Police discovered the suspect, Judy Ann Bailey, 37, 127 Henderson St., Surgoinsville, walking on Longs Bend Road shortly after the fire was reported. Bailey was allegedly carrying items that had been stolen from the residence including a small black purse, $3 and assorted change from a child's piggy bank, and a cigarette lighter.
Witnesses also told police they'd seen Bailey break into a pickup on Fiddler Lane shortly before the fire started and attempt to break into a mobile home on Fiddler Lane.
Fire victims Jeff McNally and Cara Heck told police they were home Monday about 2 p.m. when Bailey came to their residence at 350 Red Hill Road and asked for a person named Ronnie Armstrong. McNally told police he and Heck attempted for several minutes to explain to Bailey, who appeared under the influence, that Armstrong did not live there.
McNally said that after awhile they "ran the subject off," but a short time later found her sitting on their back porch. Upon being discovered, Bailey fled into the woods behind the house.
McNally and Heck then left the residence for a scheduled appointment and were notified about an hour later that their home was on fire. When McNally returned home he found the house engulfed in flames and the back door, which had been secured, standing wide open.
Around 2:40 p.m. volunteer fire departments from Surgoinsville, Carters Valley and Stanley Valley responded to the scene but were unable to save the house.
The state fire marshal was at the house Thursday, and upon investigation reported that the house was too far gone to be able to determine a cause for the fire.
Upon being located by police, Bailey was taken to the Surgoinsville Police Department, where she was questioned by Hawkins County Sheriff's Office Detective Randy Collier. Bailey allegedly admitted to being at the residence at 350 Red Hill Road but also stated that the victims were there with her.
"The victims then came to the SPD and identified the property that belonged to them that was in possession of the defendant at the time of her arrest," Collier stated in the arrest warrant. "The victims advised that when they left, the property was in the home and the defendant had no permission to remove those items from the residence."
Although Bailey initially denied setting the fire, Sheriff Roger Christian said Thursday she has since made an "incriminating statement" regarding her part in the fire.
Bailey was charged with aggravated burglary, arson, theft under $500 and tampering with evidence for allegedly ripping up several documents including a rights waiver during the initial questioning by Collier.
Bond was denied due to Bailey being wanted as a fugitive from justice in another state for a probation violation.