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Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Serial Arsonist

     Robbers and thieves commit their crimes for financial gain. Arsonists, on the other hand, set fires for a variety of reasons. As a result, motive and criminal profiling is an important lead in an arson investigation. Regarding motive, unlawful fire setters generally fall into one of two categories: rational and irrational. The rational arsonists can be put into two groups: people who set fires for direct gain, and those who do it for indirect benefit or gain. Direct gain arsonists torch their homes, cars, and businesses for the insurance money. The indirect gain fire is set, for example, as retaliation, revenge, competitor elimination, or to cover-up another crime such as homicide. People who set fires for reasons that make sense are usually not repeat offenders. If they do repeat their crimes, it's rarely more than twice.

     Arsonists who are irrationally or pathologically motivated are almost always young men. They are often powerless losers who are mad at the world. They set fires to get even with society, to experience feelings of power, to play the role of hero, and in a small percentage of cases, for sexual gratification. Many of them have had problems at school, with their parents and with the police. Some are mildly retarded, others have mental health problems. Older pathological fire setters often have drug and/or alcohol addictions. 

     Because the vast majority of serial arsonists are pathological fire setters who have no regard for human life, they are the most dangerous. Unlike rational fire setters, they tend to hang around the fire scenes soaking up the excitement they have created. When taken into custody, they should be interrogated by arson investigators trained and experienced in questioning this type of suspect. For the pathological arsonist, the bigger the fire the bigger the rush. Serial arsonists have been known to set several fires in one night.

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