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Identifying Arson Motives

NCJ Number
Fire and Arson Investigator Volume: 32 Issue: 4 Dated: (June 1982) Pages: 18-25
A L Pisani
Date Published
8 pages
Types and frequency of arson motives are identified from a sample of 138 arson cases in New York City, and arson patterns associated with each type of motive are indicated.
Types of arson motives identified are (1) pyromania, 10.1 percent; (2) revenge, 52.9 percent; (3) vandalism, 12.3 percent; (4) insurance fraud, 6.55 percent; (5) welfare fraud, 6.55 percent; (6) the psycho firesetter, 8.7 percent; and (7) crime concealment, 2.9 percent. The pyro firesetter usually sets the fire in an occupied multiple dwelling at night in a public portion of the building, usually on the floor and using a flammable liquid for one fire rather than multiple fires. The revenge firesetter, who often threatens arson prior to the act, will focus on the residence or a building associated with the targeted victim. Flammable liquid is used to start one or multiple fires. The vandal arsonist targets occupied multiple dwellings as well as commercial buildings, schools, jails, churches, and abandoned buildings. Night is the favorite time and the first floor is preferred for starting the fire. Arson for insurance is obviously committed on insured property, and the fire is designed to provide complete devastation. Welfare fraud fires are usually set in the residence of the perpetrator after all valuable property has been removed, and the crime concealment arsonist is usually concealing a burglary, and existing paper at one spot on the floor is generally used. The psycho arsonist usually sets the fire in his own residence and customarily starts one small fire without the use of an accelerant. A taxonomy is provided to show the fuel, circumstances, and origin for various types of arson motives. Fifteen references and nine footnotes are provided.


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