Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wicked Wednesday - Paul Keller

Since my upcoming book - Dying Embers - has a serial killer who uses fire to commit her murders, I thought I'd take some time to talk about the man who is currently known for setting the most fires in U.S. history - Paul Kenneth Keller.

During a six-month stretch in 1992-1993, a series of arsons cropped up in Washington State.  They weren't limited to a key geographical area.  They weren't kept to a certain type of home or business.  They were crimes of opportunity and there didn't seem to be any end to them.

Until one witness - who wasn't all that certain of what she'd seen - underwent hypnosis.  During her calm and relaxed state, she was able to recall enough details of the suspect for a sketch artist to come up with a reasonable facsimile of the arsonist. 

And when a man saw the sketch, he feared the worst - that the drawing was his son, Paul Keller.

Since his son worked for him at his advertising business, he went back over the logs of Paul's outside sales work.  Sure enough, Paul had been in the towns where the fires occurred around the times when they occurred.  Then the father went over the profile of the suspect, and sure enough, Paul met the key characteristics of this psycho.

When authorities captured Paul Keller, he denied everything - until the officers complimented him on his work.  Then he opened up and told them everything.  I watched some videotape of his confession where they'd taken him to some of the crime scenes, and he seemed proud of himself for the fires he'd set.

He admitted to 76 fires.  In one of those fires - at a retirement home - three people died.

Paul Keller was convicted of the arsons and the murders.  He'll be up for parole in the year 2079.  They interviewed him in prison, and he seemed to know what he did was wrong, but he almost reminded me of the David Donald Sutherland character in Backdraft - totally without remorse and with a certain amount of glee behind his eyes.

One site I read while doing research for this post called all his other fires 'victimless crimes' because no one died, but he did around $20 million in property damage.  Personally, I don't see that as victimless.

Have you seen Backdraft?  It's a pretty awesome movie, plus it has Kurt Russell.  :le sigh:  And Sutherland plays a particularly creeptastic firebug.  :shudder:  And just to make it clear, my villain - Emma - isn't a firebug, per se.  She uses fire, but she isn't drawn to the flames.  It's just a convenient and horrific way to put an end to all her old flames.  Consider it her idea of poetic justice.  ;o)


  1. I remember Keller, the investigation, and the father's heartache. Thankfully, his sense of duty beat out any need to protect his son. And yeah, arson is NOT victimless, even if no one is injured or killed.

    And your villainess is awesome! :D Just sayin'...

    1. Aww, thanks, Silver! And Emma thanks you, too. ;o)

      Yeah, that dad is a good man. It probably broke his heart to have to do it, but he probably saved a lot of lives and property. Who knows how far Paul would've gone if he hadn't been stopped?

  2. I don't remember this one. Where was I in the early 90s?!? I feel so sorry for the father.

    The owners of burned properties certainly feel like victims.

    1. I didn't remember this either, Deb. My early 90s are pretty much gone.

  3. I've seen Backdraft and liked it (guess I'm a fan of Kurt Russell's too). But it had been YEARS since I've seen it and I didn't know who David Sutherland was so I had to look it up. Did you mean Donald Sutherland? Hmmm... makes me think maybe I should watch the movie again, except that's one of the FEW Ron Howard flicks I don't own. :( I may just have to remedy that!

    1. Derp. I could've sworn I typed Donald. What a huge brain fart. Thanks for pointing it out, Stacy. =o)