An ex-Maryland police chief allegedly acted as a “serial arsonist,” intentionally starting at least a dozen fires across the state over the past decade to target people he had disagreements with, officials said.
Former City of Laurel Police Chief David Crawford, 69, was arrested Wednesday by members of two Arson Task Forces, along with investigators and detectives from multiple Maryland fire and police agencies, Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department said in a statement.
Following a court hearing Thursday, he is being held without bond, Howard County Police Chief Lisa Myers said at a news conference hosted by county executive Calvin Ball.
“Not only were there homes and residents lives … but those put in danger were also our first responders, police officers, firefighters — those who run in when others run out,” Ball said.
The ongoing investigation centers around 12 fires set in Prince George’s, Montgomery, Howard, Frederick and Charles counties from 2011 to 2020. Authorities determined that the structures and vehicles that Crawford purportedly set on fire were connected to victims with whom he had “previous disagreements.”
That included a former City of Laurel official, three former law enforcement officials including a former City of Laurel Police Chief, two relatives, two of Crawford’s former physicians, and a resident in his neighborhood. No one was hurt or killed, officials said.
“All of the victims were known to the suspect. No one was a complete stranger that didn’t know him,” Prince George’s Police Department Det. Thomas Smith said Thursday. “There are a lot of cases so the motive in each one is probably a little different and some of that is still under investigation… usually he set fire to their home though there are some vehicle case.”
All of the fires were set at night and six began when targeted victims and their families were inside their homes asleep, leading prosecutors to also raise attempted murder charges against Howard in several jurisdictions. Officials detailed how neighbors or other civilians driving by overnight spotted the fires and alerted authorities, allowing those inside the homes to get out safely.
Crawford is a former local law enforcement official who last served in 2010, when he resigned as chief of the City of Laurel Police Department. Before that, he was chief of the District Heights Police Department, a position he assumed after retiring in 2000 at the rank of major for the Prince George’s County Police Department. He is currently being held at Howard County Detention Center.
The break in the case came shortly after the last known fire in 2020, when a link between the victims was discovered and eventually led investigators and detectives to Crawford. A search warrant of Crawford’s residence was executed in January 2021 during which time investigators located several critical items of evidence, including a target list of the known victims, linking Crawford to the crimes.
Each of the cases had been investigated separately in different jurisdictions and when surveillance video was discovered, the arsonist’s identity was hidden, in many of the cases, by a sweatshirt with a hood drawn tightly around their face, officials said. The arsonist exhibited a similar pattern of behavior using gallon jugs filled with gasoline and a stick wrapped in cloth to set the fires. Also there was a similar, but very generic vehicle description, a silver sedan, in several of the cases.