After David Crawford left his job as the police chief of Laurel, Md., in 2010, he spent the next decade nursing grudges and setting fires to punish others, investigators say. In a stunning turn of events, Crawford, a law enforcement veteran, is now under arrest and facing dozens of charges in connection to at least 12 fires at homes, garages and cars.
Crawford was a “serial arsonist,” according to the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department. It adds that investigators’ suspicions about Crawford were confirmed when a search of his house turned up a ” target list” of fire victims on his cellphone.
Crawford, 69, was denied bond at a bail review hearing Thursday morning, Howard County Police Chief Lisa Myers said at a news conference.
The charges against Crawford include 12 counts of 1st-degree attempted murder – because many of the victims were clearly at home when the fires were lit, officials say.
Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department
“All of the fires were at night. In six of the arsons, the victim and their families were inside their homes asleep,” the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department said.
Taken together, the arson victims map out elements Crawford’s personal and professional life. They include another former Laurel police chief and two other former law enforcement officials, along with a former city official in Laurel. Also on the list: a pair of Crawford’s relatives, two of his former doctors and someone who lives in his neighborhood.
Prince George’s County Police Department
The first arson occurred in 2011; the last was in November of 2020. The fires were set in five different counties, but thanks to a connection between victims that was made last year, investigators were able to link Crawford to 11 fires in which he now faces charges, and a twelfth in which he is suspected.
In all of the crimes, “The arsonist exhibited a similar pattern of behavior using gallon jugs filled with gasoline and a stick wrapped in cloth to set the fires,” the Prince George’s Fire Department said.
The very first fire in the case was captured on a home video surveillance system. Investigators said that as they reviewed that and other video recordings, they became increasingly certain that a lone arsonist was at work in several Maryland counties.
That initial arson in May of 2011 came months after Crawford was asked to resign from his job as chief of police in Laurel, according to court documents. The victim in that attack, the records state, was Martin Flemion, who was then the deputy city administrator. The documents add that Crawford and Flemion “did not have a good working relationship” during Crawford’s tenure leading the police department.
Surveillance video of the arson at Flemion’s home shows the suspect pouring jugs of gasoline on Flemion’s city-issued Ford Explorer and another car in his driveway, before igniting them with a makeshift torch. The crime was also witnessed by a neighbor – who said that as he came outside to investigate a commotion, he saw a white male lighting a car on fire. The witness added that as he saw the man, the arsonist accidentally set his own clothes on fire.
“The witness advised that he saw the suspect stomping his shoe in the road, in an attempt to extinguish the fire,” the charging document against Crawford states. It adds that investigators found a black Nike shoe, size 10, in the road. They also found other items – including “a pair of almost completely consumed (by fire) jeans in the storm drain” nearby.
Crawford wears a size 10, and photos on his Facebook page show him wearing what appear to be the same style shoes, the document adds. When Crawford’s home and electronic devices were later searched, investigators found that shortly after the incident, he had posted to a medical forum, saying he had recently sustained a burn.
The former police official now faces a raft of criminal charges, including attempted murder, arson, and malicious burning.
At least 10 fire and police agencies at the state and local level were involved in developing the case against Crawford, reflecting its complexity and the multiple locations of the arson attacks.
Five of the arson fires were in Howard County – which includes Ellicott City, where Crawford lives. At least two fires were set in Prince George’s County, which sits along the eastern border of Washington, D.C. Three more struck in Montgomery County, north of Washington. One arson was reported in Frederick County, and another in Charles County.