A Most Notorious Arsonist
In the history of arson investigation, no case has been more surprising than that of John Leonard Orr.
A fire captain and arson investigator, Orr was convicted in 1992 of three counts of arson and sentenced to life in prison. Though he has always maintained his innocence, investigators believe he may be the among the most active serial arsonists in history. A federal agent who investigated Orr believes he may have been responsible for as many as 2000 arson fires between the 1984 and 1991, when he was arrested.
The case against Orr had its roots in a 1984 fire that destroyed a hardware store in South Pasadena. Though a host of investigators concluded the cause of the fire was an electrical malfunction, Orr, who was among the investigators, insisted it was an arson fire.
Over the next few years, a series of of fires were set near the sites of arson investigation conferences. A fingerprint was found on a piece of notebook paper at the site of one of the fires. Eventually, investigators were able to match the print to John Orr.
Agents placed a tracking device in Orr's car, and on December 4, 1991, when he was found at the scene of a suspected arson fire, Orr was arrested.
That an arson investigator would be an arsonist is strange enough, but to add another bizarre note to the incident, Orr had written a novel, Points of Origin, which centered on a serial arsonist who was also a fireman. The book became the basis of an HBO film, Point of Origin, starring Ray Liotta. And Orr's story was also the basis of a novel, Fire Lover by ex-LAPD officer Joseph Wambaugh.
Thanks to Chris Humphrey for providing the photo of John Orr. In the 1980's, Humphrey was a photographer for the Glendale News-Press. He now lives in Northern California.