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Man Who Confessed to 50 Acts of Arson Charged in Landmark Church’s Fire

November 23, 1988

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ A man who confessed to setting more than 50 fires to get back at people who had made him unhappy has been charged in the blaze that badly damaged a landmark, 125-year-old church 4 1/2 years ago.

Philip Melanson, 30, of Orlando, Fla., a former Concord resident, was charged with the fire at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and six other blazes in Concord in 1983 and 1984, Merrimack County Attorney Michael Johnson said Tuesday.

Melanson was arrested in Orlando in March and convicted of setting three fires there. He confessed to starting 53 others there, said Tony Coschignano, an Orlando arson investigator. The fires caused an estimated $3 million damage, he said.

Melanson, a dishwasher at a restaurant, told the Orlando Sentinel the fires were his way of getting back at those who had ridiculed and abused him.

″I’d walk by a place, I’d see faces laughing at me,″ Melanson said in a jailhouse interview. ″My stepfather, my mother, basically anybody who had hurt me. I’d see the faces every time I’d walk by, going to work, coming home. I’d see it about a week. It was enough to irritate me. So I’d light it, to get the face away.″

″It felt good, seeing the flames. Power, I guess. All my life, people were beating on me and I had to pay them back. This is how I paid them back,″ Melanson said.

He was sentenced Oct. 28 to nine years in prison.

Johnson said he expects no problems extraditing Melanson on the New Hampshire charges, three of which carry prison terms of 7 1/2 to 15 years.

Within a week of the 1984 fire at St. Paul’s, police arrested Melanson on charges of making a harassing call to the Fire Department days after the fire. The caller told a dispatcher: ″This is the arson man. I’m down in the South End and I’m going to burn.″

The call was traced to Melanson’s apartment. Police questioned Melanson about the fire and others but said they had no evidence to bring charges. Trial on the harassment charge was postponed several times and never took place because Melanson disappeared.

The Orlando fires were set after dark, mostly in vacant apartment houses or stores closed for the night. Twice Melanson set fires in buildings where people were living, but no one was injured.

He was caught in March after setting fire to a vacant house in Orlando. A neighbor spotted him walking back and forth in the shadows and called police.

″He wanted to be caught,″ said Kelly Sims, his Florida public defender. ″In this last one, he just stayed.″

It took 2 1/2 years and $3 million to repair the damage from the St. Paul’s fire, which left only the walls, bell tower and about half the roof intact.

Firefighters had to smash a century-old stained glass window to ventilate the building, and the floor under the altar collapsed.

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