“One of the Biggest Arson Cases in American History”

In 1992, there were more than 75 suspicious fires set in Seattle, Washington within a 6-month time period. 

The case was eventually solved with the help of behavioral profiling, hypnosis, and a piece of art. 

August 9, 1992: 3 churches were engulfed in flames within a few miles of one another.

  • Arson dogs found no flammable liquids or accelerants 
  • No vandalism
  • Motive appeared to be “thrill seeking”
  • All started the same way; ground floor at waist level

Over the next several weeks, 8 more churches fires; 6 of them Lutheran.

Eventually moved to businesses and homes.

In a single night, there were 12 different arson fires; none of them used accelerants.

August 1992 – January, 1993: Nearly every night there was another arson fire.

Despite all-night patrols, the fires continued.

Fires were often set in different parts of town near different fire departments.

Criminal profile: 

  • White
  • Late teens / early 20s
  • Alcohol / drug problems
  • Intelligent
  • Underachiever
  • Major life trauma
  • Salesman / delivery man

Fire #28: Two fingerprints were found on a window left by the arsonist; did not match to anyone in criminal database.

Fire #42: Urine found in snow near the fir; unfortunately, there were too few cells for DNA profile.

September 22, 1992: Fire at senior citizen home; 3 women died.

Tip line was then opened. Woman called in saying she bumped into a man near the fire who smelled like alcohol and was very well dressed. Said he was talking about the fires but she could not remember a distinct description of him. Forensic hypnosis was then used, for one of the first times in history; woman could then recall 4 digits from the license plate. 

She was also able to provide a composite drawing of the suspect with the help of a forensic artist.

Composites were then sent to be published in the local newspapers.

Once he saw the sketch, a man named George Keller called the police to tell them he believed the arsonist was his son, Paul. Upon comparison to the sketch, the two looked strikingly similar. 

His father also said he matched every characteristic from the criminal profile.

Paul Keller was 27-years-old; the oldest of 3 children in a deeply religious Lutheran family.

He was a salesman who crossed all areas the where the fires were set.

Paul’s father said that he had always been obsessed with fires. He set his first fire at 9-years-old, and at one time had applied to be a firefighter, but was eventually rejected. 

He also had done poorly in school, had problems with alcohol, and was in the midst of a divorce at the times of the fires. 

Moreover, the first three numbers of his license plate matched the numbers said by the hypnotized woman. His fingerprints also matched the ones found at the window at fire #28. 

Later, Paul admitted he was sexually molested by a volunteer firefighter at the age of 12.

Paul Keller was convicted of arson and murder, and was senteced to 99 years in prison. He won’t be eligible for parole until he’s 113-years-old.


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