Married with matches: Spotlight on ‘typical’ arsonist

The criminal always returns to the scene of the crime. This is the case for all types of criminal acts, including lighting fires to burn forestland and buildings in residential areas. And arsonists, like any other common criminal, also revisit the scene of destruction. They tend to be male, aged between 45 and 60 years, married, and either middle or lower-middle class. Some 53 percent of them have started fires at least once, while 46 percent are responsible for more than two fires. From 1986 to 1998, a period for which official records of such crimes exist, a total of 643 people had been arrested and tried at courts of first instance. Of those, 592 were men and 51 women. These are some of the main findings of a study recently conducted by Andrianos Gourbatsis, head of the Directorate for Combating Arson Crimes, who examined cases of both forest and residential district fires set deliberately. The study aims at recording a complete catalog of cases and establishing an overall profile of arsonists, including the methods they use and their mental state at the time they set their target ablaze. The statistical records of state agencies that keep files of those who were convicted of arson – excluding those who were arrested but never tried – provide essential information for creating the profile of an arsonist. Based on these records, arsonists in Greece are mostly male; 57 percent of them are aged between 45 and 59 years of age, 79 percent are married, while 87 percent tend to be from the middle or lower social strata. As many as two thirds of all arsonists are self-employed, such as farmers, stockbreeders and fishermen. The majority, over 57 percent, live in small communities of less than 10,000 people, while 93 percent of them are Greek nationals. Moreover, the study shows that 65 percent of forest fire arsonists had a close relationship with their fathers; 17 percent had problems with their father; 60 percent are considered middle class and 34 percent working class. As concerns the methodology followed in arson attacks, the vast majority of arsonists (71 percent) used matches to set their target alight, 14 percent used an incendiary mechanism, and 7 percent used a lighter. To help spread the fire, 26 percent of the arsonists used gasoline, 14 percent an oil product and another 14 percent used paper, while 21 percent of them used other inflammable material. After setting their target ablaze, 28 percent of the perpetrators remained in the same spot while the remaining 72 percent fled the scene. Of those who fled, 22 percent kept watching the fire from a nearby location on higher ground, 27 percent returned immediately to the crime scene, another 27 percent returned after an hour, while 23 percent revisited the site the next day. Based on their mental health, arsonists have been ranked in three groups: Mentally disturbed arsonists: These arsonists at the time of the criminal act experience a mental disturbance that clouds their judgment and incapacitates their ability to control their own actions. The vulnerable spot of a mentally disturbed person is their characteristic of being self-centered, and this excessive focus on their own self and self-confidence can lead to their arrest. Psychopathic arsonists: These arsonists at the time of their criminal act experience a mental disturbance, which however does not impair their judgment or control over their acts, but has an effect on their behavior. These individuals demonstrate anti-social behavior, and can start a fire to satisfy a passion or to cover up another crime. Pyromaniacs: Arsonists in this group are individuals that feel a rush whenever they view a fire. This tendency leads them to start fires in order to satisfy their passion and to ameliorate their feeling of psychosis, which lies for most of the time dormant in their subconscious state.

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