ATF

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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Our History

Arson


DC Area Serial Arsonist

The Crime

In 2003, the Washington, DC area experienced 14 suspiciously similar incendiary house fires. Set mostly in Prince George’s County, Maryland and the District of Columbia, the fires resulted in two deaths and significant destruction of private property. Stymied local fire officials needed help.

Reward Notice

 

The Investigation

ATF led a task force comprised of police and fire departments in Washington, DC and surrounding communities in Maryland and Virginia. The ATF National Laboratory Center identified the arsonist’s signature device (below), which was carried to the scene in a distinct plastic bag. The Laboratory provided valuable forensic leads, including the fact that the same suspect was probably responsible for 14 of the initial fires.

During the nearly two-year investigation, the task force was able to link 50 fires to a single serial arsonist and ultimately identified Thomas Sweatt as the prime suspect.

The Arrest and Adjudication

Thomas Sweatt was arrested in April 2005 for the federal crimes of arson and arson resulting in death. He pled guilty to 45 fires and received life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Sweatt later admitted to ATF Agents that he was responsible for an additional 300 fires.

Thomas Sweatt

Kansas City Arson

The Crime

In November 1988, the defendants attempted to burglarize storage trailers at a construction site. Frustrated by their lack of success, the criminals set a fire that quickly spread to a trailer containing 25,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil (ANFO). The ensuing explosion resulted in the deaths of six Kansas City, Missouri, firefighters.

The Investigation

ATF and the Kansas City Police and Fire Departments conducted an exhaustive investigation over the next nine years. Many early leads proved fruitless, and alibi witnesses lied about the suspects’ whereabouts. Investigators were determined to find answeres, eventually developing a strong, albeit circumstantial, case against five suspects.

Pumper 41

This is the original emblem from the Kansas City (Missouri) Fire Department's pumper truck 41. It was recovered from the fire debris.

On loan from Kansas City Fire Department

Pumper 41

 

Fallen Firefighters

Fallen Firefighters

Fallen Firefighters

$50,000 REWARD INFORMATION

1988 FIREFIGHTERS DEATHS

474-TIPS 1-800-ATF-GUNS

 

The Arrest and Adjudication

ATF Agents and Kansas City detectives finally made arrests in the case in June 1996, after a federal grand jury indicted the five suspects on the charge of arson resulting in death. After an emotional six-week trial involving 80 witnesses, all five defendants were convicted as charged and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

 

The Arrest and Adjudication