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Understanding The Enemy: Profiles and Motivations of an Arsonist

Kendra Weikman | FireLink.com - For sources, see Editor's note.

Profit Motivated Arson

Arson-for-profit is a fire set for the purpose of achieving material gain, either directly or indirectly. It is a commercial crime and exhibits the least amount of passion for the crime in relation to any of the motivations that generates arson. The types of profit motivated arson found in this category are fraud to collect insurance, fraud to conceal loss or liquidate inventory, employment, parcel clearance competition and others.

This type of arson usually involves a well-planned and methodical approach. The crime scene demonstrates a more organized style by containing less physical evidence that would identify the offender and more sophisticated incendiary devices when a large business is burned. Multiple offenders may be involved.

A lack of forced entry is not infrequent in arson-for-profit cases. Use of incendiary devices is more prevalent than the use of available materials such as devices are often elaborate. The remnants of theses devices usually can be found at the crime scene.

The point of origin of the fire can also be a determining factor. As the intent of the offender is usually to totally destroy the target of arson, the selected point of origin is that which is most efficient to establish the desired loss.

A common forensic finding with arson-for-profit is the use of more sophisticated accelerants or mixtures.

The typical primary offender in this category is an adult male with 10 or more years of formal education; this may vary, however. A secondary offender is the torch-for-hire who most frequently is a male 25-40 years of age and usually unemployed. The torch operates as an agent for the primary offender, who contracts the torch’s services and is the dominant personality in the total offense.

The typical primary offender for commercial fires may have no police record. The torch-for-hire will likely have a prior arrest record for offense such as burglary, assault public intoxication and possibly even a previous arson arrest.

The offender generally lives more than one mile from the crime scene. Many arsonists for profit are accompanied to the crime scene and most leave the scene and do not return.

Next: Extremist Motivated Arson


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