Firefighters get called to a late-night fire. Police see a white Jeep leaving the area and catch the license plate. As Ret. Det. Dawn starts her investigation, she finds a trail of destruction that leads back to a man who tells law enforcement it wasn’t him because he was buying a phone at 3am. Yep.
Special Guest: Retired Detective Dawn
Dawn [00:00:03] We could see a V pattern, there was an accelerant. Okay, so we could see a V pattern where that fire started. I mean, it was so pronounced, and there was nothing there that would start that fire naturally.
Yeardley [00:00:15] When a serious crime is committed in a small town, a handful of detectives are charged with solving the case. I’m Yeardley, and I’m fascinated by these stories. So, I invited my friends, Detectives Dan and Dave, to help me gather the best true crime cases from around the country and have the men and women who investigated them tell us how it happened.
Dan [00:00:41] I’m Dan.
Dave [00:00:52] And I’m Dave. We’re identical twins from Small Town, USA.
Dan [00:00:46] Dave investigated sex crimes and crimes against children. He’s now a patrol sergeant in his police department.
Dave [00:00:52] Dan investigated violent crimes. He’s now retired. Together, we have more than two decades’ experience and have worked hundreds of cases. We’ve altered names, places, relationships, and certain details in these cases to maintain the privacy of the victims and their families.
Dan [00:01:07] So, we ask you to join us in protecting their true identities, as well as the locations of these crimes out of respect for everyone involved. Thank you.
Yeardley [00:01:22] Today on Small Town Dicks, we have the usual suspects. We have Detective Dan.
Dan [00:01:29] Good afternoon.
Yeardley [00:01:29] Good afternoon. And we have Detective Dave.
Dave [00:01:31] Happy to be here.
Yeardley [00:01:33] Happy to have you. And we are so pleased to welcome a new guest to the podcast, retired detective, Dawn.
Dawn [00:01:40] Hi.
Yeardley [00:01:40] Hi. Thank you for coming.
Dawn [00:01:42] Thanks for having me.
Yeardley [00:01:43] We’re thrilled. So, Dawne, you were not just a detective. You were also a fire and arson investigator at your agency.
Dawn [00:01:51] That’s right.
Yeardley [00:01:52] And you’ve brought us a really interesting case about an arsonist in your town. So, tell us how this case came to you.
Dawn [00:01:59] So, because I’m a fire and arson investigator, I was called about 3 o’clock in the morning when our local high school was burning to the ground. The gym in the cafeteria area was burning to the ground. Some of our patrol officers had heard the dispatch of the fire department going to a fire and they were asking for traffic control, and so they responded, and the entire gym is just going up in flames. One of those patrol officers, Officer Steve, happen to see a jeep that was pretty unique in that it had a black rack on top and some black aftermarket stuff on it, and saw it in the area. And when it appeared that that jeep saw his patrol car, it flipped a U-ie really fast, but not flipping a U-ie like, “Oh, I can’t go down the street.” More like, “I need to get the hell out of here.” So, he flipped a U-ie, fortunately, Officer Steve got a license plate on it.
Yeardley [00:02:55] Cool, Officer Steve.
Dawn [00:02:57] Right. So, we had that license plate. We also had a call that night about a white jeep that had run into a camper that was on a foundation like cement blocks on the side of the road, run into it. And they had recognized the white jeep is belonging to a guy who lived in the area who starts fires. So now, we had a second spotting of him.
Yeardley [00:03:20] What’s his name?
Dawn [00:03:21] Trent.
Yeardley [00:03:22] Did Trent in his jeep triy to ram the camper?
Dawn [00:03:27] I think he was just driving with his head inserted and didn’t even know–
Dawn [00:03:31] –but he just wasn’t paying attention. It’s not like he rammed into it. He just sideswiped it and it was on cement blocks. So, it comes off their foundation or off those cement blocks. The people who that camper belong to heard it and gave chase, but Trent kept going. then for some reason, he continues on. He goes to the school, he rams into all of the gates and there’s pieces of vehicle laying about at these gates that had been run into. So, we had all of that damage and then he decides that it’s time to start a fire. So, he drives into the parking lot and he sets the fire.
And then, we also had another fire about two blocks, two and a half blocks from the school in which a propane tank on a travel trailer that was parked in a driveway of a residence was set on fire. One of our patrol officers is driving along and sees this propane tank on fire and he’s like, “Holy crap, I better tell the owners of this house.” He runs up to the front door, he knock, knock, knocks, you can hear it even. And they open the door, he gets in, and just as he gets in, that propane tank explodes. The explosion was so large that it knocked the house, not off the foundation, but moved it on the foundation, breaking all those front windows. Total loss on the owner’s vehicle next to it. Total loss on the travel trailer. Total loss on the garage of their house. And shrapnel from that propane tank ended up all the way down the block, like seven houses down, there was pieces of it. So, we were busy trying to investigate all of these different things that were happening, and also find the white Jeep.
