumes were discovered. She admitted that the business was doing badly and was over- insured by almost twice its current value. She was eventually convicted of Arson.

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Matthews-Murkland Presbyterian Church
Charlotte, NC
June 6, 1996

On June 6, 1996, at approximately 10:50 p.m., a fire was reported at the Matthews-Murkland Presbyterian Church at 6917 Old Providence Road, Charlotte, North Carolina. The church was a total loss, with damages estimated at approximately $200,000. The congregation at this church, which was located in an affluent section of southeast Charlotte, was predominately African-American. The church was constantly receiving generous offers from developers who wished to purchase the property. Because the structure was being renovated, there were no utilities servicing the building. CFIs from ATF and the Charlotte Fire Department determined that the fire was incendiary with a point of origin at the rear portion of the church. An ATF-trained accelerant detection canine was dispatched to the scene but was unable to detect remaining accelerants.

A Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer was on routine patrol the night after the fire when he happened upon two juveniles with BB-guns. During the subsequent interview, they stated that a juvenile female in their middle school said she was going to burn a church.

The girl was identified. Friends who were interviewed all said that the suspect admitted to them that she had burned the church. Suspect admitted her crime to the police and evidence was found tying her to the location and the act. She was sentenced in juvenile court.

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Pacaccio's Hair Salon
Arlington, TX
February 5, 1996

At approximately 1:00 a.m. on February 5, 1996, an arson fire occurred at Pacaccio's Hair Salon in Arlington, Texas. This salon was centrally located in a strip shopping center that housed, among other things, an exotic (nude) gentlemen's tanning salon and a bar. The fire caused approximately $50,000 in damages to the salon and over $200,000 in damages to the building and other adjoining businesses. Investigation revealed that the owner of the salon, Charles Nathaniel Thomas, had paid a coconspirator, Hardy Gene Parker, $1,000 to set the salon on fire for insurance profits of $70,000 for contents coverage. Parker, in turn, paid coconspirator John Irvin Jenkins $500 to actually set the fire. After the fire, Thomas filed proof of loss statements to Ohio Insurance Company to claim the insurance profits.

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Quarters Gameroom
Evans City, PA
December 27, 1993

On December 27, 1993, an arson fire destroyed the Quarters Gameroom at 128 South Washington Street, Evans City, Pennsylvania. The fire was originally investigated by the Pennsylvania State Police, who performed the origin and cause investigation, classified the fire as an arson, and left further investigation in the hands of local authorities. Subsequent investigation by ATF revealed that Robert Frydrych, the owner of the business, was responsible for setting the fire for the purpose of defrauding the Erie Insurance Company.

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Skyview Casino
Williamstown, VT
April 21, 1993

On April 21, 1993, an arson fire destroyed the Skyview Casino, a privately-owned dance hall in Williamstown, Vermont. A preliminary investigation by the Vermont State Police identified the owners of record for the building, Ronald A. McCoy and Rene L. Crete, as possible suspects in the arson. James M. Stacy was also identified as the "torch" hired by the owners to start the fire. Total loss to the insurance company was $135,000.

Because of the opposition in town to the club's nude dancers and the fact that the insurance coverage was only about $20,000 more than the mortgage owed, the owners were not initially considered to be strong suspects. However, the casino was becoming increasingly difficult to manage. As a result of town meetings in April 1993, the owners were going to be forced to close unless they could find a law enforcement officer willing to work there when the Casino was open.

After the fire, McCoy and Crete made no serious attempt to rebuild but instead sold the land for about $35,000. Thus, although the insurance claim did not yield a high profit, the fire allowed the owners to get rid of the building and then sell the land for a profit.

The break in the case came in July 1993, when Mark Parker was arrested for outstanding motor vehicle violations. In exchange for having his tickets taken care of, Parker told police he would provide information on the Skyview Casino arson. Parker detailed the plan the owners had to burn the club. Witness difficulties and false testimony complicated the case. Eventually, convictions were obtained on the principals.

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Speedline Manufacturing Company, Inc.
Amsterdam, NY
August 16, 1993

On August 16, 1993, a fire destroyed the business premises of Speedline Manufacturing Company, Inc., in Amsterdam, New York. The blaze completely consumed the four-story building, which housed a corrugated cardboard processing plant.

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424 Summer Street
Lynn, MA
February 23, 1994

On February 23, 1994, an arson fire occurred at a three-family apartment building in Lynn, Massachusetts. At the time of the arson, the building was unoccupied and was under renovation by the owner, William Luther. This fire occurred in broad daylight while Luther was inside the building. Investigation revealed that Luther himself set the fire and then feigned being a victim of an accidental explosion and fire. The central issue was origin and cause (a total of five experts testified on O&C). In addition, an insurance expert played a crucial role in sorting out the financial motive at trial.

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605 West Baltimore Street
Willington, IL
April 3, 1996

An arson that resulted in approximately $3 million in damages occurred on April 3, 1996, at approximately 10:18 p.m. in Willington, Illinois. Eighteen fire departments responded to the fire scene, where high winds propelled the blaze though the complex. Two tenants of the building--the City of Willington garage and a business known as the Tire Barn--were destroyed. Three other businesses also suffered heavy damage.

After a substantial investigation and numerous interviews conducted by the Willington Police Department and ATF, a witness was found who identified three boys who were seen playing just before the fire in the parking lot where the used tires were stacked. The juvenile who set the fire was convicted in juvenile court.

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8361 Bricelyn Street (rental property)
Pittsburgh, PA
February 14, 1995

On February 14, 1995, an arson fire damaged a rental property located at 8361 Bricelyn Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Three Pittsburgh fire fighters were killed and three were injured during fire suppression efforts. Subsequent investigation by ATF indicated that the tenant of the dwelling, Darlene Buckner, and her 17-year-old son, Gregory Brown, had set the blaze for the purpose of collecting insurance proceeds.

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Advance Resins
Chicopee, MA
March 4, 1994

On March 5, 1994, a fire was discovered at Advance Resins in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Advance Resins was involved in recycling plastic products. Its owner claimed to have suffered a $3.5 million loss. The owner subsequently was found to have started the fire.

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