Investigators On Barnburner Of Manhunt To Find Arsonist

WOOSTER, Ohio – A firebug has hit barns in mostly rural areas of northeast Ohio, leading investigators on a barnburner of a manhunt, 19/43 News' Paul Orlousky reported.

In all, 14 barns, some of which are considered historic, have been set afire, and police said they believe that it might be the work of a lone arsonist.

Despite making an arrest, police might not be closer to solving the case because they couldn't tie the suspect to all of the fires. If the barn fires stop when he goes to jail, they'll have a better idea of whether or not the man currently arrested is responsible for all of blazes.

Two of the burned barns are in Stark County, four in Wayne County, six in Holmes County and two in Tuscarawas County.

"It doesn't take a whole lot of time to set the fire and drive away," Wayne County Sheriff's Department Capt. Doug Hunter said. "Usually they are in the early morning hours."

It's so bad that the Wayne County Sheriff's Department videotaped a suspect's home, trying to tie him to the fires. The tape showed him leaving his house just before a neighborhood garage fire, and then returning just after the blaze broke out. He was convicted in the garage fire, but no tie was found to the barn fires.

One fear of fire investigators is that if the arsonist isn't caught, he could move on to more serious crimes. Before his killing spree, the Son of Sam was an arsonist, as was a notorious Tuscarawas County serial killer.

Ron Smith is one of the luckier victims because the fire department's quick response saved his barn, but it was heavily damaged inside. It left him wondering if the firebug would strike again to finish the job.

"I thought she was a goner because (fire) was rolling out of the corners," Smith said.

Betty Poth wasn't as lucky. Her 100-foot barn was torched just months after her husband died. The barn is gone, and so is a lifetime of memories.

"We had 53 years here," Poth said. "There has to be a lot of memories because my kids loved it."

The widespread pattern of the fires is mostly along main routes.

Since the arsonist hits in the early morning hours, a break in the case might very well come from someone like a newspaper delivery person or someone else out at that hour who simply sees something unusual and reports it.