Please don’t think I am encouraging you to a life of crime, but most arson is NEVER detected—*shudder*—let alone prosecuted. In the US, Fire Chiefs estimate the percentage of arsonists detected and prosecuted hovers between 15-20%.
And serial arsonists . . . let’s just say they get to burn a heck of a lot of things before the cops nab them. Lighting, on average, a whopping 35 fires each before being arrested, according to a US study of convicted serial arsonists. [i]
Arsonists very very rarely confess to their crimes. And they are as cool under pressure as their fires are hot—ordinarily sailing smoothly through police interrogations without giving themselves away.
What else do we know about these guys? Well, first off, I used the gendered term “guys” deliberately. Arsonists as overwhelmingly male, and overwhelmingly white. A majority of them are “non-pathological”—so not mentally ill in the clinical sense (important to note because so much behavior, including criminal behavior, gets unfairly laid at the door of mental illness).
I recently attended a seminar given by a regional assistant Fire Marshal and arson investigator—yes this is my idea of weekend fun, surprised?—who described the main arson motivators as:
🔥 Excitement (seeking power, attention, recognition or sexual gratification);
🔥 Revenge (societal retaliation . . .all too often in reaction to a bad break up. “If I can’t have you, I’ll burn you up . . . and your little dog too.”);
🔥 Crime Concealment (a murderer, burglar or murder/suicide plotter wants to destroy physical evidence of that crime. Or some financial type figures no case against them for fraud if all the files or records are gone);
🔥 Profit (e.g., insurance fraud); and
🔥 Extremism (political or economic—think riots).
Statistically, once you set aside the pyromaniacs—fire starters who act impulsively, who do not plan their fires—the largest percentage of fire-boys are driven by revenge (approximately 40% of those caught, were seeking vengeance of some sort or the other—however twisted). Followed closely by idiots looking for a thrill. About 30% of arsonists are just looking for excitement in the dancing flames they summon to life (think items 1 & 2 in the list above).
Want to find out what, precisely, motivates the murderous serial arsonist making DI Nigella Parker’s life hell in And By Fire? 🔥 I guess you’ll have to read the book *wink.* 🔥
[i] Neil Hanson, The Dreadful Judgement: The True Story of the Great Fire of London (Double Day, 2001). p. 327. Hanson specifically consulted arson experts in researching and writing his book.