LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES
Interview With Joseph Wambaugh
Aired July 15, 2003 - 19:31 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, so what are investigators looking for? Want to talk to someone who might know what drives a person to set houses on fire in the middle of the night, and can a profile of a serial arsonist help the authorities? Will they be able to find the incendiary footprints that may lead to an arrest before someone else is killed or injured? All good questions.
Joseph Wambaugh, former Los Angeles police detective, well-known crime author, has written about a serial arsonist in his latest book, "Fire Lover," and joins me now from San Diego.
Joseph, thanks for being with us.
Basically, we know very little information about this arsonist. They're lighting up homes in African-American neighborhoods very early in the morning, apparently with gasoline, and there are people in the homes. Put all this together, what does it tell you?
JOSEPH WAMBAUGH, AUTHOR, "FIRE LOVER": Well, originally it appeared that this guy's a disorganized serial arsonist, that is, an impulsive fire-setter who sets random fires, who's probably a nocturnal creature and a loner, and who doesn't plan for the severity of his crimes.
However, this guy's crossed over a bit. From what I've read, it seems that he did plan for the severity of some of these fires, because of where they were set. Not just in an occupied dwelling, but in the door, in the escape hatch. So that's disturbing, because that's generally a characteristic of a more organized serial arsonist, a more dangerous kind of criminal.
COOPER: So, interesting, characteristics of both types, the organized and the more haphazard. The fact that, I mean, in some cases it seems like he is bypassing homes that are empty or abandoned and actually targeting homes where there are people sleeping inside.
WAMBAUGH: That's what makes him unusual for a disorganized arsonist, as I thought he was in the beginning. And he's starting to look like a more sophisticated and a more dangerous organized arsonist, for whom the severity of his crime is important. It's important for the excitement, it's important for the thrill.
COOPER: But (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
WAMBAUGH: He wants to commit a severe crime. COOPER: Let's talk about that excitement, that thrill. I mean, what is it that these serial arsonists get out of the flames, out of seeing the flames? And I guess it is seeing it, as much as it is starting it.
WAMBAUGH: Well, the serial arsonist is the most difficult to apprehend, of course, because the evidence is burned up. Particularly if he's organized, he'll use an ignition device, and he'll be long gone before the fire starts. He might see it on television instead of in person.
But what is it about the component of the fire itself? People have written about it. People have wondered about it. What is it that makes him different from the serial rapist or serial killer who wants the power and control over a human being, who wants to possess a human being?
This guy wants to possess something larger than a human being to him, a living, breathing, terrifying entity, which is the fire itself.
The fellow about whom I wrote about in "Fire Lover" was a serial arsonist, according to ATF, the most prolific in our history, but he was also an arson investigator. He wrote a novel. In his novel, in this man's novel, he described the feeling. He said, for the character in his novel, that the fire was like a mistress or a lover. Hence the title in my book, "Fire Lover." I got it from his novel.
So, I mean, that puts a spin on it that most people don't understand. That fire is, to him, a creature, and one that he can love.
COOPER: Fascinating. Amazing they see it as living being, something that they have an actual relationship with. It's so hard to understand.
Joseph Wambaugh, appreciate you coming in and talking about it and your book. Thank you very much.
WAMBAUGH: Thank you.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com