John Orr Arsonist Obituary: What happened to convicted serial arsonist, former firefighter John Orr

John Orr Fire Obituary: What happened to convicted serial arsonist, former firefighter John Orr.

John Leonard Orr is an American convicted serial arsonist, mass murderer, former firefighter, and novelist. A fire captain and arson investigator in Glendale, California, Orr was convicted of serial arson and four counts of murder, however he is believed to have set nearly 2,000 fires in a 30 year arson spree where most of them occurred between 1984 and 1991, making him the most prolific serial arsonist in American history.

During his arson spree, Orr had several nicknames “The Pillow Pyro” due to the location of the fires inside shops. the “Frito Bandito”, and the “coin-tosser.” Orr’s modus operandi was to set fires using an incendiary timing device, usually comprising a lit cigarette with three matches wrapped in ruled yellow writing paper and secured by a rubber band, in stores while they were open and populated.

He would also set small fires in the grassy hills in order to draw firefighters, leaving fires set in more congested areas unattended. He would then be part of the firefighting crew that investigated the fires.

John Leonard Orr was born on April 26, 1949, in Los Angeles, California. He was one of three boys. His parents divorced when he was young. Following high school, Orr joined the US Air Force; in 1967, he shipped out for basic training, later transferring to Air Force firefighting school. He was stationed in Spain (where he went on to marry his high school girlfriend); in 1970, he was transferred to Montana. He was honorably discharged from the Air Force in April 1971. In reflecting on his time in the military, Orr later said he did not like his commanding officers.

Orr returned to Los Angeles, where he applied to two police departments and two fire departments; while waiting to hear back, his wife gave birth to his daughter. Orr and his first wife divorced not long after. He was then invited to test for the LAPD. Orr passed all the tests except for those based on mental health, prompting the Police Department to send him a letter saying he was unsuitable. Orr was then accepted to test for the Los Angeles Fire Department; he went through the fire academy but struggled with both the written and physical test and was rejected. Desperate to be a firefighter, he applied to the Glendale Fire Department (at the time the Glendale FD was at the bottom in Los Angeles County for pay); he was accepted in 1974.

Orr studied fire science at a local college and worked at a 7-Eleven and as store security at Sears part time. John earned a carry permit, applying and becoming a fire investigator, eventually attaining the rank of captain.