Maryland

More Than 30 Years Later, Couple's Deaths Ruled a Homicide

More than 30 years after a Northwest Washington couple died in what was believed to be an accidental fire, police are investigating their deaths as homicides.

It was the middle of the night when Bessie Mae Duncan and Roy Picott's Quincy Place home caught fire on Jan. 11, 1985. By the time firefighters arrived, the home was engulfed in flames. 

Duncan was found dead inside the home. The medical examiner determined she died from smoke inhalation and ruled her death accidental. 

Picott was rescued, but died from his injuries two months later. 

At the time, fire officials blamed a carelessly discarded cigarette for the devastating fire.

Chief Peter Newsham says the case was revived after an inquiry received by the homicide unit's cold-case squad. The Washington Post reports no arrests have been announced in the January 1985 deaths, but police have a suspect: serial arsonist Thomas Sweatt.

The Washington City Paper reported in 2007 that Sweatt confessed to killing the couple. 

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"He had said something to a reporter, saying he was involved," D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham told the Post. "It was years ago that information had become available, and I would suggest that, at that point, probably some additional follow-up should have been done — and it was not."

Sweatt pleaded guilty to setting 45 fires in D.C., Maryland and Virginia in 2005. Now 63, he's serving life in prison.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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