Landlord allegedly had fatal fire set

MAYWOOD, Ill. —The owner of a suburban Chicago apartment house had his maintenance man set fire to the building, killing seven people including a newborn, because he wanted to cash in on a $250,000 insurance policy, prosecutors said Friday.

The landlord told police he wanted the house burned when the children living there were at school. Instead, authorities allege, the maintenance man started the fire on a Sunday morning when residents were sleeping inside.

"The sheer greed alone is difficult enough to understand, but the inhumanity of this crime is almost beyond comprehension," said Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.

The landlord, Lawrence Myers, 60, and maintenance man Marion Comier, 47, pleaded not guilty Friday in a Maywood courtroom to seven counts of first degree murder and two counts of aggravated arson. Judge James Zafiratos ordered them held without bond. Alvarez said her office would review the case before deciding whether to seek the death penalty.

Alvarez said the charges were based on secret recordings, made over five days, that caught the two accused men discussing how Comier had set the fire at the Cicero house and arguing over how much he would be paid.

The recordings were made after three witnesses told police they had overheard Myers and Comier talking about setting the blaze, prosecutors said. Authorities then got a court order allowing the electronic listening device to be worn by an unidentified informant.

The fire gutted the two-story building, which had been converted into separate living units. Alvarez said residents in an attic apartment had no chance to escape.

On the day of his arrest Wednesday, Myers told a police detective he had wanted the house burned when the children were at school and the women were at work, according to prosecutors. He also told the detective he was having financial difficulties.

The recordings caught Myers saying his plan was to flee to West Virginia where he would live without a mailbox or phone, prosecutors said.

Fire officials have said as many as 40 people may have been in the house. Some who escaped awoke to the sound of screaming and banging coming from the attic.