Key piece of evidence aids arson investigation

Friday, September 9, 2005

A headless Barbie doll lead investigators to a suspect for an arson at South Pacific Street apartment house.

Anthony R. Williams, 19, faces arraignment Sept. 19 for a class B felony for setting a fire Aug. 10 in a bathroom at 401 S. Pacific St.

Williams told investigators during an interview that he entered the three-story house to use the bathroom on the second floor, testified Cpl. Don Perry of the Cape Girardeau Police Department. Williams said he ignited a hand towel with his own lighter, set it in a linen closet and sprayed furniture polish on it. He then left the brick house and returned to his girlfriend's home at 403 S. Pacific.

Investigator Rod Hoelscher of the Missouri Division of Fire Safety testified the fire was not accidental under questioning by prosecutor Julie Hunter with the Cape Girardeau County prosecutor's office.

The linen closet, a former laundry chute channeled the fire upward to burn a 4-by-6-foot hole into the living-room floor of the third-floor apartment, Hoelscher said during a preliminary hearing Thursday before associate circuit judge Gary Kamp. The north exterior of the brick house sustained some damage, while the second floor sustained smoke damage and fire damage to the bathroom.

Hoelscher suspected Williams after his girlfriend's mother told him that Williams reported the fire to her, he said after the preliminary hearing. During the investigation, he said, she told Hoelscher that Williams often tore the heads off Barbie dolls and lit them on the driveway outside her apartment at 403 S. Pacific St.

Hoelscher said his suspicion was solidified when he found a headless doll lying on the bathroom floor of the mother's house, he said.

Emotional response

Williams told investigators that he acted out his frustration toward his stepmother and family by decapitating the dolls and burning their heads, Perry testified, and he started the apartment fire out of anger and selfishness.

Williams said under interrogation that he was previously hospitalized for self-mutilation, Perry said under questioning by defense attorney Amy Metzinger with the public defender's office.

Two people were on the first floor and one on the third at the time of the fire.

Victim Glenn Wright kept eight oxygen tanks in his apartment to alleviate a medical condition. When he smelled smoke, he looked out his first-floor door to see smoke in the hallway, he testified. He immediately went to the front porch, where he encountered Williams and one or two other friends. He knew that Williams frequently visited his girlfriend next door, so he asked them to retrieve his oxygen tanks. Williams went in and brought them out.

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