Thomas Sweatt

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Thomas A. Sweatt is a convicted serial arsonist. Arguably one of the most prolific arsonists in American history, Sweatt set over 300 fires in and around Washington, D.C., most of which occurred in 2003 and 2004. Following his arrest in April 2005, Sweatt admitted to setting fires for more than 30 years. He is currently serving his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Serial crimes are crimes of a repetitive nature. Serial murder, serial rape and serial arson are crimes regarded as serial crimes. However, according to criminologists, a habitual offender or a career criminal is not necessarily a serial criminal.

Arson crime of willfully and maliciously setting fire to property

Arson is the crime of willfully and maliciously setting fire to or charring property. Though the act typically involves buildings, the term arson can also refer to the intentional burning of other things, such as motor vehicles, watercraft, or forests. The crime is typically classified as a felony, with instances involving a greater degree of risk to human life or property carrying a stricter penalty. A common motive for arson is to commit insurance fraud. In such cases, a person destroys their own property by burning it and then lies about the cause in order to collect against their insurance policy.

Washington, D.C. Capital of the United States

Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington or D.C., is the capital of the United States. Founded after the American Revolution as the seat of government of the newly independent country, Washington was named after George Washington, the first president of the United States and a Founding Father. As the seat of the United States federal government and several international organizations, Washington is an important world political capital. The city, located on the Potomac River bordering Maryland and Virginia, is one of the most visited cities in the world, with more than 20 million tourists annually.



When Thomas Sweatt saw an attractive man, he would follow him home, but instead of talking to the object of his affection, Sweatt would set fire to the man’s house or car. For more than 30 years, Sweatt set hundreds of fires in the metro Washington, DC area. Sweatt often tossed incendiary devices into police cars and then watched them burn. Each time he set a fire, he used a similar gadget: he would fill a milk jug with gasoline and plug the opening with a piece of clothing that served as a wick. The wick burned plastic for more than 20 minutes and after the fire consumed the container, gas fumes escaped and caught fire. In two different fires, elderly women were unable to escape and later died.


Starting in 2003, Washington, D.C. and Prince George's County, Maryland became infested with a rash of arson fires. Sweatt was a fry cook and later the manager of a Washington fast food restaurant. He was linked to the fires through DNA evidence found at two scenes where a fingerprint, some skin cells on a wick and a single hair all matched his genetic profile. Sweatt was captured after a Marine Corps security camera identified his vehicle at the scene of a car fire by a barrack. Sweatt was obsessed with the Marines, both as self-identification and as part of a sexual fascination with men in uniform. He had been rejected by the United States Navy in the 1970s. In his guilty plea, Sweatt confessed to nearly 400 fires, several of them fatal. [1]

Prince Georges County, Maryland County in Maryland

Prince George's County is located in the U.S. state of Maryland, bordering the eastern portion of Washington, D.C. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, the population was 863,420, making it the second-most populous county in Maryland, behind Montgomery County. Its county seat is Upper Marlboro. It is one of the richest African American-majority counties in the United States, with five of its communities identified in a 2015 top ten list.

Fast food restaurant type of restaurant

A fast food restaurant, also known as a quick service restaurant (QSR) within the industry, is a specific type of restaurant that serves fast food cuisine and has minimal table service. The food served in fast food restaurants is typically part of a "meat-sweet diet", offered from a limited menu, cooked in bulk in advance and kept hot, finished and packaged to order, and usually available for take away, though seating may be provided. Fast food restaurants are typically part of a restaurant chain or franchise operation that provides standardized ingredients and/or partially prepared foods and supplies to each restaurant through controlled supply channels. The term "fast food" was recognized in a dictionary by Merriam–Webster in 1951.

DNA Molecule that encodes the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known organisms and many viruses

Deoxyribonucleic acid is a molecule composed of two chains that coil around each other to form a double helix carrying genetic instructions for the development, functioning, growth and reproduction of all known organisms and many viruses. DNA and ribonucleic acid (RNA) are nucleic acids; alongside proteins, lipids and complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides), nucleic acids are one of the four major types of macromolecules that are essential for all known forms of life.

