You’d think a man trying to lock his girlfriend in a building and set it on fire would use more than shoelaces to tie the door shut. And you’d think he’d know better than to carry four lighters in his pocket upon returning to the scene of the crime.
But it seems 22-year-old Marcus Deondrae Savage-DeWitt was witless when it came to homicide.
It all started on Monday, July 20, when the Glendale Fire Department got a call about a fire in an apartment just north of Peoria Avenue. Upon arriving at the residence, firefighters found a young couple — Savage-DeWitt and his girlfriend, Chelsea (whose last name was withheld) — arguing on the street.
Firefighters either couldn’t get the two to stop fighting or were worried it would escalate further so they called the Glendale PD about the incident and went back to battling the fire. (It's unclear what exactly they were arguing about, but presumably Chelsea was upset that he'd just tried to trap her and her son in a house fire.)
Chelsea told police that she got into bed earlier that night and fell asleep while Savage-DeWitt took a shower. She woke up to smoke in the room and realized there was a small fire under her bed.
The water in the shower was still running, so she ran to the door to warn her boyfriend. The door was locked, so she pounded and pounded to get his attention, but no one responded.
Probably figuring she needed to get out of the house, she soon discovered that her bedroom door was locked, as well. At some point, she realized that it wasn’t actually locked but was held shut by a shoelace that tied the outside doorknob to something heavy.
Chelsea pulled and pulled, and eventually got the door open just enough to escape. She then ran to retrieve her young son from his bedroom and brought him outside through the front door.
The front door, she later told police, was locked as usual.
Chelsea dropped her son at a neighbor’s, court documents state, and ran back into the apartment to save Savage-DeWitt, who, she assumed, was still in the shower. Upon reaching the bedroom, she cut the shoelace and resumed banging on the bathroom door.
He still didn’t answer, and the smoke got worse. She eventually abandoned the effort and ran back outside.
Moments later, guess who showed up at the apartment?
It’s not clear what occurred next, but by the time the fire department had arrived, the couple was well into their argument.
The Glendale PD asked each of them what had happened — Chelsea told the version of events as detailed above — but Savage-DeWitt had a different account of the evening.
He said he took a shower and then left the house to go buy a Monster Drink from a nearby Circle K. The first he had heard about the fire, he said, was when he returned. He told the police that after Chelsea told him about it, he ran back into the house to save his TV and PlayStation, and noticed while inside that the bedroom door was tied shut with a shoelace.
He denied having left the shower running or locking the bathroom door and said he didn't take his house keys with him when he left the house because he didn’t lock the front door.
Even putting aside the fact that police found four lighters in Savage-Dewitt’s pocket, or the fact that he and Chelsea had different accounts about whether the front door was locked, not only did Chelsea specifically tell the police she had cut the string, but when the police retrieved the security camera footage from the Circle K, there was no sign of Savage-DeWitt.
“That he didn't show up in the Circle K video obviously led to doubt in the minds of our detectives that he was being honest," Sergeant David Vidaure of the Glendale PD told New Times.
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And then there was the official report from the fire department, which concluded that the cause of the blaze almost certainly was arson because there were “no electrical cords or other means in and around the area of where the fire started to indicate [it was] accidental.” And they found a pile of tissues on the floor near the bed — probably placed there as tinder to help the fire spread.
For reasons that still remain unclear, the Glendale PD concluded it did not have enough evidence to arrest Savage-DeWitt that night. The department conducted more interviews and gathered new evidence (the nature of which it would not disclose) and arrested him this week.
Savage-DeWitt was booked into the county's Fourth Avenue Jail on suspicion of two counts of attempted premeditated murder and committing arson in an occupied structure. Bond was set at $100,000.
It’s unclear how much, if any, damage the fire caused, but police confirm that no one was injured. As far as we can tell, court documents shine little light on Savage-Dewitt's motive or why he thought he needed four lighters to get the job done.