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Police Say Elderly Woman Admits Setting Fatal Fire

June 15, 1987

CHICAGO (AP) _ A 71-year-old woman has been accused of setting fire to a tenant’s apartment, killing one occupant and critically burning another.

Police Detective Charles Rickher said Harriet Mize admitted setting the fire. She has been charged with murder and aggravated arson.

″She just wanted to scare (the tenants),″ he said. ″She never intended it to get so big. ...

″Basically, she wanted them to move out because they were messy and had too much stuff piled up,″ said Rickher.

Rickher said Ms. Mize set fire to a wastebasket filled with paper early Sunday and left it on a porch outside the second floor apartment of Ignatius Kowahl, 80, his wife, Mary, and the couple’s daughter Catherine.

She then ran down stairs and called authorities, telling them she had set the blaze, Rickher said.

Firefighters found Kowahl’s body on the second floor, said Fire Department spokesman Jerry Lawrence. Police said he collapsed while fleeing with his wife and daughter.

Tenant Andrew Sotys, 38, was removed from another second-floor apartment and taken to Cook County Hospital, where he was reported in critical condition, said hospital spokeswoman Ampara Mendoza.

Neighbor Walter Karda said Soltys had escaped from the building but went back in to retrieve some property. He said Soltys had been planning to return to Poland, ″right after he earned a little more money.″

Rickher said Ms. Mize had asked Kowahl and Sotys to move out in late May.

″She was a very nice woman, she always was,″ said neighbor Theodore Duda. ″Then she started to turn kind of funny.″

Update hourly