Yeardley [00:05:12] Can I ask you a question? Is Trent harassing the people in the trailer first before he sets their propane tank on fire?
Dawn [00:05:19] He doesn’t know any of these people.
Yeardley [00:05:21] Right. So, what’s he doing at the trailer?
Dawn [00:05:23] Well, when he’s at the travel trailer, he’s just setting the fire. I think he saw something that would burn. There’s no reason. He has no reason.
Yeardley [00:05:31] It’s just random. He goes, “This is an opportunity.”
Dawn [00:05:34] Yes.
Yeardley [00:05:35] And did you run the license plate and find out who the jeep belong to?
Dawn [00:05:38] Yeah, it ended up belonging into Trent. And when we ran Trent, we ended up finding that he lived in the area and was on probation for arson.
Yeardley [00:05:48] Okay. Wow, things are happening really quickly here. So, let me just break it down again, if you don’t mind, and then you tell me if I got it right.
Dawn [00:05:57] Mm-hmm.
Yeardley [00:05:58] All right. Trent rams a camper with his white jeep that has aftermarket bling on it. The owner of that camper tries to chase Trent down, but Trent gets away. Trent then drives to a school nearby. He goes right through the gates. He damages his jeep and even leaves little bits of the jeep on the gate, which you guys find later. Trent then sets fire to the school gym and cafeteria. After that, he drives away and a few blocks later, he sees a propane tank near a travel trailer that’s parked in a stranger’s driveway. An alert patrol officer sees Trent driving erratically after that, that officer gets Trent’s license plate off the jeep. And that’s how you know it’s Trent that you’re looking for. Is that accurate, sort of?
Dawn [00:06:49] Yep, that’s right.
Yeardley [00:06:50] Phew! And how old is Trent?
Dawn [00:06:52] He’s about 27. What’s interesting about this case, to me, well, number one, Trent starts this fire and when we pick them up, we’re bringing in evidence at the same time. Our evidence is in the form of video evidence. So, there’s some neighbors in the area that have surveillance cameras in their front yard. And so, we’re seeing the jeep drive by, and then we’ll see the jeep on another street surrounding it. And so, we’re watching his progress. When he started the fire, he started it next to the building in some milk crates, some of those plastic milk crates.
Yeardley [00:07:27] This is at the school?
Dawn [00:07:28] At the school. So, it’s interesting. Now, the fire has brought the school all the way to the ground. There’s nothing else standing. And what Trent doesn’t know is that there is surveillance cameras and computers right there below where he started the fire. But they’ve been doused with thousands and thousands of gallons of water. So, I know that we might have something, but I’m not going to have it right away because it has to be cleaned, that hard drive has to be cleaned. And so, he goes home and he goes to bed, sleeps through it.
Dave [00:08:03] Was Trent spotted by that officer and, obviously, he does this U-turn, this abrupt U-turn and it wasn’t wrong turn U-turn, it was, “I got to get the hell out of here.” Do you think that scared him to go basically, “I’m going to go home now because I’m not going to press my luck”?
Dawn [00:08:18] I do. I think that it did scare him to go home. And the other interesting thing was, he and his roommate lived with the roommate’s mom and stepdad. And so, mom wakes up the roommate and is like, “Look how that Jeep is parked out front. I’m setting down the lawn now.” whatever Trent did, he hurried up, parked, it got in and went to bed. “I’m just going to go to sleep,” like that’s going to make it all go away. I just wonder how many other fires would have happened out there, had there not been a quick response, both by law enforcement and the firefighters.
Yeardley [00:08:52] So, you don’t even pick Trent up until the next day?
Dawn [00:08:55] Right. Little did we know that the white jeep had left with Trent’s roommate to go to work, so we weren’t going to find it during the day.
Yeardley [00:09:03] So, Trent’s roommate borrowed the white jeep to go to work, while Trent is in the house sleeping off his crimes?
Dawn [00:09:10] Yes.
Dave [00:09:11] So, you guys just camped out in his neighborhood doing surveillance waiting for him to show up either the jeep or you get a visual on him, the person?
Dawn [00:09:18] Right. He’s walking down the street. And so, we stopped Trent for the hit and run on that camper. Right.
Dave [00:09:24] Okay. And so, he’s walking near his residence and you guys just swoop on him?
Dawn [00:09:28] Right. Trent actually walked out his door and you walked just like out into the front yard and the patrol officer saw him and that’s when he stopped him.
Dave [00:09:37] And Trent has no idea why the police would want to talk to him?
Dawn [00:09:40] No, “I don’t know why you want to talk to me. But, yes, I will come with you and see what you know.” I invite Trent to come back to my detective vehicle and he comes back to the detective vehicle. We were able to talk and he says that he didn’t do it. “No, I didn’t do it. I wouldn’t start a fire after I got arrested for those first fires. I’ve learned my lesson. Wasn’t there. Didn’t do it.”
