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Mr. McEwen said he watched the engineer take samples and they were done improperly, including being commingled together. “The guy was a nut,” Mr. McEwen said of the engineer. “I told him he was doing it wrong.”

Still, the Ithaca police chief at the time told reporters that a chemist had found an accelerant. Mr. McEwen said the chief passed on bad information and that the state police lab retested its samples and again found nothing. While the subsequent fires were almost certainly intentional, Mr. McEwen said that doesn’t prove the Res Club fire was. Perhaps the others were copycats.


Lots of students did smoke in the Res Club. As someone who studied the police file put it, “It makes me want to cough just reading the file.”

In 2014, Mr. Fogle spoke to Richard Thaler, the local district attorney in 1967, and Mr. Fogle told me Mr. Thaler told him Cornell impeded the investigation. But Mr. Thaler didn’t say how (Mr. Fogle suspects that Cornell hustled the main person of interest out of Ithaca), and also said unfounded things, like that there was a confession. Mr. McEwen said that Mr. Thaler had dementia then. He died in May 2017. Mr. McEwen also said that Mr. Thaler had a personal grudge against Cornell.

At my request, Cornell let me examine previously restricted files in its archives pertaining to the fire, more than 1,000 pages that included internal communications on the investigation among top university officials like the provost, Dale Corson, and members of the proctor’s office. Student names were redacted, and Cornell said it withheld documents it considered covered by attorney-client privilege.

Cornell maintained that nothing in the omitted documents suggested the university hindered the investigation. If anything, the provided archives indicate the opposite. A memo from Mr. Corson to James Perkins, the university’s president, said that Cornell contacted authorities pledging its assistance in the investigation. It said that, at Mr. Thaler’s request, it assigned the assistant proctor to help on a full-time basis. The memo also mentioned that Cornell looked at bringing in arson experts from the F.B.I. and the New York Police Department, but left that to local investigators, and said that at Cornell’s suggestion, the State Police were called in to do additional work on the case.

Mr. McEwen told me Cornell never interfered. And he said that the student Mr. Fogle blames was interviewed more than once, including by him.

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Source : https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/13/nyregion/never-solved-a-college-dorm-fire-has-become-one-mans-obsession.html

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