After setting the fires, the societal retaliation serial arsonist does not
contact the media or law enforcement and does not interject himself into the
case. He does not take souvenirs nor does he even follow the cases in the media.
In all respects, his life style does not change before or after committing an
arson. He typically uses drugs or alcohol before setting fires but not at a
level of usage significantly different from normal. His arsons tend to increase
in both frequency and severity over time.
221. Personal Retaliation Serial Arsonists
Five of the serial arsonists in the ABIS study were classified as personal
retaliation serial arsonists (Douglas et al, 1992). There was insufficient information
to form typical statements about this type of serial arsonist. Therefore the
discussion below will summarize the observed traits and characteristics of the
personal retaliation serial arsonist.
Attributes of the Personal Retaliation Serial Arsonist
All five personal retaliation serial arsonists were white, four males and one
female. All four of the men had tattoos. One was married, two divorced, and
two were single. The average educational level for the five personal retaliation
arsonists was 7. 75 years. Only one had reached the level of a General Education
Development (GED) certificate. One had served in the military and two others
had been rejected for military service. All five had histories of misdemeanor
and felony arrests. The four men had multiple misdemeanor arrests and multiple
felony arrests. The female had only one misdemeanor arrest for petty theft but
Life History of the Personal Retaliation Serial Arsonist
Only one personal retaliation serial arsonists had a foster home placement
but all five had several stays in juvenile detention, state juvenile institutions,
county jails, and state prisons. Two had also been in a mental health institution.
All five had psychological histories and two had attempted suicide. Four of
the five had some type of permanent physical handicap or chronic medical condition.
Two of the men were heterosexual, two were bisexual and the female identified
her sexual personal as homosexual. They had generally stable work histories
in jobs involving unskilled and skilled labor. The average IQ score was in the
low normal range.
Two came from middle class families and the remainder from lower class families.
Two families were described as advantaged or comfortable socioeconomically.
The other three were either marginal or submarginal. Three of the five families
were described as usually stable and two as chronically unstable. Three lived
in families with both parents present, one with mother alone and one with other
relatives. All five of the personal retaliation serial arsonists described their
relationship with their mother as warm and close but three described their paternal
relationship as hostile and aggressive. The family atmosphere was warm and friendly
for two, cold and troubled for two and sometimes one and then the other for
the remaining member of the group. Similarly there were mixed ratings given
to playmates and school atmosphere by the personal retaliation serial arsonists.
History of Arson by the Personal Retaliation Serial Arsonists
The personal retaliation serial arsonists set their first fire at an average
age of 23 years, although the range was from 7 years of age to 41 years. The
personal retaliation arsonists set a total of 27 fires, an average of 5.3 each.
The fires were set within 1-2 miles of the arsonists home or workplace
and were usually set after work or on days off and weekends. All were in areas
with which the arsonist was well acquainted and all were committed alone. Target
selection was based on directing the retaliation at a person. When open entry
was not available, the arsonist either broke in or set a fire outside.
Feelings as the fire was being set were described as angry, mad, getting even
and revenge. Four of the fires were set in residences and four in vehicles that
belonged to the person against whom the arsonist was retaliating. No fires were
set in businesses by the personal retaliation serial arsonists.
Characteristics of the Offenses by the Personal Retaliation Serial Arsonists
Available materials or gasoline were used as accelerants and gas cans and matches
were left behind at the scene. Two of the five personal retaliation serial arsonists
used a device for ignition. One used a candle to delay ignition and the other
threw a Molotov cocktail against the wall of a house.
After setting the fire, the personal retaliation serial arsonists left the
scene and only returned to the scene after 1-2 days. On average they were questioned
four times without being arrested. When arrested, four did not resist while
one struggled physically with the arresting officers. Two denied responsibility
and three accepted full responsibility.
They did not consider the possibility of being caught and three of the five
stated they would have set the fire even if they knew they would have been caught.
None took any actions to avoid identification. The personal retaliation serial
arsonists did not change their life style or behavior after setting a personal
retaliation fire. One contacted both the police and the victim after a fire.
Three of the personal retaliation serial arsonists used alcohol before setting
a personal retaliation fire and two of the three indicated that the use of alcohol
exceeded the normal pattern of usage. Two used drugs without significant deviation
from regular drug usage patterns. Thus while substance use may be associated
with personal retaliation arsons, the association does not appear to be a critical
or essential element in the crime. The frequency of fires set by the personal
retaliation serial arsonists did not significantly change over time. The severity
of the fires also remained consistent over time.
Institutional Retaliation Serial Arsonists
In the ABIS study of serial arsonists, seven were classified as institutional
retaliation arsonists. This classification of arsonist targets institutions
such as churches, government buildings, universities, educational facilities
or corporations (Douglas et al, 1992). The following discussion provides summarized
information about the behaviors and traits of the seven institutional retaliation
Attributes of Institutional Retaliation Serial Arsonists
All seven of the institutional retaliation serial arsonists were males. Five
were white, one black and 1 Hispanic. Four had tattoos and all seven were single.
Only one had a previous marriage. Their average educational level was 8.3 years
of schooling. Six of the seven had misdemeanor records and all seven had felony
records. Four of the seven had previously served a felony sentence for aggravated
Life History of Institutional Retaliation Serial Arsonists
Four of the seven had records of juvenile detention and juvenile institutions.
Three had mental health institution stays in their background and a history
of psychological problems. All had served prison time. Three defined themselves
as bisexual and four as heterosexual. Overall IQ scores were in the average
intelligence range. Four of the institutional retaliation serial arsonists came
from middle class families and three from lower class families. Four described
their family atmosphere as warm and friendly. The other three said their family
atmosphere was cold and distant. School atmosphere was warm and friendly for
three and cold and distant for three. Playmates were described as war and friendly.