Arson Suspect Disputes Charges

Police have made an arrest in a raging fire that took down a West Hartford home in February.  They now say homeowner William Beckerman is to blame and have charged him with first degree arson.  Beckerman says he did not commit the crime.

The fire broke out at Beckerman's home on The Crossways on February 11.  Investigators found several points of origin, said Captain Paul Melanson of the West Hartford police department.   The fire was fueled by kerosene and gasoline, Melanson said.

Beckerman called by phone to dispute the charges.  "This is ridiculous.  They didn't cooperate at all with me," said Beckerman.  "They did it too fast without investigating."  He blamed the fire on a faulty furnace, and said he's had problems with it since December.

In ruling the fire arson, investigators ruled out accidental and electrical causes, said Melanson. 

Beckerman was at the home four to 13 minutes before the fire was called in, said police.  "At that time, the caller said smoke was coming out of the eaves of the house so obviously there was a lot of smoke at that time," said Melanson.

Beckerman had just returned from Florida.  He told police that his business partner and friend, Leonard Udolf, picked him up at the airport and drove him home, said police.  "He dropped him off so that Mr. Beckerman could go in and turn the heat up in the house," said Melanson.  "Then Mr. Beckerman got back in the car and they left and they went to lunch together."

No one answered the door at Udolf's home.   He is not facing charges, police said.

There have been other fires at properties associated with Beckerman decades ago, according to police.  One of those fires happened in the early 1970's at his home on Winchester Drive.  It burned to the ground and no cause was ever determined.

Before he ended the phone conversation, Beckerman jokingly said, "I'm going to change my middle name to 'Match.'"

For West Hartford police, the case is no laughing matter.  Beckerman had a mortgage and a lien on the home, said police.  They also said he contacted his insurance company the day of the fire.  "Obviously, there is a financial benefit to setting the house on fire," said Melanson.

Beckerman disputed the lien, saying it was released 15 years ago.  He also promised to do his own investigation into what went wrong.

Beckerman posted a $500,000 bond.  He is due in court on the arson charge March 19. 

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