True-Crime Book Chronicles South Pasadena Arson at Ole’s Hardware

Book cover courtesy of
Frank C. Girardot, Jr.

He named his youngest boy, Mathew, after the toddler who lost his life in the South Pasadena arson fire many years ago in what was then an Ole’s Home Center.

Moreover, author Frank C. Girardot Jr, had no idea that tragedy was going to find its way back into his life in the form of a bestselling Amazon novel in the true-crime and criminal-procedure category.

“Burned,” released June 5, is the story of John Orr, the Glendale fire captain/arsonist, who was convicted of deliberately setting on fire Ole’s Home Center on Fair Oaks Blvd., where an Orchard Hardware store now stands. The blaze, on October 10, 1984, resulted in the deaths of four people, one was the toddler, Mathew Troidl.

Girardot Jr., who spent nearly three decades as an award-winning journalist, covered the Ole’s fire as a young beat reporter for the Pasadena Star-News. He was emotionally moved by the senseless death of the young boy. He remembered it as if it was yesterday.

“I don’t know why I was so moved by his death, but I was,” Girardot Jr. said the other day during an hour-long interview at The Review offices in South Pasadena where he discussed “Burned,” the book he co-authored with Orr’s daughter, Lori Orr Kovach. “I had a small boy at the time, and it just moved me so much. I named my own son, Mathew, after him. Every time I drive by Orchard’s I think of that little boy.”

So, when his publishing company – Girardot Jr. has penned five crime books – contacted him about John Orr’s daughter, Lori Orr Kovach, he couldn’t believe it.

Frank C. Girardot, Jr discusses his new book, “Burned,” in the South Pasadena office of The Review. Photo by Steve Whitmore

“They pitched it to me,” Girardot Jr. said. “They said we’ve been contacted by this woman who says her dad was a fire captain and they put us together. Wow, this is serendipity. Right? I knew him like a lot of reporters around here knew him. And I knew his story.”

John Orr was considered one of the most successful arson investigators in the late 1970s to early 1980s in the region because of his uncanny ability to discover how the fires were started. It was later discovered this uncanny ability was because he was setting the fires. In fact, authorities referred to Orr as the “most prolific arsonist of the 20th century.”

Orr was convicted in the Ole’s fire as well as other blazes including a huge fire that wiped out 90 homes. Orr is currently in Mule Creek State Prison serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

However, his crimes, especially the Ole’s blaze, were death-penalty offenses. He was not put to death in large measure because of Kovach’s testimony during the death-penalty phase of his trial, according to Girardot Jr.

As Kovach’s naivety gave way, however, to a more mature understanding of her father’s crimes, she wanted the world to know that criminals like her father leave behind hidden victims in their wake. Those victims are the surviving members of the family.

“For years Lori Orr believed her Los Angeles firefighter dad was a selfless hero,” according to the book’s back cover. “When Lori’s dad was arrested and charged with four murders and countless arson fires, it was her testimony that helped keep him from being sent to Death Row. Eventually, Lori’s search for the truth lead her to the dark secrets lurking in her family’s past and to an inescapable conclusion about the remorseless killer and arsonist … and his reign of terror in sunny Southern California.”

Today, Lori Orr Kovach is a wife and a mother of four children and two step-children. She is a motivational speaker and participated in the syndicated television show, “The Devil You know.”

Girardot, Jr echoed those comments, saying Kovach is not only doing fine, but she was the easiest subject to work with.

“She’s great,” he said. “let me tell you, I’ve worked with some that weren’t so easy but she’s doing really good.”

“Burned” can be purchased at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena, or online through Amazon, among other internet services.