John Orr

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John Orr
Full Name: John Leonard Orr
Alias: The Pillow Pyro
Origin: South Pasadena, California, United States
Occupation: Firefighter (formerly)
Hobby: Setting fires deliberately
Goals: To become a police officer for the Los Angeles Police Department (failed)
Become a firefighter for the Los Angeles Fire Department (failed)
Become a firefighter for the Glendale Fire Department (succeeded)
Show that he could be both the hero and the villain (somewhat succeeded)
Crimes: Mass murder
Type of Villain: Sadistic Pyromaniac

John Orr (April 26th, 1949 - ) is a former fire captain turned arsonist. He was known for setting a series of arson fires in Southern California that lasted from the mid 1980s to the early 1990s.

Early life

John Orr was the youngest child of three boys who were raised by parents who fought a lot. Orr originally wanted to start his career as a police officer for the Los Angeles Police Department in the early 1970s, but failed the psychological test and did the same thing for the Los Angeles Fire Department, but failed the physical test. So, he decided to pursue his career as a firefighter for the Glendale, California Fire Department. Before he began his regular career in the fire department, John was an Air Force firefighter.

His crimes

On October 10th, 1984, a fire broke out in a crafts store in South Pasadena, California killing four people including a two year old child and his grandmother. The fire was at first deemed accidental, but Orr stated that it was set on purpose.

In order to set the fires, Orr used an incendiary device by using a sheet of paper and wrapping the paper around rubber bands, matches and a cigarette in order to make his way out before the fire broke out. He commonly started fires in fabric sections of stores, especially pillows thus earning the nickname The Pillow Pyro.

In 1987, Captain Marvin Casey of the Bakersfield, California Fire Department found an incendiary device at an arts and crafts store fire. Two years later in 1989, Casey found a similar looking device at a crafts supply store. During an arson investigator's conference in Fresno, Casey had a list of fifty five people who attended the conference. He asked for fingerprints of the people attending, but his request was ignored.

In 1991, Casey sent the evidence to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Agent Michael Matassa headed the investigation. The fingerprint did not match any of the investigators who attended any of the conferences. However, a match was found when Casey obtained a copy of attendee fingerprints that were found in the Los Angeles Police Department's fingerprint database.


In April of 1991, prosecutors put a tracking device under his car in order to find his whereabouts and arrest him. However, the first attempt failed when John found the device under his car after he noticed the wires of the tracker dropped out. Prosecutors tried again in late 1991 and on December 4th, 1991, John was arrested on multiple counts of murder and arson including for the fire he set in 1984 and was convicted in 1998. He was sentenced to life in California State Prison with no chance of parole although he maintains his innocence. After his arrest, the number of arson fires in Southern California declined dramatically.


  • Crime author and former Los Angeles Police Department officer Joseph Wambaugh published a book about John Orr titled Fire Lover named after a quote from the book where a fictional firefighter arsonist named Aaron Stiles (which is an anagram for I set LA arson) in a book John was writing titled Points of Origin where the character of Aaron Stiles referred to fire as a mistress and lover.
  • Years after the fires he set broke out, HBO made a made for television film titled Point of Origin based on his true story. There have also been various documentaries about him featured on Nova in the episode Hunt for the Serial Arsonist (aired in November 1995), Forensic Files, Cold Case Files, and Deadly Secrets.




"Typically, arson is more difficult to investigate, because The majority of your evidence is destroyed."

"I am not a serial arsonist."