Yeardley [00:10:10] What does he say is his alibi?
Dawn [00:10:12] He was driving around. It was 3 o’clock in the morning and he needed to get a cell phone at the local 24-hour supermart. You know what I mean? But then when he drove over there, he realized all of those phones were prepaids. So, he decided not to. And then, he got lost coming home.
Yeardley [00:10:29] In his small town?
Dawn [00:10:30] Mm-hmm. Trent said he got lost and had to drive around. And then, he admitted to turning around in the high school parking lot. So, he turned around, but Trent didn’t run into anything. Until we were able to show him a piece of that grill on his headlight and how it matched, and then he’s like, “Oh, well, I might have touched it.”
Dave [00:10:50] So, you’ve got the vehicle now?
Dawn [00:10:51] We do. We get the vehicle while Trent’s talking with us.
Dave [00:10:55] He tells you where it’s at.
Dawn [00:10:56] No, his roommate came home and so, we get it then. And the roommate was totally cooperative. Like, “I want nothing to do with this.”
Dan [00:11:19] On the initial call-out, you get called to a fire?
Dawn [00:11:24] Yeah.
Dan [00:11:24] I’m sure there were several fire crews that arrived to this. That’s a massive fire.
Dawn [00:11:28] It was a massive fire.
Dan [00:11:29] Are they calling you, you’re going to investigate anyway? Or, are they seeing scenes of accelerant or–
Dawn [00:11:35] We could see a V pattern, there was an accelerant. Okay, so we could see a V pattern where that fire started. And, I mean, it was so pronounced, it’s not always as pronounced as you would think. But in this case, it was so pronounced and there was nothing there that would start that fire naturally.
Yeardley [00:11:51] What’s the significance of a V pattern in an arson investigation?
Dawn [00:11:55] It shows you how that fire starts where it grows from. And if there had been accelerant of some sort, then you might see a splash pattern or like a float, like it poured here and flowed out, you might see that. But in this case, it was just the V pattern and it was pretty distinctive, because it was plastics that were melting and burning also. So, it was suspicious from the get. And because I do fire and arson investigation, that’s why they called me.
While I’m there is when I find out, “Hey, there’s this white jeep that’s driving around. We think it might be related.” And then, we find out that it belongs to Trent. And then, we find out that Trent has arson history. And so, it’s just like one piece at a time, and then neighbors are bringing in surveillance video and it’s showing this white jeep. He’s saying he’s at the superstore, and he’s not at the superstore, he’s at the local bar. And he’s at the local bar drinking and buying rounds for people in there because he just got his paycheck, he’s a disabled veteran.
Yeardley [00:12:58] What was Trent a veteran of? Was he a veteran of one of our Afghan wars or Iraqi wars?
Dawn [00:13:03] I don’t believe Trent ever saw any combat. He, I believe, was in the Air Force and what he told me was lightning struck the building that he was in and knocked him down, and he ended up with 90% disability, which he got paid 100% for.
Yeardley [00:13:21] What does that mean, a 90% disability? Because Trent seems fairly able bodied, or am I misunderstanding what that term means, 90% disability?
Dave [00:13:32] So, when you file paperwork with the military regarding injuries, depending on what those injuries are either physical or emotional distress, PTSD-type injuries, depending on the degree, you may not be able to continue your service. So, they rate you based on how badly you’re injured either emotionally or physically. It doesn’t mean that he has to be going around in a wheelchair, just he was injured to a point where he can no longer serve.
Yeardley [00:14:03] I see, I see.
Dawn [00:14:04] Trent gets his paycheck once a month and his routine is to go blow some money. And so, that’s what he was doing. During the course of all this, he decides, however one decides, “I’m going to start some fires.”
Dave [00:14:18] Because he misses it.
Dawn [00:14:18] Well, it’s just good fun. And what was really interesting is when we got that surveillance video back, I was able to watch a subject, walk up, light a fire, light a lighter, and then I could watch that fire grow and grow and grow. And then, I see a white jeep drive out of that driveway. So, I pretty much had Trent, dead to rights at that point, or that fire.
Dave [00:14:45] That fire being the one on the propane tank or the building?
Dawn [00:14:49] The one on the school. And then, I also had him write a letter of apology to the students at the school.
Yeardley [00:14:56] You did?
Dawn [00:14:56] Absolutely. And his first one was, “I’m sorry that I had to pee and went behind your dumpster.” So, that was his first letter of apology.
Yeardley [00:15:05] With no mention of the fire?
Dawn [00:15:06] No mention of the fire. He just stopped there because he really had to use the restroom and so he decided to stop at the school and urinate behind the dumpster. Trent lived two blocks away.
Yeardley [00:15:17] Give me a break.
Dave [00:15:18] That’s dragon piss. That’s like straight fire.
