- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2004

Arson Task Force investigators received about 75 tips in 24 hours after releasing a detailed composite sketch of a man they think could be responsible for as many as 36 arson fires around the metropolitan Washington region.

“This is probably the most interest we’ve had in that tip line since we had it turned on,” said Mark Brady, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County Fire Department, which is coordinating the efforts of the multijurisdictional task force that has been taking tips since June.

Anyone with information about the fires is asked to call the task force at 301/77-ARSON.

Mr. Brady said members of the task force yesterday were sorting the tips for investigation.

Renowned artist Lois Gibson from the Houston Police Department drew the sketch of the suspect, which the task force released Wednesday. The sketch depicts a black man about 6 feet tall, between 35 and 50 years old, of medium build, with close-cropped, salt-and-pepper hair.

Mr. Brady said the sketch artist focused on the recollections of one woman, who had returned to her home in the 4100 block of Anacostia Avenue NE on Sept. 14 and interrupted the arsonist as he was preparing to ignite a fire.

Mr. Brady said the woman had a conversation of unspecified length with the arsonist before he fled. It is the only known encounter any witness has had with the arsonist.

“We feel very confident it’s the suspect we’re looking for,” Mr. Brady said. “It’s all we have to go on at this point.”

Investigators also released new details of a psychological profile. They think the arsonist has a “chameleon personality,” appearing charming and genuine at times, but angry and uncaring at others. The arsonist also likely blames others for his problems, can be manipulative and probably has been in trouble with the law before, the task force said.

Mr. Brady said the profile offers no insight as to why the arsonist took a two-month break between July 2 and Sept. 4.

“Perhaps during that time things were going good in his life,” Mr. Brady said.

The two most-recent fires were set in apartment buildings in Fairfax County on Feb. 6 and Montgomery County on Feb. 14 and were deemed similar in nature to 34 other cases dating to March 2003. Previously, the fires had been in the District, Prince George’s County and Alexandria.

During the Feb. 14 fire on Blair Road in Silver Spring, three members of one family were injured, and firefighters had to rescue about 10 persons from the burning building.

Ten persons have been injured during the string of arsons, and one fire has been deadly. A June 5 blaze in Northeast blaze killed Lou Edna Jones, 86. That fire has not been conclusively linked to the arsonist.

The fires began March 5 in Southeast and since have hit three of the city’s four quadrants. The arsonist moved to Prince George’s County on April 1, when an Oxon Hill home was targeted, and into Alexandria on Nov. 16.

So far, 15 fires have been linked conclusively, with 21 others considered similar in nature.

There is a $35,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist.

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