A BENNINGTON, VERMONT, MAN ALONG WITH HIS WIFE and a close friend who lives with them, were all arrested Wednesday and charged with several felonies including two arson charges.
Ralph Brown, 41, is associated with the Bennington Fire Department as a fire police officer, somebody who volunteers to provide safety and security at emergency scenes. Brown, his wife Stacey Brown, 34, their friend Joe Thomas, 26, and “several children” live together in a house that is owned by Stacey Brown.
(Bennington Banner / Crabtree)
According to the police reports, on February 26 the BFD was called to Brown’s house during the day for a fire in the basement that was easily extinguished. It was determined that it started near the furnace where two electrical wires had shorted out against each other. The next day, February 27, the fire department responded to the home again for a fire on the 2nd-floor that ended up burning the house down completely.
The Fire Chief found this fire to be “suspicious” and told the police who then called in the Vermont State Police arson investigator. At first, Ralph Brown denied any involvement with starting the fires, but after the other two started making some admissions under interrogation, Ralph changed his testimony, too. The North Adams Transcript reports:
Bennington Police Detective Michael Plusch said he then interviewed Ralph Brown. According to the affidavit, Brown denied setting the fire, but then said he did not start the first fire, and that he was on the second floor of the home on the second day and extinguished a cigarette on the carpet, which may have been the cause. According to the affidavit, Brown later said he started both fires because he wanted his wife to collect the insurance money so she could have a medical procedure that would allow her to become pregnant again. According to the affidavit, Ralph Brown said that he twisted wires above the furnace in the basement in order to start the first fire and used a propane torch to start the second fire on the second floor. Plusch said Ralph Brown was arrested and taken to the Bennington Police Station for further questioning. Plusch said that after being read his Miranda warnings, Brown said that he and Thomas had been planning the fire for some time. According to the affidavit, he said that Stacey Brown had heard some of the conversations, but thought the two were kidding.
According to the affidavit, Brown said that he and Thomas removed important or hard-to-replace items from the home on Feb. 25 and that the intention was not for the home to be a complete loss, but to only net enough from the insurance company to pay for his wife’s surgeries. Ralph Brown said that he and Thomas first cut power to the furnace, wrapped the wires together and then melted the wire nuts on top of the wires, according to the affidavit. He said that after that, they turned the power back on and left when the wires arced. He said that 45 minutes later, they heard the tone go out for the fire over department radios.
Ralph Brown said that an insurance adjuster said the damage from the first fire was $40,000, which he said Thomas reported wasn’t enough for the surgery and that a second fire should be started.
He then went upstairs and used a propane torch to start a fire in the closet.
Brown was arraigned Wednesday and charged with two felony counts of first-degree arson and felony counts of arson with intent to defraud an insurer, conspiracy to commit arson and second-degree aggravated domestic assault with injury. He is being held without bond because of a parole violation for a previous conviction.
Joe Thomas was arrested and charged with first-degree arson and conspiracy to commit arson, while Stacey Brown was arrested and charged with aiding in the commission of a felony.