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Entries in Arson (15)

Friday
Dec212012

Three Charged with Murder and Arson in Indianapolis Home Explosion

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police(INDIANAPOLIS) -- Prosecutors in Marion County, Indiana Friday announced murder and arson charges against three people in connection with a deadly home explosion Nov. 10 that set off a chain reaction of fires, leaving a neighborhood in ruins — and a young couple dead.

Monserrate Shirley, 47, who owned the home that exploded, was charged along with her live-in boyfriend, Mark Leonard, 43, and his brother, Robert Leonard, 54.

The defendants will have their initial hearings on Monday morning in Marion County Superior Criminal Court.

Authorities allege that the November blast in the Richmond Hill neighborhood of Indianapolis was an intentional act, a conspiracy concocted by the three to collect on a recently-increased $300,000 insurance policy that covered the personal property in the home.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry called it a “thoroughly, thoroughly, senseless act.”

In affidavits unsealed Friday, investigators allege that the trio released natural gas into the home for six to nine hours. The source of ignition for the blast was a microwave oven — allegedly set on a timer to ignite the gas.  Additionally, a regulator restricting gas flow into the home appeared to have been removed, and a valve that controls the flow of gas to a fireplace is missing, authorities said.

Shirley and Mark Leonard were away from the home on the night of the blast, staying overnight at a nearby casino.  Shirley’s 12-year-old daughter had been sent to stay with a babysitter, and the family cat spent the weekend with boarders.

Investigators allege that there was a nearly identical, but failed, attempt to blow up the house a week earlier.   The cat was boarded, the daughter sent to the same babysitter and Leonard and Shirley took off for the same casino.

Mark Leonard, prosecutors allege, had called a friend that weekend to say, “The house blew up.”   Leonard then told the friend that he was surfing the Internet “looking for a Ferrari to buy,” according to an affidavit unsealed Friday.  Leonard allegedly told the friend that Shirley “has jewelry insured and they expect to get $300,000 and he would get $100,000 of it.”  It was only later, prosecutors say, that Leonard discovered that the house had failed to explode that time.

Curry said Friday that as soon as investigators began poring over the remnants of Shirley’s home, they noticed that the microwave oven had been blasted out from the inside.   A small canister found in the kitchen may have been inside the microwave, but authorities say is still being tested for evidence of flammable contents.

When the home exploded on Nov. 10, the noise of the explosion could be heard and felt for miles around — and it sent a blast wave into the home next door, killing John and Jennifer Longworth.    A coroner’s report found that John Longworth, 34, died from burns covering more than 95 percent of his body.      Jennifer Longworth, a 36-year old schoolteacher, died from blast injuries to the head and burns that covered 80 percent of her body. She was found dead in her bed, which had collapsed through the floor to the basement.

Curry said authorities are still seeking at least one other person who, they believe, may have had a role in the crime.  That person was allegedly seen entering the home on the day of the explosion, along with a man matching the description of Robert Leonard.

In addition to two counts of felony murder, all three defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit arson, and 45 counts of arson for causing injuries to others and damage to neighboring homes.  The total damage has been estimated to be in the range of $4 million.

The case qualifies for the death penalty, but Curry said no decision has yet been made on whether to seek it.

Randall Cable, an attorney for defendant Monserrate Shirley, did not immediately respond to emails and phone messages.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct172012

Denver Police Puzzled by Murders, Arson at Local Bar

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DENVER) -- Denver police are puzzled by the late-night murder of four women and a man inside a bar that was then set on fire.

Fero's Bar & Grill erupted into flames early Wednesday morning shortly before closing time following a quiet night of drinking and poker, according to bar patrons. As firefighters battled the flames, they pulled five individuals from the fire, all of whom were dead and showed signs of traumatic homicide, police said Wednesday afternoon.

Authorities are asking bar patrons or witnesses to come forward with any information about how the homicides may have occurred. The police are currently canvassing the neighborhood seeking surveillance video, and are processing some tips, according to police chief Robert White.

"We'd like to think it's an isolated incident but we can't say that with any certainty," White said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. "It's very alarming, that 's why it's important we investigate it to the fullest."

