Police Investigate 3 Fires in 4 Hours In One Section

Abandoned Kaighn School building was razed Wednesday afternoon

Camden Courier-Post – July 31, 1952

Kaighn School Razed; Blazes Set in Church, Unoccupied House

Police today are investigating the possibility that three fires Wednesday within a quarter-mile area inside of three hours and 46 minutes were the work of a firebug.

The blaze which razed the Kaighn School, 5th and Chestnut Sts., Seriously damaged Our Lady of Mt. Carmel R.C. Church, 4th and Division sts. and consumed a pile of rubbish in the basement of an unoccupied three-story house at 7th and Pine sts., came on the 12th anniversary of the disastrous Hollingshead fire.

That fire, on July 30, 1940, leveled the R.M. Hollingshead plant, then located at 9th and Market sts., took 10 lives and caused an estimated $4 million damage, according to city fire department records. It was Camden’s worst fire.

Police Chief Koerner, commenting on Wednesday’s fires which caused damage estimated at more than $17,000, said: We are going to make a thorough study of every available clue to see whether the fires could have been started by one person,”

Koerner, Pfefferle Investigate

Fire Chief Pfefferle agreed with Chief Koerner and said that he had already requested the fire marshal’s office to probe into the circumstances of the chain-fires which kept the city’s fire department on the go from 12.46 p. m, until well after 9 p. m.

The most disastrous of the series of fires was that which broke out in the cupola of the Kaighn School at 3 p. m. Damage was estimated at $15,000 or more,” by Joseph C. Ragone, secretary of the Camden Board of Education.

A dozen row houses on Sycamore st, and six homes on Newton ave. were imperiled and Acting District Fire Chief Henry E. Zook ordered the buildings wetted down

School Closed for Three Years.

The three story abandoned school was a shambles by 6 p. m. One of the oldest schools in the city, the 15-room structure had been unused for the past three years. The last fire apparatus, Engine 3, left the scene at 9 pm.

Upon arrival on the scene Zook immediately sent in a second alarm while thousands of on lookers gathered in the area. Police emergency cars, an ambulance, fire apparatus and cars belonging to fire and police officials choked the narrow streets. As the blaze continued an enterprising ice cream vender [sic] halted his cart and did a thriving business among spectators.

Three firemen were injured slightly. Walter Dilsworth, of Engine Co. 2, William Warren, of Engine 8, and Eugene Alston, of Engine 1, were treated at Cooper Hospital. In this connection Zook told a Courier-Post reporter: “I’d been expecting this place to go for a long time and I always hoped it would be in the daytime. I don’t hesitate to say that if this fire had broken out at night we might have had a fatality. The roof collapsed within the first 25 minutes.”

‘Bottlegangers’ Used School

Still another possibility of tragedy was suggested by Fire Chief Pfefferle. We found ample evidence that the abandoned school was used as a rendezvous by bottlegangers, Among the debris we saw lots of empty bottles. If any of these bottlegangers had been sleeping off a drunken stupor there is very little chance that he would have been discovered. After all, we do not look for tenants in buildings that are boarded up.”

The chief added that although he would ask Police Chief Koerner to probe into the possibility of an arsonist, he was personally inclined to the belief that children were responsible, “It looks like kids’ work to me,” Pfefferle declared.

The fire chief declined to estimate the loss in the three fires and said he had no idea as to the cause of the church and school fires. He said the third fire, in the basement of an unoccupied three-story brick apartment at 701 Pine st., was caused by rubbish.

New Truck Used

The chief said the new aerial ladder, used for the first time on a real fire, worked in first class condition.

To protect both firemen and spectators Max Dippner, Public Service Gas and Electric Co. employe [sic] disconnected a 2400-volt transformer on a pole near the school and left an area of four city blocks without power or light until 5pm when he restored the service.

Damage at the earlier fire at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, 4th and Division sts, was estimated at several thousand dollars” by the Rev. Michael Argullo, the pastor.

This alarm was sounded at 12:46p.m. and Pfefferle said a thorough check would be made of the possibility of deliberate arson.

Church Damaged Earlier

The flames destroyed a confessional, scorched pews and blackened a number of statues, the priest said. The Rev. Richard Gerbino, a curate, removed the Most Blessed Sacrament from its tabernacle, and nuns took a number of vestments into an adjoining building.

While the Kaighn School fire was at its height an alarm was sent in for a blaze at the north-east corner of Newton and Pine sts.

Acting Chief Austin Marks of the 2nd District said he believed the fire was set by boys who entered the boarded-up vacant three-story apartment building by climbing up to a second floor porch.

Firemen had to batter down at least two doors to get inside the house, Marks said, Engine Cos. 6 and 9 and Truck Co. 3 were at the fire.

State Owns Building

The building is in the right of way of the proposed, North-South Freeway and owned by the state, according to Marks.

Three other alarms rounded out the day for the fire-fighters. At 12.19 p. m. they extinguished a rubbish fire on a lot at Budd and Mulford sts. At 6.07 p. m. they doused a slight blaze in a pile of wooden molds in the rear of the Brown Foundry Corp., Cambridge st. and Wayne ave. Although this blaze was only 100 feet from the Washington School, the building was not endangered at any time, Robert Wonsetler, chief of the 2nd District, said. Engine 11 responded.

Last fire of the day was an automobile on Penn st. between 5th and 6th sts. Firemen were called out for this at 10.43 p. m.

In 1946 the Kaighn School was rated poor in nine points of the Camden Educational Council’s fall survey report. Lack of outside fire exits and general rundown conditions were cited in the report.

Frequently the school was the targets of vandals, Intruders ransacked eight rooms early in November, 1947, and in October of 1948 seven rooms were ransacked and jets on a gas stove were left turned on. In December, 1948, rooms were again ransacked and late in February of 1949 Red Cross boxes in the school were looted and a radio and record player were stolen.

Woman, 2 Men Held In Bank Robberies

Madison, Wis., July 31 INS—A 23-year-old red-haired mother of four children faces Federal charges today that she drove the getaway car for her fish-peddler husband and his brother in a series of bank stickups that netted $22,569.

FBI agents seized Virginia Hephner, her husband, James, 26, and his brother, Philip, 23, They tracked the trio on an auto license clue to a country school house near Chilton, Wis.

They were held in $15,000 bond each and scheduled to be arraigned before U. S. Commissioner John J. McManamy in Madison. They waived a preliminary hearing in Green Bay and were taken to Milwaukee.


London, July 21 (UP) — Dowager Queen Mary, 85, left by train today for her annual summer holiday at Sandringham where her son, King George VI died last February, The “grand old lady” is in good health, according to friends.


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