Patrick Wolterman raced into the flaming house. His firefighter’s trained instinct to save the elderly homeowners trumped his urge for self-survival that cold and snowy December night in the Cincinnati area. Wolterman didn’t know that the couple he tried to rescue were gambling in Las Vegas. Nor did he know that husband Lester Parker set up the fire, to steal $250,000 of insurance money.
The first floor collapsed under Wolterman, weakened by flames licking up from the basement. He fell into the inferno below. His mask and helmet came off. Colleagues from the Hamilton Fire Department discovered Wolterman face down, dead of smoke inhalation.
Broke, needed insurance money
Parker hired nephew Billy Tucker to torch the home for an insurance payday. The couple was short of money. Aside from a small monthly Social Security check, their only income came from selling things at flea markets. They were behind on their mortgage on another home they owned up the street. Parker and his wife Bertha gambled in Las Vegas for their wedding anniversary that fatal night. It was Parker’s setup alibi.
Tucker crowbarred his way into the basement. Parker left a filled gas can, plus a bag of addictive pain pills as payment. Tucker poured gasoline over Christmas decorations and set the pile ablaze. “Babydoll. Done with the job. Got to get some rest and call you tomorrow,” Tucker texted to a girlfriend afterward.
Phone calls track arsonists
Facebook messages Tucker sent to people had GPS locations that placed him near the arson scene. Phone records also tracked the pair’s whereabouts and conversations. A Hamilton police license-plate reader captured an image of the car a woman used to drive Tucker to Hamilton the morning of the fire.
Before heading to Las Vegas, Parker also moved a butler statue, log cabin diorama, family papers, Harley-Davidson wall decoration and other family valuables to the garage. He just wanted to create room for a family gathering, he lied at his trial. Parker and Tucker received life without parole thanks to dogged investigators — plus an astute prosecution by the Butler County prosecutor’s office.
Wolterman was married for less than seven months. Thousands of people lined the streets for his funeral processional and service. A stretch of road in Hamilton later was named after Wolterman.
“This is one of many days to remember Patrick and what he stood for, not only as a firefighter but as a family member,” fellow firefighter Isaac Sarris said at the roadway ceremony.
“Above everything else, he was a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle and a great man all around.”
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