Letters From an Arsonist Thomas Sweatt torched Washington for decades. He killed more people than we thought.

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As a child growing up I never did the “normal” thing like learning how to ride a bike, play sports, do boyish things. Instead I wanted to play house out in the woods making straw houses, pretending to be the lady next door and dare my brothers to enter my house without knocking!! It was funny, we use to call each other (one brother and I) Mrs. Lady. I always wanted to walk up town to McCory’s Dime Store only to steal Doll babies (my brothers stole racing cars toys)—even look in white folks trash and find yeast bread just to taste it and bring it home.…

I get aroused just the thought of big shoes + Big Patten Leather boots.…From childhood all the way up to even now. I always wandered why I like to mastubate over my uncle’s shoes, sleep with them in his bed when he’s away—my father’s shoes too. I always was glad to see darkness fall so that I could sneak outside and go behind the house where my fathers bedroom and peep thru the window only to see him lying on the bed reading the paper. I would masterbate over his big black shiny shoes! Crazy stuff! Right? But no one never found out these obsession I have. I kept them hid as you stated in your letter. When we had church meeting in our home, I can still picture this one member…standing outside in the backyard congregating with others. I could see him thru a bathroom window and have fantasies of him by ejecting off. His shoes were a orange brown colors but military style. I wonder if he still have those…

You asked were there any special relationships while living on Lebaum St? The answer is no. There were a few “one night stands” sort-to-speak but nothing to hold on too. I don’t look to have a romantic relationship as a normal human being would—love, roses + red wine sort of thing. Mines was more of choosing the person for crazy reason, like “ooh he has a nice funky walk” or maybe enjoy their companionship but don’t come by often. Most of these experiences ended violently. Some involved police and some I took matters in my own hand.

It really goes all the way back to childhood—never felt loved by family and even now I say I love them but its very hard to feel in my heart. Even during visits they pretend also I know because its all the expression on their faces that tells me so, and even on the phone. I never probably will learn the reason why…

I trusted others judgements and decisions over mine. Or should I say, just easy to be persuaded?…I have trouble explaining why I do certain things. I look for answers to many questions but only left with more question marks. Why? Why? Why? Even here on my record it states personality disorder. I’ll be your friend yet turn around and don’t want anything else to do with you!! Crazy?!


When he sought companionship he cruised the city’s gay underbelly near the Navy Yard clubs or along the Georgia Avenue NW corridor. He liked men with athletic builds, though sometimes he would find himself attracted to someone for an inexplicable reason, like the size of his feet (11 and 12 were favorites) or his unusual gait (pigeon toes made him swoon).

I was working at “Holly Farms” (Restaurant) off Geogia Ave + Decatur and I could walk home from work if necessary. I had a special friend, we use to go to clubs almost every night drinking and smoking. We had a nice time but there was always this need to be loved by young guys on the street. I wasn’t a “Thug” but was attracted to street life. So, after leaving the Clubs + bars he would take me home and ask if I needed the car for the next day. Of course I’d say yes. But that same night I went cruising up Geogia Ave and picked up this young guy named Tyrone.…We became best of friends until I became obsessed with him which drove me to set his house afire (actually his aunts house on Peabody + 3rd—She was slightly injured and the house was damaged just the basement where he lived. I was glad she didn’t get hurt. Well Tyrone was a boxer and very handsome and he use to come over my apartment on Wednesday night to watch “Dynasty” TV Show together. The night before the fire I went inside the basement of the place he live and took all this clothes, tennis shoes (some of which I bought for him). He wore a size 12 shoes. That was attractive to me and I would actually go to bed with His shoes on my pillar and to smell the odor…

Sweatt set that fire back in the early ’80s, when he was starting to see that he showed two faces to the world. One was that of a churchgoing working man who performed random works of charity and bid good afternoon to the neighbors. The other was that of a lonesome and violent obsessive who never shared his unspeakable urges with anyone. Trying to reconcile these two people would be the fundamental crisis of his life.

It’s really something to think about knowing that as a child one grows up to be known as a serial arsonist. It’s such a degrading name and I don’t like to be recognized as such. But it is what it is and life goes on.

In June 2003, a raging two-alarm fire on Evarts Street NE claimed the life of 86-year-old Lou Edna Jones. Investigators had hoped the blaze was accidental. When forensic tests proved their arsonist was behind it, they found the fire deeply troubling. They had already linked another fire from the same night—set about two-and-a-half miles away, near RFK Stadium, just 50 minutes before the one on Evarts—which meant their arsonist had no problem lighting “doubles,” as they call a pair of fires set one after another. “It shows there’s nothing stopping him,” says Fulkerson.

Dave Jamieson has won the Livingston Award for "Letters from an Arsonist."

Our Readers Say

Great work Dave. Have you purchased the movie rights? Seriously, I thought you did a great job. It was very interesting and sad to read the serial arsonist thoughts and motivations behind his action that affected so many people.
amazing story - after so many years of open-ended news reports, it's a riveting account from the source himself. thank you
this is an incredible piece of journalism. very harrowing. excellent work.
Awesome article! For one who has responded to some of the fires that were set it is intriguing to try and understand what the motives behind such actions are and what makes a person go this route. We very seldom get a look inside the brain, so to speak, of someone that creates such devestation, injury and death. I think it would make for an excellent movie or more "documentary" to profile the thoughts and background of an Arsonist.
Yes. Very well written and constructed however it is truly sickening. This man is absolutely sickening. It is amazing how he evaded attention for so many years. This reminds me of the story of the crackhead who would break into downtown offices, breaking through the drywall. It took a while for him to get caught too.

May God Have Mercy on this sick, sick man's soul.

