The fires were set at suburban homes and retirement complexes, in ~ a dollmaker"s shop and a Lutheran church. The targets fit no apparent pattern, and also there to be no sign of the motives that generally underlie arson: jealousy, revenge or profit.

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As community pressure prospered to find the person setup those fires, in the Seattle area in 1992 and also 1993, investigators obtained a break. The family members of Paul Keller -- a 27-year-old declaring salesman that authorities believe set almost 100 fires -- known him in a profile released by investigators and turned him in, prompting Keller to confess.

Now, as fire public official in the District and Prince George"s County effort to discover their very own serial arsonist, they say the Seattle instance is a design for facility fire investigations -- an instance of teamwork, legwork and tenacity.

But despite its ultimate success, the Seattle arson probe also shows the an obstacle of gleaning hints from burned-out crime scenes and the mental complexity connected in profiling and interrogating a serial arsonist. It mirrors that the public"s assist is crucial. Therefore far, local authorities say they still haven"t obtained the rest they need.

"It appears that in many high-profile crimes, the thing that gets it addressed is a guideline from the public or a family members member," stated Prince George"s Fire chief Ronald D. Blackwell. Any detail can help, he said.

"The things people did no think are necessary could really well be what functions for us," Blackwell said.

Authorities have counted 28 comparable fires in the District and Maryland due to the fact that March 5. Six have been connected conclusively by activities tests, castle said. The fires have actually left one human being dead and also seven people injured. Nearly every one of the 28 fires have been set in the center of the night, in ~ the former or earlier door of a house or apartment structure with occupants sleeping inside.

The fires began along the D.C.-Prince George"s border, however they later expanded to sheathe a broader area. Authorities to speak they seemed to protect against suddenly in July, then resumed with three fires this month.

The recent fires, choose some others among the 28, to be ignited making use of a container that gasoline and also an improvised towel wick, sources have said.

Those who operated on the Seattle arson situation say the arsons there began with unoccupied buildings and also homes under construction.

But much more dangerous fires complied with quickly, resembling the tide of arsons in the District and Prince George"s. Some buildings that were set ablaze had families and tiny children inside. Then, top top Sept. 22, 1992, a fire at four Freedoms House, a retirement residence in north Seattle, left three inhabitants dead, the only fatalities in the case.

The fires brought about millions of dollars in damages in 4 counties. Seattle area authorities set up a job force made up of much more than 130 investigators. Slowly, they picked up details from witnesses, countless of whom saw a well-dressed guy near the fires.

"It"s type of an unfortunate luxury. You obtain to recognize a little bit an ext from each fire," Lt. Randy Litchfield, a Seattle fire investigator, said last week.

Eventually, Litchfield said, investigators assembled a comprehensive profile of the arsonist, based on witness accounts and also research right into traits mutual by numerous serial arsonists. They believed that he to be a young, well-dressed, white male -- more than likely from a repressive or abusive family -- and also that he had actually a evade sedan and also a compulsion to collection fires.

At the point, Litchfield recalled, the Seattle team was in a quandary: If the team go public through the profile, the might bring in a tip from someone that knew the arsonist -- or it can scare the arsonist underground, delaying a capture.

"The gamble is, you"re going to spend every little thing you have and hope you get something new" in return, Litchfield said.

Going public paid off: Keller was turned in by 3 relatives, who well-known his compulsions about fires and firefighting in the profile. The family members members additionally knew that he had been in the area of several of the arsons while on service trips, Litchfield said.

Keller had a white Dodge, and also he also had conflicts with his family.

Investigators tailed that for six days and also carefully choreographed his arrest and interrogation. ~ arresting him in the early morning, investigators told a groggy Keller that they knew the had collection numerous fires, Litchfield said. They also told him the they didn"t desire to fee him with any kind of fires he hadn"t set -- hoping for an incriminating response.

Litchfield said Keller "took the bait, hook, line and also sinker." he quoted the suspect as saying, "I collection some the the fires, however not every one of them."

Keller was convicted of much more than 30 arsons, plus 3 counts of murder because that the retirement residence fire. His father received a $25,000 reward, which he turned end to victim of the blazes.

Litchfield said investigators later on learned that Keller, who had actually been troubled for years, often collection fires ~ he had actually been drinking and also chose targets for unforeseen reasons. Suburban homes reminded him of a complicated childhood, Litchfield said, and retirement houses reminded the of his anger in ~ the death of his grandfather.

If Keller hadn"t to be caught, Seattle authorities said, they believe that he would certainly not have actually stopped setting fires.

"I"d be shocked if he had actually stopped," Tim Bradshaw, who prosecuted the case, stated last week, "because points were escalating, in frequency . . . And the damage to human beings."

Keller, currently 37, would have to live come be an ext than 100 to come to be eligible for release from prison.

Like the Seattle case, the probe right into the area"s arsons is gift conducted across jurisdictions. Prince George"s and D.C. Fire authorities are working the case with help from the commonwealth Bureau the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Officials investigate the fires in the District and Prince George"s have set up a hotline for tips -- 301-77-ARSON -- and also are giving rewards. But they say they space not ready to release a profile of the arsonist, fearing that would focus the public also narrowly.

Investigators have carried out surveillance on several people. Two were gift watched at the moment that the 27th fire to be set, last Monday morning in the 200 block of Quackenbos Street NW. They were automatically eliminated as suspects, resources said.

While authorities monitor leads and attempt to identify suspects, victims of the fires stay on edge, v vivid memory of their sometimes narrow escapes.

Denise Giles, whose residence in ar Heights was set ablaze in June, recalled awakening prior to 5 a.m. Because of something that "sounded like the wind blowing with the blinds" of she children"s open up bedroom windows.

She said she rounded the corner to the life room and also thought "that that looked way too bright for that beforehand in the morning." The prior of the residence was ~ above fire.

Giles, 37, and her household escaped the fire without injury. Lock moved ago into the house around three weeks ago after $30,000 worth of repairs. However she said they have been can not to sleep peacefully.

"Every time the movement detector walk off, ns think, "Oh, God, not again," " Giles said.

Staff writer Allan Lengel and also staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

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Denise Giles reflects where an arsonist set fire to her ar Heights residence in June. The damages to the building has to be repaired, however she claimed her family members is tho not sleeping peacefully.