Former Md. police chief charged with 9-year string of fires

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been changed to reflect the correct attribution to the Prince George’s County Fire and EMS Department. 

A former police chief of two jurisdictions in Maryland is facing dozens of charges, including attempted murder and arson, in a string of fires set over a nine-year stretch.

David Crawford, 69, of Ellicott City, was arrested Wednesday. He’s being charged in 12 arson fires in houses, cars and garages in Prince George’s, Montgomery, Howard, Frederick and Charles counties.

David Crawford has been charged in a dozen arson fires stretching over nine years. (Courtesy Prince George’s County Fire and EMS Department)

Crawford was a major in the Prince George’s County Police Department, retiring in 2000 to take the job as chief of the District Heights police. He then served as chief of the Laurel, Maryland, police department, resigning in 2010. The fires were set between 2011 and 2020, Prince George’s County fire and EMS said in a statement.

The fires were investigated separately, police said, but security video of some of the fires showed that they were set by a similar method, and by someone wearing similar clothes. After the last known fire in the series, set last Nov. 17 in Clarksburg, investigators connected the people who lived in the houses to Crawford, saying they had had disagreements with him in the past, Prince George’s County fire said.

In January, the police got a search warrant for Crawford’s house and found, among other things, a “target list” of the victims, who include government or law enforcement officials, as well as a relative and two of Crawford’s former doctors, police said.

All of the fires were set at night, and in half of them, there were “clear signs the residents were inside the homes” and asleep at the time, the fire department said.

The incidents and charges by county:

Prince George’s County

Crawford has been charged in connection with the burning of a city vehicle and a personal vehicle at a house in May 2011, and a house, garage and two cars in March 2019, both in Laurel.

Two of the victims were retired City of Laurel Police Chief Richard McLaughlin and Former City Administrator Marty Flemion, according to the Mayor of Laurel’s office.

“These allegations are troubling and quite serious, and if proven true, members of our City of Laurel family have been victimized,” Laurel Mayor Craig Moe said in a statement. “And I want to say, that our thoughts and prayers are with them, and their families as this case proceeds.”

He faces four counts of first-degree attempted murder, four counts of second-degree attempted murder, one count of first-degree arson, six counts of first-degree malicious burning and five counts of second-degree arson — all felonies.

Montgomery County

In Montgomery County, Crawford is charged with setting fires in September 2016 and September 2017 at the same house in Clarksburg, as well as one last November, also in Clarksburg.

He faces three counts of first-degree arson, three counts of first-degree malicious burning and one count of second-degree arson — all felonies.

Howard County

Crawford is charged in connection with a fire in a house’s garage in Elkridge and three fires in Ellicott City — one in March 2017, two at the same house in December 2017 and August 2018, and another in September 2018 on the same block.

He’s facing eight counts of attempted first-degree murder, eight counts of attempted second-degree murder, three counts of first-degree malicious burning, two counts of first-degree arson, two counts of second-degree arson, one count of second-degree malicious burning and various malicious destruction charges.

Frederick County

Crawford is charged in connection with the burning of a garage in Jefferson in April 2018. The cause was initially thought to be faulty wiring, police said, but the homeowner found traces of gasoline a few days later.

Crawford is facing one count of first-degree arson, one count of second-degree arson and one count of first-degree malicious burning — all felonies.

The police said Crawford is also a suspect in the burning of a house and a car in Waldorf, in Charles County, in March 2019, but he hasn’t been charged.

They added that none of the law enforcement agencies Crawford worked for had any comment, citing the continuing investigation.

Investigators are urging anyone with more information about the cases to call the arson investigation team in their county, or the state fire marshal:

  • Prince George’s County: 301-77-ARSON
  • Montgomery County: 240-777-2263
  • Howard County: 410-313-STOP
  • Frederick County: 301-600-1479
  • Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office: 1-800-492-7529

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

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