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Serial arsonist and Fire Captain John Leonard Orr killed four people – Deadly Secrets highlights the case

John Leonard Orr photo
John Leonard Orr was a serial arsonist who killed four people in a southern California hardware store fire. Pic Credit: Glendale Fire Department

Serial arsonist John Leonard Orr, a former fire captain whose fires killed four people. The latest episode of Deadly Secrets on Investigation Discovery explores this distressing case.

On October 10, 1984, a fire broke out inside the Ole’s Home Center hardware store located in a plaza on Fair Oaks Avenue in southern Pasadena, California, and trapped the shoppers and employees inside.

Everyone was able to make an escape, except for four people: 2-year-old Matthew Troidl and his grandmother, Ada Deal, 50, and two employees: Carolyn Kraus, 26, and 17-year-old Jimmy Cetina.

The fire was initially ruled as an accident.

However,  on April 17, 1991, Orr was arrested for starting fires in the areas of Fresno and Los Angeles when his fingerprints were found at the scene of a fire.

Afterward, investigators took another look at the Ole’s Home Center hardware store fire, which further investigation had revealed was started by a highly flammable substance.

The detectives work led back to a witness who recalled seeing Orr at the store taking photos of the scene.

Orr was a respectable fire captain with a stellar reputation, and that’s what hindered fire investigators from questioning him about what he was doing there.

A novel he wrote called Points of Origin: Playing with Fire, gave explicit details of a firefighter turned arsonist who gets aroused by watching things burn.

The details were similar to the Ole’s Home Center hardware store fire, and police considered the 350-page manuscript a confession.

It was at that time that police began monitoring Orr.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms placed a tracking device on his vehicle to catch him in the act, but to no avail. Orr later found the device and removed it.

However, police had enough circumstantial evidence to prove his involvement in the fires. He was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and three counts of arson, though Orr maintained his innocence.

A jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Deadly Secrets — A Fire Inside, airs at 9:00 p.m. on Investigation Discovery.

Angelica N. Sumter is a freelance journalist who has covered true crime for more than 10 years. In addition to Monsters and Critics, her work... read more
Angelica N. Sumter

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