Police say help needed to narrow fire probe

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Authorities are calling on anyone with information about suspects or possible witnesses to a fatal Tuesday fire to come forward.

"We need help, anything that would help to narrow the focus of our investigation because right now, it's pretty broad," said Sgt. Barry Hovis, spokesman for the Cape Girardeau-Bollinger Major Case Squad.

No strong suspects in the fires had emerged as of early Wednesday night, Hovis said.

Investigators from the major case squad, Cape Girardeau Fire Department, the state fire marshal's office and an arson squad formed last year continue to investigate a rash of suspicious fires, including the one at 203 S. Pacific St. early Tuesday that killed George Robinson.

Robinson, 42, of Cape Girardeau died of smoke inhalation in a fire investigators determined was intentionally set.

Those responsible for the blaze could be facing charges of first-degree arson and murder, Hovis said.

Two other fires occurred that night, one at 1015 Bloomfield St. and one at 511 S. Ellis St., though no one was harmed during either of those fires and both were extinguished fairly quickly. One was put out before firefighters were even called to respond.

Last week, there were two more suspicious fires, on North Frederick Street and North Middle Street, and the remains of one fire at 517 S. Benton St. were reported over the weekend but is thought to have occurred several weeks ago. On Wednesday, investigaters determined the fires on North Frederick Street and North Middle Street were intentionally set as well.

Hovis said police understand the level of concern in the community about the string of fires, 19 that have been marked suspicious since April 2005, and nine so far this year.

One thing investigators have is photograph all the crime scenes, not just because it is part of procedure but because they know arsonists will often show up to view their own handiwork.

According to Dr. Dora Weaver, a clinical psychologist and professor at Southeast Missouri State University, watching a fire they set is part of the thrill that entices a pyromaniac.

"Usually people do that because it excites or arouses them," Weaver said.

A casualty like the one Tuesday may deter a firestarter for a time, but eventually they will overcome their anxiety and resume the activity, Weaver said.

Sometimes arson can stem from a impulse-control disorder, in which someone is acting without regard for the consequences.

Anyone with information about any of the suspicious fires can call the Arson Hotline at 800-392-7766, CrimeStoppers at 332-0500 or the Cape Girardeau police. A reward of up to $6,000 is available for information leading to an arrest and a conviction.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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