Two Bee Branch residents are behind bars in the Van Buren County Detention Center amidst allegations that they burned down a residence along Highway 92 last month.
Elmer William Hill, 30, and his sister, Lauren Jane Cates, 28, each face felony charges following an April 6 structure fire that destroyed a home in the 660 block of Highway 92.
The initial 911 call regarding the fire was made at 10:40 p.m. April 6. Authorities were notified by a suspicious caller who refused to give dispatchers his name that single-wide mobile home was up in flames, according to the felony probable cause affidavit filed earlier this week against the Van Buren County siblings.
When a dispatcher asked the caller if he was near the residence or if he'd made it to Highway 65 yet, which is about one half mile away from the scene, the caller stated he was actually in Damascus already, which if about five miles from the scene.
As local firefighters worked to extinguish the flames, Hill reportedly showed up at the scene even though his soon-to-be-ex-wife who lives at the residence in question has a protection order against him, according to the affidavit. After checking on his children, Hill immediately left the area. After the 30-year-old showed up at on scene, Bee Branch Fire Chief Tommy Davis requested the Arkansas state Police Fire Marshal's Office conduct an investigation.
A trained K-9 was brought to the scene and alerted authorities that it detected accelerants "just inside of the trailer near the outside tongue location of the trailer," according to the affidavit.
After reviewing the 911 call, authorities pinpointed the number that called in the fire as Hill's girlfriend's number. Chief Davis also listened to the recording and recognized the caller's voice because Hill is also a volunteer firefighter for the Bee Branch Fire Department.
Investigators questioned the 30-year-old's girlfriend on April 10.
During the interview with the suspect's girlfriend, police learned she overheard him talking to his sister while using her phone on the night the fire ignited. Hill's girlfriend first told police that a random man outside of the Catfish House in Quitman used her phone to call in the fire but soon admitted it was Hill, according to her statement.
Hill's girlfriend told ASP investigators that Hill had been drinking on the night in question and that she overheard him asking his sister if she'd set fire to the Highway 92 residence. She admitted to hearing Hill give Cates "instructions of how to navigate through the woods to get to the trailer and instructed Lauren to go to the window near the tongue of the trailer ... and asked if the trailer was on fire."
According to the affidavit, Hill offered to pay Lauren after she confirmed the mobile home was in flames.
Hill was interviewed by police on April 10. He allegedly admitted to calling in the fire but said he only knew of the fire because a neighbor called him and alerted him of the house fire. The Bee Branch man also claimed his department radio and cell phone were dead when the incident occurred. However, authorities said that phone records "indicate Hill was actively using his phone" at the time.
At one point, Hill claimed he was with his girlfriend when he heard the news the mobile home was on fire and at another, he allegedly claimed he was with a friend. According to the affidavit, "Hill was in contact with his sister Lauren around the time of the fire and only well after the 911 call did he receive a call from a different number."
Two days later, authorities met with Cates to talk about her alleged involvement in the fire.
During the interview with investigators, Cates said she thought the fire was caused by electrical issues.
"I advised her that it was clearly arson," ASP special agent Kevin Brown wrote in the affidavit.
At this point, Cates claimed her husband burned her home last year and that "she knows how Heather feels losing all of her stuff." She also said "she heard it was legal to burn down your own place in Arkansas," according to the affidavit.
When asked if she went by the residence in question on April 6, Cates claimed she heard something about a fire go off on the scanner around 12:30 a.m. and that she decided to follow firetrucks to the scene.
Text messages obtained by investigators show that the two siblings also were in contact with Johnathon Hill, who was arrested over the weekend in Faulkner County for reportedly dousing his wife's home on Orchard Road in gasoline.
Johnathon reportedly sends Cates a message saying he needs to go get his brother's gun from the house but that "they have that MF on lock down," according to the affidavit.
At one point, Cates also sends Elmer a message saying she is concerned because she heard there were cameras set up around the residence in question, the affidavit states.
The Bee Branch woman reportedly confessed to her involvement in the fire to Van Buren County deputies on Tuesday.
Online records show Cates was booked into the Van Buren County Detention Center at 10:58 a.m. Tuesday and that she faces charges of arson, reckless burning and unlawful use of a communication device. Elmer, who was booked into the VBCDC at 2:51 p.m. Tuesday is charged with arson, unlawful use of a communication device, first-degree stalking and violation of a no contact order.