“Through the course of the investigation, it was determined that the structures and vehicles that Crawford intentionally set on fire were connected to victims with whom he had previous disagreements,” the fire department said in a statement.
Authorities said the attempted murder charges stem from “clear signs” residents were inside homes when some of the fires were started. In six of the fires, officials said, families were asleep inside their homes.
Crawford faces 53 counts of felony charges in Prince George’s, Howard, Montgomery and Frederick counties in 11 cases, authorities said. He also is under investigation in Charles County in connection with a 2019 arson in Waldorf.
Relatives of Crawford’s could not be reached Wednesday. It was not immediately clear whether he had an attorney.
In 2010, the year before his first alleged arson, Crawford was asked to resign as chief of police in Laurel, a city in Prince George’s County midway between Baltimore and the District. He had previously worked as the District Heights police chief and as a major for the Prince George’s County police.
The first fire in the case, lit at 1:30 a.m. on May 28, 2011, targeted a Laurel city administrator. Surveillance footage showed a person dressed in a light top and dark pants dousing the administrator’s work and personal vehicles in gasoline before setting them ablaze, fire officials said.
A neighbor witnessed the attack and told police he saw the arsonist catch fire and flee. A burned shoe and pair of jeans were later found in a nearby storm drain, according to court documents, but no arrest was made.
Over the next nine years, another 11 fires now believed to be connected to Crawford were set across the region and investigated separately by the respective county agencies, officials said. They occurred every couple months in some counties, and in other jurisdictions years passed between fires.
But over time, a pattern emerged, officials said. In many of the arsons, the person setting the fires wore a sweatshirt with the hood tied taut around their face, and they set their fires by using gallon jugs of gasoline and sticks tied with cloth.
In several cases, investigators said, the arsonist drove a generic silver sedan.
But it wasn’t until Nov. 17, 2020, when Montgomery County fire officials were called to a detached garage fire at 3:15 a.m., that investigators realized the arson victims had Crawford in common, fire officials said.
Investigators said they discovered links between Crawford and that first fire in 2011. An abandoned, burned shoe matched his foot size, hair found inside the shoe was that of a German shepherd — the type of dog he had at the time — and in an online post to a medical forum 17 days after the arson, Crawford allegedly wrote he had been burned his calf two weeks before.
In January 2021, officials said, authorities executed a search warrant at Crawford’s home in Ellicott City and said they located “several critical items of evidence,” including a “target list” of the arson victims. According to charging documents, investigators also found a “coded math equation using letters and numbers, representative of each name on the ‘target list.’ ” Officials said notes, photographs and stored electronic documents also were uncovered.
Investigators allege in charging documents that Crawford attempted to conceal his Internet history by searching for the address of his intended targets’ neighbors.
Authorities took a picture of Crawford’s leg, where they said they found “clearly what appears to be an old burn scar.”
Charging documents said he contacted victims after some of the fires to ask for photos of the damage or the name of the insurance company. Authorities alleged in court documents that he also called the neighbors of one victim, asking for surveillance video “as if he was conducting his own investigation.”
Crawford was charged in the four counties where the arsons occurred and is being held at the Howard County Detention Center.
Authorities said Crawford was charged with attempted murder because he allegedly knew that his targets’ families, which included children, were home at the time of the fires.
Some of the victims were targeted more than once, officials said.
The same Clarksburg townhouse was set ablaze in September 2016, and again a year later in September 2017. The occupant, Crawford’s stepson, was targeted a third time in 2020 — the last known arson, authorities said.
A neighbor also was targeted three times, officials said. The two had clashed as Howard County was going through contentious discussions on how to redistrict the local school system, disagreeing over changes to a PowerPoint presentation and their roles on the redistricting committee, according to charging documents.
The neighbor’s home was badly burned in December 2017 while her family slept inside, according to charging documents, but they escaped. In August 2018, when the home was being renovated, the front lawn burned overnight. Then just over a year later, in September 2018, the house was again set ablaze in the middle of the night. It was unoccupied because renovations from the previous fire had just finished, authorities said.
The flames began at the front, consumed the garage and spread to the majority of the house, authorities said.
The connection to at least one victim seemed to stem not from a disagreement with Crawford, but with Crawford’s wife, who complained to a Howard County judge about a court training she attended that explained “White privilege,” according to charging documents. A vehicle belonging to the mother of the program’s executive director was later set on fire, and police said Crawford’s “target list” included “White Privilege.”
Charging documents describe other victims whom Crawford crossed in his personal and professional life: his chiropractors, a retired Prince George’s Police Department deputy chief who did not recommend him for a promotion, a former interim chief of the county police department, and a former deputy police chief in Laurel.
Dan Morse contributed to this report.