Dan [00:15:21] So, backing up a little bit. At first Trent’s giving you denials? “No, I wasn’t there.” “Okay. Yes, I did do a U-turn in the school parking lot.” And then, you confront him with vehicle evidence of debris that was found at the scene. What’s his response to that, that you’re starting to confront him with some evidence?
Dawn [00:15:41] Well, he’s going to hold on to his denials for as long as possible. So, we talked to Trent for five and a half hours, and so he held on. When we would give him proof of something, he would be like, “Oh, okay, well, yeah, I must have touched it. I must have touched that.” “No, I didn’t start the fire.” And then, it moved from not starting the fire to, “I urinated behind the dumpster.” And then, it moved from, “Well, when I urinated, I also smoked a cigarette, so I must have put the cigarette into the dumpster. But I’m pretty sure the cherry of the cigarette just floated off into the dumpster.” That didn’t start it. So, he’s like, “I’m very careful about how I take care of my cigarettes. I’m very careful about crushing out the cherry of my cigarette,” is what he said. And so, he’s denied, denied, denying it.
And then, basically, I got mad at him is what happened and I told him that he was disrespecting me. And he got really upset and he’s like, “Well, I’m not disrespecting you.” And that’s when he finally said, “Okay, I did it.” So, I think he just needed like the mom touch, like his mom got mad at him?
Dave [00:16:42] [laughs]
Yeardley [00:16:43] So interesting.
Dawn [00:16:45] And he’s like, “Yeah, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.” So, it started with cigarette and that he put it in this cardboard recycle thing. None of the cardboard in that recycle dumpster was burned. So, we knew that that was a lie. I mean he just kept saying, “No.” Once Trent finally said, “Okay, I did it,” even though he tried to say it was an accident. “Okay, I did it,” and he wrote his second letter of apology where he says, “I stopped and I started a fire. And I’m sorry if it has caused you any problems, students of he school.” And then, we had to talk about the propane tank. And he’s like, “Oh, no, I didn’t do that. I didn’t do that.” And eventually, he just gave in and he said, “Yes, I started that fire, too.” And I think he just gave up.
Yeardley [00:17:27] And did he say why? Did he say, “I have this compulsion, I can’t help myself”?
Dawn [00:17:31] No, I did ask him about any other fires that he might have done. When was the first time that you were ever around a fire? And he talks about a friend of his starting a fire on accident with a cigarette when he was like 12 or 14 in a totally different town. So, that was an indicator to me that I needed to contact that town and find out about their fires. And they had at least four during that time period, either in places where Trent lived or places next door to where he lived. So, Trent has been starting fires for a long time.
Yeardley [00:18:02] What’s the psychology of an arsonist? Sort of generally speaking, what is that compulsion?
Dawn [00:18:08] I don’t really know, because I’m not an arsonist. [laughter] However, I do ask them on a regular basis when I come across somebody who likes to start fires to talk to me about that. One man just told me, “I like doodling fires.” They just like the flame. They like watching it dance. They like that power. It’s almost like they don’t even have respect for it. And then, sometimes, you hear things about it being a sexual compulsion, and you’ll find ejaculate at fire sometimes. So, I asked Trent about that. I asked him if it was sexual and he thought I was a creeper or something. So, okay, sorry. Yeah, I don’t really know. I think it can be anything. My very first arson, the kid that did it, he started a lot of fires, and he would come back to them to watch the firefighters.
Dave [00:18:54] Every fire that I’ve ever gone to, to cover our fire department, do traffic control, it’s pretty typical, especially in a residential neighborhood, middle of the night, middle of the day, whenever these fires happen, fire trucks are loud. They show up and people come out of their houses and they gather. I always took pictures of the crowd. Snap a few pictures of the crowd just to have it because I’ve heard this compulsion that they want to watch. They want to see their handywork. This is their creation, and they want to admire it.
Yeardley [00:19:25] The arsonists.
Dave [00:19:26] The arsonist.
Dawn [00:19:27] Well, they’ve caused a lot of people to do stuff, right? That first guy–
Dave [00:19:32] This is somebody other than Trent?
Dawn [00:19:34] Yeah, he started a fire and it was a huge fire in a business. And as I was out investigating with the fire department, this kid walks up, and I knew he had a history of starting fires. And it was interesting, because when he walked up and engaged us in conversation, he’s like, “What’s going on?” “Well, there was a fire,” and so we’re just talking back and forth and he said, “I started the fire,” and kept talking. He didn’t even know that he had admitted it. Fortunately, I just stood there and I didn’t respond at the time like [gasp] “Oh, he started the fire! He started the fire!” But I looked at the firefighter next to me, and he’s looking at me like, “Oh my gosh, he just said that?” Like, “Yep.”
Yeardley [00:20:14] So, how far into the interview do you tell Trent, we have video of you starting the fire? And also my other question is, isn’t it quite hard to start a fire that’s hot enough that would burn a whole building down? My impression is that it’s actually not that easy. But I don’t know anything about that.
