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 sentenced this week to 10 years in jail for his latest crime in March.
John Edward Cropper, 46, appeared in Circuit Court in Snow Hill on Wednesday for a sentencing hearing for convictions in August on second-degree arson, malicious destruction of property and trespassing charges 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, apparently no relation to the owners of the iconic concrete plant, was sentenced to 10 years in jail, all but 18 months of which was suspended in favor of a lengthy period of supervised probation and a $1,000 fine.
Cropper is well known to long-time residents of the resort area for his famous arson spree in November and December 1986 that included six major blazes causing millions of dollars in damage and keeping an entire town on edge for several weeks.
Over two decades later, Cropper’s latest attempt occurred back in March. On March 28, an Ocean City Fire Marshal’s Office deputy responded to the concrete plant for a reported fire 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 go.
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.
The deputy entered the structure and quickly noticed the strong odor of a flammable liquid in the area where the fires were extinguished. 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.
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.
Cropper then allegedly told the detective he had nothing to do with the fire, which perplexed the detective because he had never said anything about investigating a fire. 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 property.
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 Dec. 26.
Cropper, a 1983 graduate of Stephen Decatur, had been a fire cadet in high school and was a probationary member of the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company for about a year when the arson spree began. Cropper was arrested in April 1987 after detectives had compiled enough evidence to charge him for at least six of the blazes in the resort during the time frame. In October 2007, Cropper pleaded guilty but not criminally responsible to setting five fires in Ocean City.
The plea was accepted based on a diagnosis from state forensic psychiatrist that Cropper suffered from pyromania, a disorder characterized by an intense fascination with setting fires. Cropper was sent to the Clifton Perkins State Psychiatric Hospital in Jessup where he was supposed to remain indefinitely until such time as he was cured of the disorder and doctors were of the opinion he would no longer be a threat to himself or others. It is unclear from reports of the era just how long Cropper spent at the state psychiatric hospital.