Search Box

Monday, January 19, 2015

"After 36 Years, a New York Town Sifts Through Suspicions on a Fatal Fire"

The NY Times ran the above article this morning. Evidently the only suspect in a fire that killed ten people at a Holiday Inn in Greece, New York, is now the fire chief there.

The man in question, Harold J. Phillips, of course says that he is innocent.

Here is the relevant excerpt from the article:

In interviews over the years, Chief Phillips, who is known as Bud, has said he was driving by the Holiday Inn after finishing a moonlighting shift as a security guard when he saw the flames.

His call, just after 2:30 a.m., set off a swell of sirens; 125 firefighters were soon battling a full-on inferno as motel guests leapt from the windows in their pajamas. Dozens were injured. More than 150 people escaped, but 10 did not. Seven of the dead were Canadians, including three women from one family.

“In my world, I was in the right place at the right time,” Chief Phillips told the Democrat and Chronicle in 2013. “My actions saved lives.”

To many in town, though, Chief Phillips, now 66, was no hero.

A local investigator initially called the fire an accident. But an expert fire investigator from New York City, John Stickevers, was quickly brought in. He concluded that the blaze had been deliberately set. The police in Greece had 10 homicides on their hands.

Mr. Stickevers, who retired years later as New York City’s chief fire marshal, recalled in an interview that he first saw Chief Phillips while watching coverage of the fire on television when it happened. He sensed something was off, he said, but could not say exactly what.

His suspicions were heightened, he said, when he arrived in Greece to conduct his inquiry: He asserts that it would have been impossible to see the flames from the street, as Chief Phillips had described.

Other information fleshed out Mr. Stickevers’s picture of what had happened, he said: At the time of the fire, Chief Phillips had been under pressure from his wife’s family to take a better-paying job, at Kodak. Becoming the hero whose quick response had saved lives during the Holiday Inn fire had bolstered his case to remain a firefighter, Mr. Stickevers said.

“Based on the information I was given, he is a viable suspect,” Mr. Stickevers said.

The police questioned Chief Phillips in 1978, but investigators never accumulated enough evidence to bring charges against anyone.

This kind of thing is far more common than most people realize. There are many documented cases of firefighters -- sociopaths all -- who've set fires so that they can pose as heroes. This appears to be another such. 

There have also been numerous cases of sociopathic nurses who became serial killers, though they fall into two distinct categories. The first category are nurses who simply kill because they enjoy the sense of power killing gives them. The recent case in Italy is a good example of this. The second category are nurses who deliberately put their patients into mortal danger, usually through an overdose of potentially lethal drugs, so that they can then rush in and "save" the patients, thus appearing heroic. 

It is this second category of nurses who are closely related to the firemen who set fires in order to give themselves the opportunity to be heroic. The sociopaths who do this kind of thing don't intend to kill people; but if people do die as a result of their actions, they're not bothered by it, either. (Otherwise, they would never have put others at risk to begin with.) 

That Phillips rose through the ranks to become fire chief is not surprising. Sociopaths are particularly adept at ass-kissing and backstabbing, two crucial skills in furthering one's career, whether that be in business or politics or "public service."

I didn't write this post as a sociopath alert because there's not quite enough information about Phillips to be sure, and I don't like to call people sociopaths unless there's a lot of evidence. (And there is some remote chance that Phillips is innocent.)

But, based on what I've seen of sociopaths, I'd bet that Phillips is one, and a mass murderer to boot. 


Anonymous said...

Does this story make you wonder what his wife must have been like?

Of course she didn't force him to (allegedly) do it, but still...

FYI, I'm sure there are some nasty doctors too who others consider (and consider themselves) heroes.

Actually, in becoming a physician sociopaths would find an easier time hiding than nursing because generally folks idolize doctors much more.

I recall visiting the Holocaust museum in DC and seeing a photo of both nurses and doctors outside of a hospital laughing and enjoying their lunches (sure I don't need to describe their activities after lunch).

Nazi doctors = ubersociopaths

John Craig said...

Anon --
Good points. As far as the wife, it's certainly possible she was a shrew, although the article said it was her family, not just her, who wanted him to work at Kodak.

I'm sure there safe sociopathic doctors, too, though I've never gotten the impression that sociopaths are overrepresented among their ranks. Among surgeons, maybe, but probably no among most doctors.

It's actually a doctor who may be the most prolific serial killer ever, however:Dr. shipman of England, who killed something like 300 patients.

As far as Nazi doctors, Josef Mengele was obviously the embodiment of sociopathy. But I suspect a lot of German doctors of that era were simply guys who went into medicine for the usual set of reasons, but happened to be living in the wrong place at the wrong time.