Top 5 Facts About Arson

Written by Michael Wynands Some people just want to watch the world burn. Welcome to WatchMojo’s Top 5 Facts. In today’s instalment we’re counting down the top five facts about arson. From insurance fraud to acts of compulsion or even murder, this act of deliberate destruction is an essential part in any screenwriters’ bag of tricks, but how much does the average person know about it beyond what they’ve seen on TV? Come along as we sift through the ashes of this incendiary topic. Special thanks to our user tandee82 for submitting the idea on our interactive suggestion tool: WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Top 5 Facts About Arson


Some people just want to watch the world burn. Welcome to WatchMojo’s Top 5 Facts.

In today’s instalment we’re counting down the top five facts about arson. From insurance fraud to acts of compulsion or even murder, this act of deliberate destruction is an essential part in any screenwriters’ bag of tricks, but how much does the average person know about it beyond what they’ve seen on TV? Come along as we sift through the ashes of this incendiary topic.

#5: Detroit: Welcome to the Arson Capital of America

Detroit homeowners pay twice as much in homeowners insurance compared to the average city in America, and they have their staggeringly high incidence of arson to blame. For whatever reason, Detroit’s history has always burned bright with arson, from the flame-crazy riots of 1967 to the “Devil’s Night” tradition of setting fires across the city. But the housing crash in 2008, followed by the 2013 bankruptcy of the city has resulted in epidemic. In 2015, the city had over 3,800 suspicious fires. Insurance fraud is one cause, but with so many abandoned and unstable buildings falling into dilapidation, people have simply begun to burn them down, either out of boredom or because they were just bored of looking at them.

#4: Arson… Sometimes a Force for Good?

In 1834, fire marshals arrived on the scene of a reported fire at the mansion of a well-known New Orleans socialite, Madame Delphine Lalaurie. In the process of putting out the fire one of Lalaurie's slaves was found chained to the stove in the kitchen. The woman admitted to having intentionally started the fire in an attempt to take her own life rather than be subjected to the grisly fate that awaited her at the hands of her master. She told the authorities about Lalaurie's torture chamber, in which they then found numerous mutilated slaves. While the practice of slavery itself was legal at the time, Lalaurie’s acts of torture were not, and she was chased out of town by an angry mob. Yay arson!

#3: Firefighters Can Use Dogs to Solve Arson Cases

Most people have heard about K-9 units being employed at airports to help sniff out drugs or find bombs. But, did you know that arson investigators actually use canine agents, known as “arson dogs” to investigate suspicious fires? Arson investigators have a specialized education in “Fire Scene Investigation,” a distinct branch of forensic science. Similarly, these helpful dogs are expertly trained to identify arson-specific scents such as butane, kerosene, gasoline and other known accelerants commonly used by arsonists, as well as identify evidence used in an act of arson found near the scene of the crime. Most impressively, they can even track or pick out an arsonist from a crowded area using their keen sense of smell.

#2: Son of Sam, aka the .44 Caliber Killer, Was Also an Arsonist

Most people have heard of this notorious New York City serial killer, who in the mid 1970s captivated the media, terrified citizens, and mocked the police hunting him. On the long list of things that the police failed to figure out about David Berkowitz before his capture, was the fact that he was a pyromaniac. While the Son of Sam was careful and methodical in his killings, his arsonist tendencies were somewhat less under control. He drew attention to himself with a bizarre incident involving fire and .22 bullets on his neighbor’s front porch. Following his arrest, his journals were recovered, in which he detailed literally hundreds of fires he had set. By his own estimation, he set over 1400 fires compared to “only” six murders.

#1: Help Wanted: Arsonist-For-Hire

When it comes to crime, there's usually someone you can hire to do the deed, and arson is no different. In perhaps the most significant documented case, 22 individuals, including a former fire department arson squad captain and a retired police arson detective, were arrested in the Boston area for their involvement in an arson-for-hire ring. While it may be shocking that fire investigators would turn to arson for profit, there is a history of people who work closely with fire developing pyromaniac tendencies or turning to arson themselves. One of the most famous arsonists, John Leonard Orr, was a fire captain and arson investigator at the height of his own arson spree, often investigating crime scenes of fires he himself had started.
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