SNOW HILL – A notorious
Ocean City arsonist, who over 20 years ago went on a burning spree throughout
the resort causing millions of dollars worth of damage, was convicted of the
same crime again this week in Snow Hill.
John Edward Cropper, 45,
of Ocean City, appeared in Circuit Court on Tuesday to face charges of
second-degree arson, malicious destruction of property and trespassing after
being arrested in March for attempting to set fire to a brick office building
at the old George Burt Cropper Concrete Company at 1st Street and
the bay. Cropper was found guilty on each count and a pre-sentence
investigation was ordered. The second-degree arson conviction carries a maximum
sentence of 20 years.
Cropper, who is
apparently no relation to the owners of the iconic concrete plant, is well
known to those who have been around the area for a couple of decades for his
arson spree in November and December 1986 that included at least six known
major fires causing millions of dollars in damage and keeping an entire town of
edge for several weeks.
Cropper’s latest arson
attempt came over 20 years after his infamous spree in 1986. On March 28, an
Ocean City Fire Marshal’s Office deputy responded to the concrete plant for a
reported fire that was deemed suspicious in nature. The deputy met with an
Ocean City police officer who told him he had stopped an individual in the area
about 20 minutes earlier, later identified as Cropper, who said he was looking for
his lost dog. The officer said Cropper had an odor of gasoline or lighter fluid
on his person, but after conducting a brief field interview, he was allowed to
After that brief
encounter, the officers on the scene detected the odor of something burning.
They entered the concrete plant property through an unsecured gate and located
two small fires inside a brick office building. The officers were able to
quickly extinguish the fires and began to search around the property. During
the search, they observed Cropper walking back and forth on the sidewalk
adjacent to the property. He was calling his dog and each time he called, the
dog returned. After the officers extinguished the fire, they detained Cropper
until the deputy fire marshal arrived.
The deputy entered the
structure and quickly noticed the strong odor of a flammable liquid in the area
where the fires were extinguished. The building was unoccupied at the time and
the power to the facility had been turned off, leading the fire detective to believe
there was no accidental ignition source for the fires and, therefore, determine
the fires had been set on purpose.
When the fire detective
interviewed Cropper, who had been detained by police on the scene, he noticed a
strong odor of a flammable liquid on his person consistent with the odor he
discovered at the scene of the fire. According to police reports, Cropper said
he had been home all day and the only time he came near the concrete plant was
when he was looking for his dog, which was when the officer made initial
contact with him. He told detectives he had earlier refilled a kerosene heater
at his residence, which explained his odor.
The fire detective than
interviewed Cropper’s wife, who corroborated much of her husband’s story
including the kerosene heater and walking the dog. However, when the detective
interviewed Cropper a second time, he asked the suspect to show him the soles
of his boots. On the soles was a combination of white and brown mud consistent
with the grounds of the concrete plant. When asked again if he had been on the
concrete plant property, Cropper admitted he had entered the property earlier
in the day, climbing under a fence to go fishing.
When pressed on the
issue, Cropper said he did walk around the property and the buildings, but
never went inside. Cropper then allegedly told the detective he had nothing to
do with the fire, which perplexed the detective because he had never said
anything to Cropper about investigating a fire. When the detective questioned
Cropper about his statements, the suspect said with his known past history, he
knew it couldn’t be about anything else, according to police reports.
The detectives said he
knew all about Cropper’s “history” and his prior convictions, but the suspect
continued to deny any involvement in the two fires in the office building. He
was arrested and charged with second-degree arson, malicious destruction of
Cropper’s latest alleged
arson came over two decades after he went on a fire-starting spree in November
and December 1986, during which he set fire to at least five homes and
apartment buildings. He was finally arrested in April 2007 and charged with
arson in six major fires causing millions of dollars in damage, although no
injuries were reported.
Cropper was charged with
arson for setting six fires in 1986 including the Ocean Village apartments on
78th Street on Nov. 5, 1986; a home at 77th Street on
Nov. 7; a home at 73rd Street on Nov. 11; and a residence on 74th
Street on Nov. 12. After setting four fires in seven days, Cropper’s spree
inexplicably stopped for a month, leading investigators to believe it was over,
but Cropper was at it again with a fire at the Four Winds apartments on Dec.
12, 1986 followed by another fire at a residence on 71st Street on