Dawn [00:20:32] If you looked at this building that caught on fire, you’d be like, “I don’t even know how he did it.” But the fire goes up into the eaves. And so, the fire is burning the roof, and the attic space, and all those trusses and burning down in. And so, you have all that fire damage, and then you put all these thousands and thousands of gallons of water on it and then you have all that water damage also, so it ends up being a total loss.
Yeardley [00:20:58] I see.
Dan [00:20:59] What time of year was this?
Dawn [00:21:00] Summer.
Dan [00:21:01] It was summertime. So, we have dry summers here. It’s not unheard of that we have 45, 50 days, no rain. We have warm summers here sometimes too. So, depending on the weather, it’s a healthy fire season in our forests and our woodlands. But buildings dry out too.
Dave [00:21:17] It works even better if you knock out all the windows, which I’ve done.
Dawn [00:21:21] When you started a fire?
Dave [00:21:23] No, I was responding to a fire. We told the story. It was a bunch of firefighters, but they were upset with my efforts to ventilate the fire.
Dawn [00:21:30] Ventilate!
Yeardley [00:21:32] Somebody had said that there was a woman inside the house that was burning. So, Dave, of course, being first on scene, not wanting to not do anything, bust inside the house, there’s smoke everywhere. He can’t find a woman, but he’s like, “Well, shit, I should knock out the windows to try to get more air.”
Dawn [00:21:47] Right, I’m going to give her air.
Yeardley [00:21:49] But, of course, it feeds the fire. [chuckles] The good news is there was nobody actually in the house. She was already next door.
Dawn [00:21:55] Right. So, that airspace that you’re talking about, that air, when it goes up into those vents, if there’s no fire blocks, which– that’s how they build houses now with fire blocks, like in apartments, it can’t run the entire attic anymore. It can’t run the entire space. So, it wouldn’t involve unit one, unit two, unit three, because it has those fire blocks. But I don’t think that the school based on its age had those fire blocks. So, it’s just like [swoosh sound]
Dave [00:22:22] Hadfree reign.
Yeardley [00:22:24] Did Trent go to court?
Dawn [00:22:26] He did not. He took a plea and he’s spending some time in prison finally, for starting fires.
Yeardley [00:22:33] Oh, excellent. When he was setting fires, when he was younger, did he get any time?
Dawn [00:22:36] No, they never proved that it was him when he was younger. But just within a year of these fires, he had been convicted of two or three fires in rural barns and he was given probation instead of putting him away.
Dave [00:22:51] Did he get arson charges or reckless burning?
Dawn [00:22:53] I believe that they were arson because they were buildings, farm buildings.
Yeardley [00:22:57] That seems legit, and you get probation?
Dawn [00:22:53] Mm-hmm
Dave [00:23:01] If it’s your first foray into the system, as an adult– I mean, you see it all the time, “Hey, if your client pleads to these charges, we’ll give them three years or five years of probation and tell them not to do that anymore.” So, you get a light slap on the wrists the first time around, and then your second time around, you get the full meal deal. So, in this case, he’s got an arson of a school. And then, he’s got an arson that could have been really bad at the propane tank. I mean, if he were to have injured somebody in the course of that, he’d have gone away for a lot longer, I’m sure, but arson carries a pretty decent sentence here in our state. Arson one.
Yeardley [00:23:42] Okay. Arson one implies, there’s more than one type of arson charge, I’m guessing. Yes?
Dave [00:23:49] Yes.
Yeardley [00:23:49] And Dave, you mentioned a few minutes ago, reckless burning. What’s the difference between the two?
Dawn [00:23:54] Right. So, an arson one would involve a dwelling someplace where somebody normally lives or a protected place like a school or a church, something like that, where people are normally going to be. But the shed in the backyard is a building, so that would be an arson two. And if they burned the tree in the front yard, that would be a reckless burn.
Yeardley [00:24:14] And what about a barn? It might have animals in it. Is that arson one or arson two?
Dawn [00:24:18] I’m going to say arson two. But when you say animals, I’m thinking domestic animals are really important to us. And so, I would have to look that one up, or call my prosecutor.
Yeardley [00:24:31] [chuckles] Gray area. Now I’ve heard that people who start fires can’t help themselves, arsonists that is. That it’s a compulsion for them, often uncontrollable.
Dawn [00:24:41] Right. People who intentionally start fires, they don’t just decide one day, “I’m going to start one fire and then never do it again,” or haven’t done it in the past. And so, when you’re investigating somebody who does arson fires, we need to look into their past, because they are a danger to us. They will start more fires. They have been starting fires and they just haven’t gotten caught. And they will start more fires in the future. So for Trent to go out and start fires rurally in barns that should have been a big indicator to us that he is a danger to our community. And probation isn’t good enough, that’s not going to stop. And clearly it didn’t because he started these other fires. So, now hopefully he’s on the radar when he gets out because I think he’ll continue to start fires even when he gets out.
