Son Accused Of Arson And Murder Of Parents Sole Survivor Of The '96 Montco Fire, Paul Camiolo, 33, Inherited $400,000. He Is Being Held Without Bail.

Posted: January 21, 1999

Paul Camiolo wanted money, Montgomery County authorities say, and he didn't want to pay the health-care costs of his sick parents.

So, law-enforcement authorities alleged yesterday, Camiolo took care of both problems: About 4:30 a.m. Sept. 30, 1996, they said, Camiolo set his parents' Upper Moreland house on fire while they were inside.

His father, Edward Camiolo, 81, died immediately of smoke inhalation. His 57-year-old mother, Rosalie, died Dec. 18, 1996, from injuries she suffered in the fire. And Paul Camiolo, their sole survivor, inherited more than $400,000 and moved to Bucks County.

Yesterday, Camiolo, 33, of Holland, was arrested at his home on charges of murder, arson and insurance fraud, the culmination of a 1 1/2-year-long grand-jury investigation. He was arraigned before District Justice Gloria Inlander and is being held without bail in Montgomery County prison. Camiolo has denied that he set the fire.

District Attorney Michael D. Marino said he had not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty.

At a news conference, Marino said Paul Camiolo became a suspect because of his changing stories about the fire, and because of his activities during the fire.

According to court documents filed in the case, Camiolo, who lived with his parents at the time of the fire, first told investigators that he was asleep in bed when the fire started, and that he heard his father yelling. The documents say Camiolo later said he was working on his computer. He also told investigators he pulled his mother to the patio before leaving the house; later, the documents say, he said he fled the house, changed his clothes in the car, then tried to rescue his parents.

Rosalie Camiolo was found on the back patio, about three feet from the house. Edward Camiolo's body was found on the first floor of the house.

``The conduct of the defendant is just bizarre and not keeping with what one would do to rescue your parents,'' Marino said. ``It's just inconsistent with normal human behavior.''

Court documents say Camiolo told Bernice Shore, his mother's cousin, that the fire got out of control, and that he could not rescue his parents because a 911 operator asked him a lot of questions and kept him on hold for a long time. A tape of the call played for the grand jury showed that the call lasted just 35 seconds, and that Camiolo was never placed on hold, the documents say.

Two separate tests by state police investigators showed a burn pattern consistent with arson, and that kerosene and gasoline had been poured in the family room and lit with an open flame, Marino said.

``He was the only one in the house, the only one who had the opportunity,'' Marino said of Paul Camiolo.

Camiolo is a software service technician with Shopman Inc. in Ivyland, Marino said. Bucks County real-estate records show that he bought his home on Bennett Place in Holland for $77,000 in June 1997. Deputy District Attorney Mark Miller called it ``a nice house in a nice development.''

Camiolo's attorney, Thomas Cometa of Kingston, said yesterday that his client was innocent.

``He's shocked that the charges were even brought,'' Cometa said. ``This has been a tragedy for the family, it's been a nightmare for him.''

Cometa said the fire was caused by Rosalie Camiolo's careless smoking. Paul Camiolo tried to put the fire out and suffered burns in the process, Cometa said.

And, Cometa said, there are conflicting reports on whether the fire was indeed set.

That assertion is based on the grand-jury testimony of Steven Avato, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Avato was also a member of the Willow Grove volunteer fire company that helped put out the fire. He assisted with the probe as part of his training to become an ATF fire investigator. Avato told the grand jury, according to court documents, that he considered the fire an accident. He has not changed his mind even after seeing the results of the state tests.

``Reasonable minds could conflict on the cause and origins of the fire,'' Cometa said.

Marino said the grand jury did not credit Avato's testimony.

``We think he is completely wrong,'' Marino said. ``I'm not trying to slam anybody, but why would you consider a fire accidental before you have the lab work? We don't believe he's an expert at all.''

Whatever the cause of the fire, Edward and Rosalie Camiolo were particularly susceptible to it.

Edward Camiolo required an electronic chairlift to stand up and had undergone chemotherapy after an operation for bladder cancer, according to court documents. One of his legs was shorter than the other because of a childhood bout with polio.

Rosalie Camiolo ``suffered from a muscular disease which made it difficult for her to go up and down stairs, and she had experienced several falls in the months leading up to the fire,'' according to court documents.

Several strokes and a 20-year battle with depression had left her ``childlike'' at times, Marino said.

The elder Camiolos were dependent on their son to help with their daily living, according to court documents. And that, Cometa said, means their son could not have killed them.

``If anybody knew this family, they'd know it would be impossible to believe he could do this,'' Cometa said. ``They were devoted to each other. It's an amazing close-knit family.''

* Also contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writer Lacy McCrary and Mark Binker of the Inquirer suburban staff.

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