Arrest and charges

On Thursday, August 4, 2005, two fatal arson cases in the District of Columbia were closed with the arrest of 50-year-old Thomas Sweatt of the 500 block of Lebaum Street SE. He was formally charged in both cases with second degree murder while armed. The first offense occurred at approximately 4:05 am on Tuesday, February 5, 2002. Members of the Fifth District received a radio assignment for a house fire at 1208 Montello Avenue NE. Once on the scene, officers located 93-year-old Annie Brown of the Montello Avenue address. DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services personnel responded to the scene and transported the victim to the George Washington University Hospital, where she was admitted in serious condition. On February 14, 2002, Ms. Brown was pronounced dead. An autopsy performed by the DC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined the cause of death to be smoke inhalation and the manner of death to be a homicide. The second incident occurred at approximately 4:30 am on June 5, 2003. DC Fire and EMS personnel responded to 2800 Evarts Street NE for the report of a house fire. Upon extinguishing the blaze on the first floor of the residence, firefighters located 85-year-old Lou Edna Jones of the Evarts Street address inside. She was transported to the Washington Hospital Center's MedSTAR Unit, where she was pronounced dead. [2]

The story of Sweatt and his capture was featured on truTV and Investigation Discovery Channels and as part of the Forensic Files series. [3] During the Forensic Files episode, it was said that Sweatt revealed the motive for his crimes to the police but, in exchange for his confession, he asked that the motive remained secret. The only things that were revealed in the episode was that he set the fires to silence "voices" that he heard and to "relieve stress".

TruTV American cable and satellite television channel

TruTV is an American pay television channel that is owned by WarnerMedia Entertainment, a unit of AT&T's WarnerMedia.

Investigation Discovery television station

Investigation Discovery is an American pay television network owned by Discovery, Inc. that features documentary-style programming dealing with true crime subjects, mostly those of a violent nature. As of February 2015, approximately 86,062,000 American households receive Investigation Discovery.

Forensic Files is an American documentary-style television program that reveals how forensic science is used to solve violent crimes, mysterious accidents, and outbreaks of illness. The show was originally broadcast on TLC, narrated by Peter Thomas, and produced by Medstar Television, distributed by FilmRise, in association with truTV Original Productions. It broadcast 406 episodes from its debut on TLC in 1996 as Medical Detectives until 2011. Reruns shown on HLN were initially retitled Mystery Detectives before settling on the main title of the show in 2014.

Guilty plea and sentencing

Sweatt pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Deborah K. Chasanow to various counts: possession of destructive devices; destruction of buildings by fire resulting in personal injury; possession of destructive devices in furtherance of a crime of violence; and in the criminal information originally filed in the District of Columbia, first degree premeditated murder (felony murder) and second degree murder, resulting in a mandatory life sentence before the same judge on September 12, 2005.

Deborah K. Chasanow is a Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland.

Later deadly admission

On January 11, 1985, Sweatt finished his late shift as a cook at one of the Roy Rogers Restaurants and followed a male stranger in his 30s, whom he found attractive, to his house. Sweatt actually had a desire to meet him. Wanting to see the stranger again, Sweatt went home and returned to his house with a two-liter soda bottle filled with gasoline. From the front porch of the stranger's house, he poured the gasoline under the front door, and lit it. On the second floor of the house, the stranger (Roy Picott) and his wife, daughter and stepdaughter, were all sleeping. His son and stepson were asleep in the basement and were unharmed. The others suffered severe burn injuries and his wife, Bessie Mae Duncan was killed. Roy Picott also later died from his injuries on March 5, 1985. The official fire report at the time mistakenly blamed a dropped cigarette for the reason the fire started.

Roy Rogers Restaurants fast food restaurant chain in the United States

Roy Rogers Franchise Company, LLC is a chain of fast food restaurants primarily located in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States. The chain originated as the rebranding of the RoBee's House of Beef chain of Fort Wayne, Indiana acquired by the Marriott Corporation in February 1968. However, Marriott first used the Roy Rogers Roast Beef name on conversions of the company's Junior Hot Shoppes in the Washington D.C. area in April 1968, then the existing RoBee's stores. An aggressive nationwide franchising campaign was launched. At its peak, the chain included over 600 locations.

Investigators closed 353 cases with Sweatt's confession. [4]

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  1. Dave Jamieson (2007-06-07). "Letters From an Arsonist: Thomas Sweatt". Washington City Paper . Retrieved 2010-05-26.
  2. D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (2005-08-05). "Suspect Formally Charged in Two Arson Deaths" . Retrieved 2010-07-23.
  3. . Internet Movie Database. 20 October 2008 Archived from the original on April 6, 2012. Retrieved 2010-08-04.Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. Dave Jamieson (2007-06-08). "Why Thomas Sweatt Set Washington on Fire Thomas Sweatt torched hundreds of houses and cars in the nation's capitol to satisfy his sexual fetishes and power fantasies. Serving life in prison, the arsonist tells his story". Washington City Paper, Retrieved 2010-07-23.