Police believe all of the individuals were killed by some sort of trauma before the fire began, and did not die in the fire, they said.

"More than likely [this was] an attempt to conceal the homicide with an arson," Denver police commander Ron Saunier said.

Denver Fire Lt. Phil Champagne said there was extensive fire damage in the bar, and speculated that the fire would have been difficult to survive if the victims had not already died, according to ABC News affiliate KMGH.

The names of the individuals have not been released by the coroner's office.

Champagne said the fire department received a call around 1:50 a.m. about a fire at the bar. The bar typically closes at 2 a.m., according to police.

Bar patron Tim Johnson told KMGH that the bar was quiet Tuesday night, as he and other regulars played poker. He left the bar around 10:45 p.m., he said, though other players remained after he left.

The incident is being investigated as an arson-homicide, police said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Aug042012

Authorities Suspect Arson as Okla. Wildfires Force Evacuation

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LUTHER, Okla.) -- A dozen raging wildfires fueled by extreme heat and strong winds have forced hundreds of residents in central Oklahoma to evacuate, and investigators now suspect arson as the cause.  
 
The fires have scorched dozens of cars, homes and other structures as firefighters worked throughout Friday night into Saturday morning to bring the situation under control.  

Officials in Luther, about 20 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, are investigating reports that newspapers set on fire were thrown from a pickup truck. Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said 25 homes and a day care center there have been destroyed, Oklahoma newspaper The Oklahoman reports.

The trucks was described as a 2008 black Ford F-150 with red lettering on its side, according to The Oklahoman.

Though several firefighters have been treated for heat exhaustion as temperatures continue to climb above 100 degrees, no fatalities or serious injuries have been reported.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jul232012

Man Charged in Sub Fire that Caused $400M in Damages

The Los Angeles class attack submarine USS Miami (SSN 755) in a file photo. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Kevin K. Langford (WASHINGTON) -- A fire that broke out aboard the USS Miami nuclear submarine in May while it was docked in a Maine shipyard caused $400 million in damages -- and federal authorities now say it was caused by a man who was having problems with his girlfriend and wanted to get off work to see her.

The civilian painter, 24-year-old Casey James Fury, faces charges that could bring life in prison, if he's convicted.

He is also charged with setting another fire in June that was set near the same boat.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Feb022012

Arizona Fire Deaths Ruled Arson-Homicide

Joseph Devenney/Getty Images(SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.) -- The death of a married couple in their torched home in an upscale Arizona community is being investigated as an arson-homicide after the bodies were found tied to a bedpost in the house's master bedroom.

The motive is unclear and there are no suspects, police said Wednesday of the deaths in the Paradise Valley community in Scottsdale. The bodies were found Monday after police arrived at the still-burning house.

Although the bodies have yet to be officially identified, the family of Lawrence and Glenna Shapiro, the owners of the home, has posted messages on a website in their memory and a statement thanking the public for their sympathy and asking for privacy.

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Paradise Valley police said they are waiting for the Medical Examiner's Office to identify the badly burned victims before releasing the names. They are working with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Secret Service on the case.

The deaths are the first murder cases to be handled by Paradise Valley Police Department since 2004.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jan052012

LA Arson Suspect Charged with 37 Counts; Bail Set at $2.85 Million

Hemera/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- The man accused of igniting dozens of fires across Los Angeles during a four-day rampage over New Year's weekend now faces 37 counts of arson and is being held on nearly $3 million bail.

Harry Burkhart was charged with 28 counts of arson of property and nine counts of arson of an inhabited structure Wednesday night when he appeared at a Los Angeles courthouse to be arraigned, according to District Attorney Steve Cooley.  The 24-year-old German national had bail set at $2.85 million.

The charges also allege that an incendiary device designed to accelerate the fire was placed under the engine area of cars.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Upinder S. Kalra ultimately decided to postpone Burkhart's arraignment until Jan. 24, after a delay was requested by the suspect's public defender.  More charges could be filed at that date.

Prosecutors alleged that Burkhart was "motivated by his rage against Americans" when he set a series of 52 blazes in the Los Angeles area, primarily in Hollywood and the Sherman Oaks neighborhoods.  

