Nicholas Palumbo, MS, CFEI, Fire Cause & Origin Expert
Case Synopsis: The subject dwelling had suffered an extensive amount of fire damage. The examination commenced on the exterior where most windows and doors had been covered over by plywood. There were deep and extensive burn and char patterns that had emitted from the opening in the walls of the dwelling. The interior exam began at the rear, ground level doorway. The interior of the dwelling was heavily burned with many wooden members burned away. There was a major portion of the roof burned completely away and the roof had been covered over with a tarp for weather protection. The interior inspection revealed numerous burn patterns throughout, with many being detached from one another. This is the typical pattern when an accelerant of some type is used to initiate a fire at numerous locations. According to reports, the resident succumbed to injuries suffered within the fire. He was found lying on the floor at the top of the front stairway by firefighters.
Expert Analysis: It was ascertained from a discussion with members of the local Arson Task, that the resident had set the fires in a suicide attempt. He had also removed his wife’s clothing from her closets and placed them along with two (2) suicide notes within her car in the driveway. The patterns noted during the inspection were consistent with the findings of the public sector investigators. It was concluded that the fires were intentionally set by the deceased resident as he had been alone at the time of the fire. The fire was set by the resident to both destroy the property, as well as to kill himself. When interviewed, his spouse stated that she was not aware of any reason, physical or emotional, as to why he would have done this. A deeper investigation into the resident’s financial status revealed that he was in debt and owed numerous companies and the IRS monies totaling over $150,000.00. He had caused his own death hoping that his life insurance would pay off his spouse, thus allowing her to pay off his debts.
Result: A thorough investigation into the resident’s life and finances led this investigation to a successful conclusion by both the public and private sector investigators. This caused the case to be denied by the homeowner’s insurance carrier and the life insurance carrier as well.
Nicholas Palumbo, MS, CFEI, Fire Cause & Origin Expert with DJS Associates, Inc., can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.