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Jury Convicts Ex-Fireman of Arson

June 27, 1998 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ In one chapter from a 350-page manuscript, a firefighter-turned-firebug sets businesses across California ablaze.

A fictional Pasadena hardware store goes up in flames. Five people are killed. Among them are a woman and her 3-year-old grandson, Matthew.

The unsold novel is titled ``Points of Origin.″

On Friday, its 49-year-old author, John Leonard Orr, a once-respected arson investigator, was found guilty of four counts of murder and multiple murder by arson. At his sentencing, Orr could receive the death penalty. That phase of the trial begins Tuesday.


Prosecutors said Orr torched a South Pasadena hardware store in 1984. Four people died, including a woman and her 3-year-old grandson _ Matthew.

Jurors who deliberated two weeks also convicted Orr of 20 counts of arson for a series of brush and house fires in 1990 and 1991. One burned down ``The Waltons″ set on the back lot of Warner Studios in Burbank. Another destroyed more than 67 hillside homes in Glendale; Orr conducted the initial investigation.

Orr already is serving 30 years in federal prison for setting a string of fires similar to those in his manuscript.

Many of the fires were sparked by a time-delay fuse made from a rubber band, a cigarette and matches. Similar devices were described in Orr’s book, which was discovered when he was arrested in 1991.

Orr was convicted the following year of setting three fires at fabric and hardware stores in the San Joaquin Valley on his way home from a 1987 arson conference.

In 1993, he pleaded guilty to setting three other blazes, two of them while at another conference. At the time, Orr was a Glendale Fire Department captain and arson investigator.

The blaze at Ole’s Home Center in 1984 was the only fire traced to Orr in which people were killed: Carolyn Kraus, 26, and Jimmy Cetina, 17, and customer Ada Deal, 52, and her young grandson, Matthew Troidl.

Orr has maintained that the manuscript was pure fiction, even asking literary agents about publication.

In one of those queries, a 1991 letter to the L. Harry Lee Literary Agency, Orr called his book ``a fact-based work that follows the pattern of an actual arsonist that has been setting serial fires in California over the past eight years.″

He added: ``He has not been identified or apprehended, and probably will not be in the near future.″