Yeardley [00:25:25] Wow.
Dawn Prison’s not going to stop him from starting fires.
Dave [00:25:28] Yeah, we get those alerts, Department of Corrections, DOC, when they do releases, particular offenders based on their charges will generate a flag or an alert to whatever jurisdiction that person is moving to once they get out of prison. So, you’ll get an alert like arsonists, it gives a brief summary of the crimes that they got convicted for. And basically, if you got fires that start popping up after this guy’s release, you might want to go chat with him first.
Dan [00:25:56] I think it’s largely like, you talk about sex offenders, and I’m going to throw arsonists in that same kind of pool, that there’s this compulsion that you cannot control. And that as this compulsion grows inside you, you’re a little more bold each time you do something and you get away with it. And it takes a little more to feed that compulsion in you and get you off to satisfy you. And I think that he was on the path, especially that night. I mean, what are we talking here, in a couple hours, we’ve got these three different incidents?
Dawn [00:26:31] Correct. Not even a couple hours.
Dan [00:26:33] And he wasn’t done that night, but for seeing a police officer and hooking a U-ie and going home.
Dawn [00:26:38] Right. Trent wasn’t done that night but for there was too many people out there. And one of the things that we said to him was, “Thank you for doing it at night. Thank you for not hurting any kids.” What does he respond? “You’re welcome.” He doesn’t admit that he started the fire. “Thank you for doing it at nighttime.” “You’re welcome. Yeah, I would never hurt anybody.” So, yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. When you say like, getoff is not necessarily sexual, but there is that thrill inside, like that adrenaline dump of, “Look at my handywork.”
Dave [00:27:11] Right, like the public building wasn’t enough. Now I’m going to go get close to a residence and possibly take out a dwelling where people are inside.
Dawn [00:27:18] Right. If you think about that propane tank, I don’t think that he was like, “I think I’m going to find a propane tank and I’m going to set it on fire.” I think it was, “I came around the corner. Oh, my gosh, there’s this gift in front of me of a propane tank and I can take advantage of it.”
Dave [00:27:34] Like a big shining light right on the propane tank. Go over there. Set that thing on fire. Yeah.
Yeardley [00:27:41] Do you know anything about his background growing up or anything like that, that would– I don’t know, that anything could point to a compulsion like that? But I’m just curious.
Dawn [00:27:50] I don’t. I do know that Trent’s father’s business burnt to the ground when Trent lived there. I don’t know what was happening at home. I don’t know what– I don’t know.
Yeardley [00:28:01] What do you do the next day after a night like that?
Dawn [00:28:04] I write reports and write reports and write reports. The reports on him were about 364 pages. There was a lot of reports. I didn’t write them all. I just wrote most of them.
Yeardley [00:28:17] That’s incredible. And can you say how much time he got in prison?
Dawn [00:28:21] So, he got 20 years.
Yeardley [00:28:23] Okay.
Dave [00:28:24] These aren’t mandatory minimums. They would have calculated his earliest release date based on projection of good time. So, Trent got sentence to 20, but that’s truncated down, based on their projections too, it’ll be about 15 years.
Dawn [00:28:37] Yes. As long as he doesn’t start any fires in prison, right?
Yeardley [00:28:41] Sure.
Dan [00:28:56] Dawn, you’re quite versatile and you work for a small town agency, but you do computer forensics, you do child abuse, sex abuse, and you’re also an arson investigator?
Dawn [00:29:08] Fire and arson investigator. I was the only one at our department. Towards the end, I was the only one at that police department and fire department who had been to the National Fire Academy and actually gone through that training there. So, whenever there was a fire, I got a call.
Yeardley [00:29:24] And how did you get interested in becoming a fire investigator? Like, “Dawn, it’s going to be you.”
Dawn [00:29:30] I married a firefighter.
Yeardley [00:29:31] Ah. [chuckles] Right.
Dawn [00:29:33] That was one of my marriages.
Dave [00:29:36] I thought in your childhood, you were probably burning down barns.
Dawn [00:29:39] Yeah, the dance floor, I was burning down the dance floor.
Yeardley [00:29:42] That’s right, the dance floor.
Dawn [00:29:44] Yeah, I was hanging out with firefighters and I thought it was interesting. One of the very first fires that I was ever around was a fire in our community in a church, in a historic church that a man set. It was just fascinating to me. And then, the one where the kid said, kid, he was an adult. But he said, “I started the fire.” I was like, “Dude, I can do this investigation.” I mean, they tell you they did it. So, they’re hard investigations to do. It’s like you have to prove what didn’t start it to get to what did start it.
Yeardley [00:30:19] Right. That’s interesting.
Dan [00:30:21] Also, when you’re looking for evidence, a lot of your evidence is destroyed by simply putting the fire out. That’s a lot of water. And that’s debris falling from the roof and the ceiling of these buildings. You have to search for your evidence. It’s difficult.
