Three Found Dead in Parkersburg, West Virginia Fires

PARKERSBURG, WV -- City and county authorities are investigating three suspected homicides in two Saturday incidents that may be connected. Two bodies were discovered in a duplex that caught fire early Saturday morning in the 1600 block of 19th Street in Parkersburg, while a third deceased, burnt body was discovered near Butcher Bend Road in Mineral Wells.

The deaths appear to have occurred within hours of each other, Wood County Prosecuting Attorney Ginny Conley said Saturday afternoon.

"We are now looking into the possibility (of) whether or not the crimes were related," she said. "All three bodies that we're dealing with have been burned."

Two bodies were removed from the 19th Street structure around 8 p.m. Saturday, Parkersburg police Chief Robert Newell said. Their identities, and even their genders, could not be conclusively determined until a state medical examiner conducts autopsies Monday, he said.

"We probably won't know until late Monday," Newell said.

All three deaths currently are being investigated as homicides, Conley said.

She declined to say if authorities knew who any of the victims were or if there were any suspects.

"There's a lot of information that the Parkersburg Police Department and the (Wood County) Sheriff's Department are looking into, and to say anything more would be misleading or would jeopardize the investigation," Conley said.

The fire at 1608 19th St. started early Saturday morning. Parkersburg fire Chief Steve Gainer said the fire appears to have ignited in a second-floor bedroom.

Many residents reported seeing smoke or hearing fire trucks before 5 a.m. Gainer said the fire was reported around 4:45 a.m.

"I saw smoke coming from the house over there, but there was no flames," said Larry Guenther, who lives across the street and a few houses down. "It didn't take long - from nothing to a total blaze within 15 or 20 minutes."

Other witnesses reported seeing flames shooting up into the air 30 feet or more.

"They were shooting high," Herman Keel said.

Keel said he saw the flames from his house on 13th Street. He said he knew two people who lived in the area, so he came to check on them.

One friend was OK, but the other lived on the second floor of the duplex, Keel said. He believed his friend was one of the people who died.

Harry Biles, who lives across the street from 1608 19th St., said his cousin's family lived on the first floor of the duplex.

"When they woke up, his wife smelled smoke," he said. "Lost everything they had."

The family escaped the fire safely, Biles said.

Parkersburg police and firefighters remained on the scene conducting investigations into the evening hours Saturday. Conley and assistant prosecutors also were on the scene, along with investigators from the state fire marshal's office in Charleston.

The third body was found on Butcher Bend Road on a farm bordering the Wood County 4-H Campground.

Conley declined to say if the body had been burned where it was found or what time it was found.

Mineral Wells fire Chief Jay Parsons said the Mineral Wells Volunteer Fire Department responded to a fire in that vicinity around 7:20 a.m., but referred all further questions to the Wood County Sheriff's Department.

The sheriff's and prosecutor's offices were the primary investigators at the Mineral Wells scene. Newell also was there Saturday afternoon.

Mineral Wells resident Ted Dille would only say the body was found by his brother on property belonging to his father, also named Ted Dille. He declined to give his brother's name. The elder Dille could not be reached for comment.

Conley asked anyone with information on either crime or who saw anything suspicious in the 19th Street or Butcher Bend Road areas Friday night or Saturday morning to call 911, the Parkersburg Police Detective Bureau at (304) 424-8440 or the sheriff's department at (304) 424-1834.

A Saturday morning shooting in which two people were wounded does not appear to be connected to the deaths, Conley said.

"Right now it doesn't appear that they were related," she said.

Some 19th Street residents were without water after firefighters extinguished the 19th Street blaze. Gainer said this was the result of two water line breaks caused as the fire hydrants were being closed.

When a valve is shut too quickly, either by someone closing it or as a result of the valve slipping, the rushing water can create a "water hammer," Gainer said, shaking the line and causing it to break at a weak point. Gainer said the firefighter closing the line reported shutting it slowly.

Parkersburg Utility Board workers fixed the breaks. All the houses had water again by Saturday afternoon or early evening, Gainer said.