Authorities used surveillance video, debit card purchases and cell phone tower data to make their case against Holden Matthews, arrested in connection with three St. Landry Parish fires at churches serving black congregations.
The 21-year-old son of a St. Landry Parish Sheriff's deputy was arrested Wednesday in connection with the fires that destroyed St. Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in 10 days. He's been charged with three counts of simple arson of a religious building.
While investigating the fire sites, authorities with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found a charred Scepter brand red gas can near the origin of the fire, according to court records. Investigators said they found that someone, later identified as Matthews, had purchased the gas can at about midnight from Walmart in Opelousas, less than three hours before the first fire on March 25.
Matthews used his debit card and showed his identification to buy the 2-gallon gas can, a pack of 10 automotive rags and a lighter, according to an affidavit filed after his arrest. A search of his debit card records showed he often purchased lighter fluid but with charcoal.
In surveillance footage from Walmart, Matthews is seen getting into a gold pick-up truck with a bed cover, according to the affidavit. A beige Ford is registered to Matthews' father, Roy Matthews, who works as a deputy in the St. Landry Parish Sheriff's office.
Surveillance footage collected from homes and businesses near each church shows a light-colored, extended cab pick-up truck around the area at the time of the fire, according to court records. The truck was also seen by a firefighter pulling out from Jennings Road toward the Greater Union Church fire on April 2. The firefighter was later shown surveillance footage and confirmed it was the same truck.
Footage taken from around that fire shows a truck pull into the parking lot then leave 23 minutes later, according to court records. Three minutes after that, the church is in flames. The footage shows the truck drive by twice, once stopping in front of the church, before a passerby calls 911 to report the fire.
Cellphone tower data from all three fires also places Matthews' phone in the area of the crimes, according to the affidavit.
The document offered more details about the fires. At St. Mary, an accelerant detection K-9 alerted investigators to several places within the main room of the church. The Greater Union Church fire could be seen from about three-quarters of a mile away.
Matthews was denied bond, according to court records. A bond hearing is set for May 2.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: La. church fires: Documents claim suspect bought gas can before crimes