Dawn [00:30:35] Yeah, we call it a dig. You have to do a dig and you’re taking the layers off, like peeling an onion piece by piece until you can get to the bottom. And then, when you get to the bottom, you’re not even done then, you have to sweep and you can see the patterns if you have accelerants, things like that. It’s interesting and not easy.
Dan [00:30:53] Is that one of the things you like about it, that it’s not easy?
Dawn [00:30:55] I think so. And that not everybody does it, so it’s kind of unique. I’m not interested in like investigating car fires and stuff like that. The house fires where people are involved, that’s more interesting to me.
Yeardley [00:31:07] Right. And how did you get into the computer forensics?
Dawn [00:31:10] I got into computer forensics, because it got to a point where every crime that we dealt with had a computer. And so, I was constantly going over to a neighboring jurisdiction and talking to somebody there to help me with the computer forensics. So then, I did a proposal to our agency and I was like, “We need to do this and I’m willing to try it.” And I’ve got to tell you, computers are not my favorite. I don’t really like them that much, but I like the forensic part. And then, I like talking to the suspects afterwards.
Yeardley [00:31:39] So, say, “Listen, I’ve gotten into what you think is your secret lockbox.”
Dawn [00:31:44] Mm-hmm. Yeah, I ended up going to a place called IACIS, which means the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists. So, I did a bunch of training in Florida and I went to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center for the Feds and did training down there and stuff.
Yeardley [00:32:01] Amazing to be so multidisciplined.
Dawn [00:32:03] Well, when you work in a smaller agency, you don’t get the luxury of being able to do one thing. You have to wear a bunch of hats.
Yeardley [00:32:10] Yeah, we talk about that. We talk about how many hats you all have to wear, how many fewer resources are available to you, but how are you are expected to present the same excellent work product that a big city is with many more resources available to them. It’s a job well done.
Dave [00:32:28] Were you on SWAT too? I mean, what else? You’re holding out on us.
Yeardley [00:32:31] I know. Are you a forensic diver also like–? [laughs]
Dawn [00:32:33] So, now what I’m currently doing right now, although I’m retired, I’m a firearms instructor. So, I teach new cops how to shoot guns. And then, I also teach sexual assault investigations.
Dan [00:32:46] I kind of want to toot our own horn. When you instruct at the academy, you said that you use some of our podcast episodes?
Dawn [00:32:53] I do.
Dan [00:32:55] It’s really flattering.
Yeardley [00:32:56] Yeah.
Dawn [00:32:57] So, I teach– in fact, I just taught yesterday, an eight-hour class on sexual assault investigations and the one of the things that I think it’s important for the young cops to know is that cops can do bad things also. And so, I bring up the Sociopath and the Whistleblower. And we talk about that and other police officers like Daniel Holtzclaw.
Yeardley [00:33:17] Who’s that?
Dave [00:33:19] Holtzclaw, another cop from a different state. And he was doing very similar stuff that the two officers that we talked about in Sociopath and the Whistleblower, he’s doing the same exact stuff.
Dave [00:33:32] Again, he’s got credibility, because he’s a cop, but he’s targeting the same type of individuals that our officers in Sociopath and the Whistleblower, same people who are on the fringes.
Dawn [00:33:44] Right. We talk about the hyper-credibility that police officers hold, and that they choose victims that appear to lack in credibility and that balance, it’s so out of balance. So, I think it’s important for them to realize that they can’t put a face to a sex offender, it can be anyone.
Yeardley [00:34:04] Right. And Dave, who investigated sex crimes and child abuse for over six years, always said, one of the superpowers that sex offenders had was they blended in.
Dawn [00:34:15] Oh, absolutely.
Yeardley [00:34:16] That was their thing. Of course, they didn’t want to be noticed, like you didn’t ever pick them out.
Dawn [00:34:22] Yeah, we tend to protect our children and investigate our children and child abuse. We tend to dismiss our adult victims of sex abuse. We tend to dismiss it. When I’m teaching about sexual assault, we’re talking about late adolescents and adults, and we’re talking about believing them. And when I say that, I don’t mean that if somebody comes in, you just believe them no matter what they say. But it’s very easy to tell them nobody deserves to be sexually assaulted and to listen to what their experience was and let the evidence speak for itself, right?
Yeardley [00:34:57] Right.
Dawn [00:34:58] Yeah, that’s important to me.
Yeardley [00:35:00] Yes, very, indeed. Well, thank you so much. You are a remarkable human. Great to have you. Thank you.
Dan [00:35:07] Thank you, Dawn.
Dawn [00:35:08] Thank you.
Dave [00:35:09] Thank you. That was great.
