Arson Investigation

The Witnesses

It is essential for the investigator to interview any witnesses present when the fire started. The investigator must interview the person how called in the fire immediately even before the fire is extinguished and the physical evidence is processed (Kennedy, 1977). The person that called in the fire may be able to supply the investigator with information such as the color of the smoke and the time that the fire started. The witnesses may have seen people fleeing the scene. The witnesses may have also noticed the smell of accelerants or heard explosions.

Any television stations or newspaper reporters at the scene will also be interviewed. They will be asked to provide copies of video footage or photographs of the scene ( Kennedy, 1977).

The Investigation

Motives for arson can range from attempts to collect insurance money to revenge or intimidation, attempts to cover up a crime, destruction of questionable business records, Pyromania and occasionally suicide (Battle, 1978)(French 1979)(Lane, 1992)
The most common type of Arson is a fire set in an attempt to collect insurance money (Lane, 1992) (French, 1979).

For the purpose of this discussion of an arson investigation I will discuss the steps taken in an investigation where insurance fraud is suspected.

As well as interviewing the firefighters and other witnesses the investigator will conduct a complete investigation into the insurance policy holder’s background and finances (Kennedy, 1977). The investigator will usually start with the insurance agent who wrote the policy. The investigator is looking for evidence of over insured property or recent changes to the policy. The insurance agent may also recall recent questions about the policy the assured may have asked (Kennedy, 1977).

The investigator may choose to hire a forensic accountant to study bank records, business records and tax returns. A certified document examiner may be used to examine business records and documents that may have been altered (Kennedy, 1977).

Records of merchandise received and shipped to the site of the fire will also be examined. The debris from the fire will be compared to the records of the quantity and type of merchandise assumed to have been destroyed in the fire. The intent is to determine whether a loss of merchandise or household items of value actually occurred (Kennedy 1977) (Battle, 1978).

Records of the history of late or delinquent mortgage payments will be obtained. The ownership of the property in question will be established through the mortgage records. As well, liens and caveats against the property will be established through mortgage records (Kennedy, 1977)

A background check of the owner of the property will be conducted. The investigator is looking for signs possible hidden debt that would indicate motive. Possible signs of hidden debt include a history of gambling, alcohol abuse and recent divorces. In Alberta a search for court ordered child maintenance payments should be made as well. In Canada a credit bureau report can be requested. Multiple requests for credit checks will show that the person in question may have been shopping around for credit.

Real estate listings for the area as well as classified ads and real estate sites on the Internet should be examined to see if the property was for sale recently (Kennedy, 1977)