Organized and Disorganized Arsonists

This is the sixth (and final) post on arsonists, based on information from the book The Anatomy of Motive by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. I’m using the information to create more believable antagonists in my writing. I’ve covered the profile and motives of arsonists. Today’s topic is organized and disorganized arsonists, and how their motives and methods differ.

“The motive for the organized arsonist is most likely to be profit, or concealment of other crimes, or the fact that he is a professional ‘torch’.” This guy will probably appear to be “normal” by societies standards, and when caught, his neighbors will say they didn’t see it coming. He’s able to plan his crimes with the goal of escaping detection, and probably does not feel an uncontrollable urge to light things on fire. He’s being practical, and fire gets the job done. He may bring his own supplies with him, or he may use what’s at hand if he has prior knowledge that there will be combustibles on-site. Using materials at hand may result in an unreliable profile from arson inspectors, so it can be worth the risk. With these types of fires, there probably isn’t a pattern–sights won’t be within a comfort zone, different materials may be involved, and there will probably be no connections found between sights. However, if the arsonist has a signature, that’s what will lead authorities to him. This arsonist could be a fun antagonist to play with, as he will be harder for the hero detective to catch.

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“The disorganized arsonist, generally younger and less sophisticated, will be a loner who feels rejected; he may be abusing alcohol or drugs, will have few friends, and tends to set fires near home, in his own comfort zone.” This arsonist has an uncontrollable urge to light things on fire. He probably brings his own lighter or matches, but will use materials at hand. His fires aren’t usually planned, but they can be if he gets more sophisticated. He will probably be in rebellion against someone in authority over him, like a father, teacher, or employer. When caught, family and neighbors will believe he was capable and may even be the ones who turn him in. His fires will display a definite pattern, and he may have a signature that’s special to him. He’s going to be much easier to profile and catch than the organized offender. Because of this, the disorganized arson won’t make a great main antagonist, but he could be a side character who draws the hero detective’s attention away from the big baddie.

Is this series helpful to any of you? Comments, questions, rants, requests for a different series?


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