Yeardley [00:35:12] Hey, Small Town Fam, I have extra tidbits of info to share with you. First of all, if you want more of detective Dawn, we have posted a new full length episode just on Patreon for our subscribers at patreon.com/smalltowndickspodcast. There, you could subscribe for five bucks a month, help us cover travel, editors, that sort of thing and get tons and tons of bonus content. Second, I’m here with Detectives Dan and Dave, and well, Dan, why don’t you take it away?
Dan [00:35:45] A couple weeks ago, I was visiting Dave and we were bored one night, and we just happen to find a movie that was on demand. It was on Amazon Prime. And we rented it and it’s called Alone, and it’s pretty good.
Dave [00:35:58] I remember when that movie came on, and I saw the Paperclip icon.
Yeardley [00:36:01] The logo.
Dave [00:36:02] I was like, “Dan, that’s Yeardley’s company.” And he’s like, “Yeah, no dipshit.”
Yeardley [00:36:06] [chuckles] But that’s not why you wanted to watch the movie. You wanted to watch it because you’d heard it was rated 95% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, right?
Dan [00:36:14] Exactly right. And we wanted to snuggle up and watch a thriller together.
Dave [00:36:18] I had my notepad out, like Roger Ebert, very critical, but I had Georgia the mastiff next to me, Dan on the other side of the couch, so I did not watch alone. Wow, alone.
Yeardley [00:36:28] Smart.
Dave [00:36:28] I was all in within a few minutes on that movie.
Yeardley [00:36:31] Smalls Town Fam, it’s a survival thriller. I would say it’s every woman’s worst nightmare and I’d just leave it at that. But for Dan and Dave, who’ve really seen the worst of human beings for 15 plus years, for you guys to be all in, that’s pretty good.
Dave [00:36:47] Yeah. And the lead, Jules Wilcox, I thought she did a really good job but Marc Menchaca who plays the villain in this is so sinister.
Yeardley [00:36:57] He’s so scary, you don’t ever want him coming to your car window.
Dan [00:36:59] He’s believable and he’s so good.
Dave [00:37:02] Creepy.
Dan [00:37:03] And I lent my truck to the crew.
Yeardley [00:37:05] Yes, you did.
Dan It didn’t make an appearance in the movie, but–
Yeardley [00:37:08] [chuckles] It takes a village people. So, Small Town Fam, I think maybe on the top of your list for weekend entertainment is to rent Alone, which you can find on pretty much everywhere including Hulu, Apple, Amazon, Redbox, Fandango Plus, Spectrum, you name it, it’s there.
Dan [00:37:28] The people who listen to our podcast, I think this is right up their alley.
Yeardley [00:37:31] I think so too.
Dave [00:37:31] I would agree. I actually sent the trailer to detectives that have been on our podcast, I was like, “Hey, check this out. This is Yeardley’s company’s new movie that just got released.” And everyone came back to my office, “Hey, that was really good.” And I’m like, “Yeah, it’s Hollywood.”
Yeardley [00:37:46] [chuckles] That is a massive endorsement.
Dan [00:37:48] Apparently, there are a bunch of Alone titles.
Yeardley [00:37:51] I think it’s not an unusual title. But the poster that you’re looking for is the lead Jules Wilcox looking in her rearview mirror of her car and headlights in the rearview. So, that’s our Alone and it came out in September 2020. So, that little bit of info will direct you to the right Alone also. Thanks for the endorsement, fellas.
Dave [00:38:11] Yeah, we just want to talk about that. Shameless plug.
Yeardley [00:38:14] [chuckles] But at least for something good.
Dan [00:38:16] Absolutely.
Yeardley [00:38:18] Also, I’m so pleased to tell our listeners that starting with Season Seven, we now have transcripts for each of our episodes. Thank you to SpeechDocs for providing those. You can find them on our website at smalltowndicks.com. And if you’re a podcaster and you need fast, accurate transcripts for your podcast, go to speechdocs.com for more information. You guys are the best. We love you. We could not do this without you.
Small Town Dicks is produced by Gary Scott and Yeardley Smith, and coproduced by Detectives Dan and Dave. This episode was edited by Soren Begin and Gary Scott and me, Yeardley Smith. Our associate produces are Erin Gaynor and The Real Nick Smitty. Our music is composed by John Forest. Our editors extraordinaire are Logan Heftel and Soren Begin. And our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
Dan [00:39:15] If you like what you hear and want to stay up to date with the show, visit us on our website at smalltowndicks.com, and join the Small Town fam by following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @smalltowndicks. We love hearing from you.
Dave [00:39:31] And if you support us on Patreon, your subscription will give you access to exclusive content and merchandise that isn’t available anywhere else. Go to patreon.com/smalltowndickspodcast.
Yeardley [00:39:42] That’s right. Your subscription also makes it possible for us to keep going to small towns across the country.
Dan [00:39:49] In search of the finest rare true crime cases told, as always, by the detectives who investigated them.
Dave [00:39:56] So, thanks for listening, Small Town Fam.
Yeardley [00:39:58] Nobody’s better than you.