Owings Mills arson suspect is profiled

December 19, 1990|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

Baltimore County police said today they believe one man is responsible for setting at least 22 fires in mostly vacant buildings in Owings Mills in the past year, and they need help to catch him.

Sgt. Sam Bowerman, the Police Department's psychological profile expert, and arson detective Douglas Rill described the arsonist as being in his 20s or early 30s, a loner, perhaps with a minor physical handicap, a poor school and work record and with little self esteem who goes out at odd hours and is especially interested in local fire reports in the media. All the fires have occurred between dusk and 2 a.m.

Police believe the man will continue to set fires until he is caught, because they think he simply cannot control his urge to burn.

The arsonist last struck Nov. 16 and 17, both times setting fires at the same vacant house in the 9200 block of Lyons Mill Road. Based on the frequency of the fires over the past 12 months, the man may be ready to strike again, especially because investigators think he does it to relieve anxiety, not for revenge or profit.

The fires have ranged from minor events like a pile of mulch set ablaze next to a commercial building on Music Fair Road on July 26, to more serious ones like the destruction of an old barn on the grounds of McDonogh School on May 28. No one was injured in any of the fires, and Bowerman said the man seems to take pains to avoid targets where people may get hurt. He added, however, that authorities are worried that firefighters or police responding to fire calls can be hurt or killed.

Bowerman said the profile of the suspect is based on past experience with arsonists who set fires due to some personality quirk. He said typically these people use the setting of fires as a way of relieving anxiety over their inability to cope with their failures.

Police think the man probably either lives in the Owings Mills area, or has some family ties there.

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