Poetic Justice would be that he burns in hell.
I think that the article was written very well. It gave me a look into the mind of a serial arsonist.
Astonishing! This is what makes The City Paper valuable and intriguing. A sad, sad scenario on a lost, demented individual & the dilemma of authorities trying to catch him.
Great article, fascinating and riveting in it's detail. But now I feel like throwing up. That guy is disgusting. And this all leaves me considering that the reason this fella got away with what he doing for so long was because he afflicted the less well endowed and darker side of D.C. with his sick perversions. In other words, perhaps the individual victims didn't have enough clout to warrant a thorough investigation.
All of this is disgusting. Sometimes I can barely believe this shit is real, and then I think about the history of the world and it's not so hard to believe. Either way I'm waiting for the day we (humans) stop glorifying these sick individuals.
A stunning piece of journalism. Your style is so real and personal. It was wonderful to find this among all the sensationalist, ratings-grabbing items out there today. Thank you for your hard work and research.
Stunning story. Great details. I took two weeks to get thru this--too sickening to take in one shot. But I think you should put it in for a Pulitzer. Good job, City Paper.
I am sad to say that I was a victim of one of the fires that was set by this individual. It was in March of 03. I lived on Jasper Street in DC with my grandmother. I'm still wondering why my house was targeted. I was suffering from allergies at the time and I took Benadryl that night. If it wasn't for my grandmother hearing the glass breaking at the front of the house we could have died. I do not know this man. I sure don't recall any encounters with him at all. I had to climb down glassy steps because the glass and the flames were coming into the house. I dont know how I didn't cut me feet. I had my then 7 year old son wrapped around me for dear life. I had to make sure my 73 yr old grandmother was able to get to the basement so we could get out of the house thru the back door. When my grandmother yelled to me that the house was on fire, all i could do was grab my son and my purse because I knew my keys were in there. We made it down the stairs and to the basement to wake up my uncle. He was able to put the fire out with the hose on the house. He grabbed the phone on the way out the door to call the fire dept. My son had nightmares from the fire. He's struggling in school and he's all of a sudden a troubled child because of this. It took along time before we felt safe in our own home. My grandmother slept in the living room for months after the fire trying to protect her home incase we had another fire. To sit here and read this article turns my stomach because of the mental sickness this man. I'm glad he was caught and is behind bars. Now I can sleep better at night. I'm just puzzled to know how could he just randomly choose houses and people and then carry on a normal day.
I thought you did an excellent job on the story. It only makes you conscious
of who you may be dealing with. One never knows whats on another person
mind or what they actually do.
Dave this is a great story. My husband is now the owner of Kenny & Paul's Barbershop...My husband also used to work there back in the 90's and remembers cutting Sweatt's hair on numerous occassions. I still can't believe he got away with it for so long. Thanks for covering this story Dave - You did a wonderful job!
This was an amazing story!! It was so well writing that it took me days to finish because I didn't want it to end. Each day I would read a page or so on my metro ride to work. I finally decided to put it to rest one night before before going to bed and I actually found myself sadden to learn that indeed a second person (Mr. Picott) had died in the fire. You couldn't have done a better job at capturing the information. Every Thursday morning I look forward to getting my City Paper, and this was by far one of the better weeks.

It is an incredibly sad story. I cannot even imagine the suffering, and anguish this pyromaniac caused. It is even more incredible that he was allowed to live. It will cost a fortune to keep this monster alive until he dies. The authorities should give all that money to the victims instead. But, of course he will live till death in a very happy environment with psychiatrists, and opologists trying to determine what made thid evil man tick. Who the hell cares???
Please write a book about this! And the screenplay. You are an amazing author. This article was riveting. I spent the entire week reading it on my metro commute to and from work, savoring the details because you're writing is just that engaging. Too bad the article is not fiction....it's really sad that this is an actual human being that never got the help he needed to overcome his illness.
Hello! Good Site! Thanks you! caytnbamll
This is truly an award winning piece of journalism! Great insights and breakdown of events.
This is the best piece of journalism I can remember reading in the City Paper. Well done. The cultivation of the source, the writing, the research--the highest compliment I can give is that it's on par with the writing in Texas Monthly.
Amazing account of an extremely disturbed person. It's a tragic story in almost every way, surely there must be something positive that comes from all this. And what a horrible burden to live as this man did.
I hardly ever watch tv so just saw the tru-tv account of the serial arsonist. Storms in area and lost my satellite signal. Wanted to know why anybody would set those fires so I found your story. It really was an amazing exposee of a a sick mind. In a way Sweatt was like that doctor, Swango, I believe his name was, who killed those patients for the thrill of getting away with something. I guess one has to be overly wrapped up with achievement to care what others think so much. Of course Sweatt is 100 times more complicated than Dr. Poison. But he did have that same misplaced false meglomania (Deep down he feels rejection.) More importantly someone like Sweatt makes you realize there's nothing "normal" out there. It's unfortunate, but there's a lot of reason to distrust people you don't know super well. We just have totally no clue about most people.
Wow, unbelievable story, also found this Site via the Tru-TV show the Forensic Files, unbelievable reading. Amazing how the Bags and some DNA caused all this to finally end. Great writing, maybe a movie someday. They should "fry" this person who did all of these fires.
I really don't understand why more arsonists are not given the death penalty. It makes no sense why they are not treated as common murderers, since this is what they are.
Fantastic reporting and writing. I agree with an early comment: as long as we continue to be fascinated and entertained by extreme mental illness (I am guilty, too), we partially encourage those afflicted.
Hello would you mind stating which blog platform you're using? I'm planning to start my own blog soon but I'm having a difficult time choosing between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I'm looking for something unique. P.S My apologies for being off-topic but I had to ask!

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