Sources told ABC News Burkhart may have been motivated by his anger at U.S. immigration authorities that stemmed from a deportation hearing involving his mother, Dorothee, that took place in Los Angeles County about a week and a half ago.

At the hearing, Burkhart broke into a tirade, spewing angry anti-American statements before being escorted from the courtroom by U.S. Marshalls, officials told ABC News.  Officials said he shouted "F... the United States" during the Dec. 29 hearing, one day before he disappeared and the fires in Hollywood began.

According to a redacted criminal complaint that was unsealed Wednesday, Burkhart's mother was facing extradition because she pilfered rent security deposits and had skipped out on paying for a breast augmentation surgery.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jan042012

Federal Agent Recognized Accused Los Angeles Arsonist

An apartment complex that was burned in a spree of arson fires lies in ruins on Jan. 2, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif. David McNew/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- The German man who authorities have called "the most dangerous arsonist in L.A. history" was recognized on surveillance tape by a sharp-eyed State Department agent, officials said Tuesday.

An agent in the department's Diplomatic Security field office recognized accused arsonist Harry Burkhart in the surveillance footage circulated by the Los Angeles Police Department as the son of a woman who was being extradited.

The agent, who was not being identified, contacted the LAPD, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told ABC News.

"Over the New Year's Eve weekend, that task force put out a video showing a person of interest exiting a parking lot and asked for the public's help," Nuland said.

The agent was familiar with Burkhart because of a "separate ongoing investigation about a German national that we've been having with the LAPD," she said.  The tip led to Burkhart's arrest, Nuland said.

Burkhart, 24, will appear in court Wednesday to face charges that he allegedly set a series of 52 blazes in the Los Angeles area over a period of four days.

Authorities said they were "very confident" in the arrest of Burkhart, who told police officers, "I hate America" as they placed him under arrest.

Burkhart, a German national, may have been motivated by his anger at U.S. immigration authorities that stemmed from a deportation hearing involving his mother, Dorothee, that took place in Los Angeles County about a week and a half ago, sources told ABC News.

Burkhart broke into a tirade, spewing angry anti-American statements, during the hearing for his mother, before being escorted from the courtroom by U.S. Marshalls, officials told ABC News.

Officials said he shouted "F... the United States" during the Dec. 29 hearing, one day before he disappeared and the fires in Hollywood began.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jan032012

New York Firebombing Suspect Arrested

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A man suspected of five New York City firebomb attacks was arrested Tuesday by cops who staked out a vehicle overnight awaiting the return of its owner.

The attacks, which took place Sunday evening, targeted an Islamic center, a Hindu temple, a bodega, and two private homes.

According to law enforcement officials, the suspect, who was not immediately identified, made statements that appear to implicate him in at least some of the bombings, but stopped short of a confession in the first rounds of interrogation.

Detectives, relying on statements from witnesses and grainy surveillance video, determined the suspected bomber drove a late model car with Virginia license plates. Based on the wheels and basic wheel covers, Auto Crime unit detectives who viewed the video were able to conclude it was probably a rental car.

When a gray four-door Buick Regal with cheap wheel covers and Virginia plates was discovered in Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. around midnight, police patiently waited for its driver to appear.

When he did early Tuesday morning, he was taken into custody. Officials said that the suspect matches the description of the suspected bomber.

According to police, the motives in the five bombings -- which are currently categorized as possible hate crimes because of the religious nature of at least two of the locations bombed -- remain unclear.

None of the attacks caused any injuries, but flames that erupted at one of the homes took more than 60 firefighters about 40 minutes to control. The other home attacked, which also serves as a Hindu temple, was hit by two Molotov cocktails thrown from a van which sped away. Those bottles fizzled out. Officials said they are investigating whether all of the bombing locations had links to the Guyanese community and/or were known to the suspect.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jan032012

Los Angeles Arson Suspect to Appear in Court

David McNew/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- The German man who authorities have called "the most dangerous arsonist in L.A. history" will appear in court Wednesday to face charges that he allegedly set a series of 52 blazes in the Los Angeles area over the past four days.

Harry Burkhart, of Hollywood, was arrested early Monday after a rookie reserve sheriff's deputy spotted the 24-year-old in a vehicle that matched the description of the suspect's.

Authorities said they were "very confident" in the arrest of Burkhart, who told police officers, "I hate America" as they placed him under arrest.

"For four days, someone has been terrorizing our community. Our four day nightmare is over," Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck said at a press conference Monday night where he announced Burkhart's arrest.

Burkhart, a German national, may have been motivated by his anger at U.S. immigration authorities that stemmed from a deportation hearing involving his mother, Dorothee, that took place in Los Angeles County about a week and a half ago, sources told ABC News exclusively.

Burkhart reportedly broke into in a tirade, spewing angry anti-American statements, during the hearing for his mother, said the subject of a provisional arrest request by Germany.

It was this incident that eventually led police to zero in on Burkhart as a suspect after a tip came from an official at the State Department.

ABC News has learned from sources that a possible reason for his mother's deportation may be that her address and phone number -- and that of her son -– were linked to a business, specifically a massage website, Hollywoodtantramassage.com.

Burkhart was traced on the ground by his identifying ponytail and the Canadian license plates on his van.

Los Angeles Police Deputy Shervin Lalezary spotted a minivan Monday with British Columbia plates that matched the description of a vehicle seen at several of the vehicle and carport fires which were ignited around Hollywood and West Hollywood, beginning Dec. 30.

When Lalezary initiated a traffic stop, he discovered the van's driver, Burkhart, also resembled the person of interest seen in a videotape released by the multi-agency arson task force assigned to the case. Grainy security footage from a parking garage that was set on fire showed a man in a ponytail, too.

Police seized flammable materials that matched the materials used in the blazes during the search of the minivan, according to sources.

Initially identified by police as a person of interest, Burkhart soon became a prime suspect. He was detained and questioned and, after subsequent interviews with police, was arrested.

On Monday afternoon he was charged with one count of arson of an inhabited dwelling, with more charges expected as the investigation proceeds, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.

Burkhart is currently being held on $250,000 bail.

The fires were mostly ignited around vehicles, and then spread to structures, eventually causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. Since Burkhart's arrest on Monday, there have been no new fires set in the Los Angeles area -- a promising clue that the right man is in custody.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jan032012

LA Arson Suspect Identified, Possibly Motivated by Deportation Battle

An apartment complex that was burned in a spree of arson fires lies in ruins on Jan. 2, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif. David McNew/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- Officials Monday evening identified a man arrested after a series of 52 blazes in the Los Angeles area, and hailed the reserve deputy sheriff who apprehended him.

"Our long, four-day nightmare is over," Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told reporters.

Harry Burkhart, 24, was charged Monday afternoon with one count of arson of an inhabited dwelling, with more charges expected as the investigation proceeds, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told reporters at a news conference.

"The residents of Hollywood and the city of West Hollywood may now resume the peace and safety they deserve," Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said.  "A serial arsonist, I believe, has been caught."

Burkhart was caught during a traffic stop initiated by a Tehran, Iran-born Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department volunteer, Baca added.

"Deputy Shervin Lalezary, standing next to me, [is] a full-time attorney and a part-time reserve deputy sheriff, although for the past four days he's been working full time for $1 a year," Baca said.

"Give him a raise," someone at the news conference yelled out, prompting Baca jokingly to propose raising Lalezary's compensation to $2 per year.

According to ABC News sources directly involved in the case, the "prime suspect" under arrest told authorities upon his detention, "I hate America."

That suspect, at the time not publicly identified, was believed to be a German national who may have been motivated by a deportation hearing against his mother that took place in Los Angeles County about a week and a half ago, the sources told ABC News exclusively.

The State Department gave the information to the intelligence and operational task forces involved in the manhunt, according to the sources.

The man was initially identified by police as a "person of interest," but the sources said he became a "prime suspect."  Officials later identified Burkhart, but they disclosed few details about his background.

"This is an ongoing investigation," Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said Monday evening.  "Details about the suspect will not be released tonight other than the name and some very general things. ... An arrest is not a prosecution and a prosecution is not a conviction.  We are very confident in this arrest, but we have a long way to go."

The suspect was detained and questioned by a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who recognized the description of his van as possibly being connected to the fires, police said earlier in the day.  After subsequent interviews with police, he was arrested.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







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