Guilty Plea In Auction Barn Blaze - The Missourian: Local News

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Guilty Plea In Auction Barn Blaze

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Posted: Saturday, June 29, 2013 4:00 pm

A Jefferson County man accused of setting several fires in 2009 that destroyed the former St. Clair Livestock Auction Barn off Highway 47 pleaded guilty to charges Thursday in U.S. District Court.

Gregory M. Cromer, 65, Cedar Hill, is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 23 on federal charges of damaging or destroying buildings.

He was indicted by a federal grand jury in March 2012 at the conclusion of a three-year-long investigation by county, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

Franklin County Arson Investigator Jim Schuhmacher, one of the lead investigators in the case, said there was “overwhelming evidence” that Cromer was involved in setting fires Jan. 8, 2009, that destroyed the auction barn and several expensive horse trailers valued at between $125,000 and $160,000 each.

Schuhmacher said authorities quickly learned that Cromer had outstanding debts totaling more than $1 million and that a finance company had notified him that the high-end horse trailers were scheduled to be repossessed.

Crews from seven area fire companies fought the blaze which was reported shortly before 4 a.m. There were no injuries and no livestock was being housed at the center at the time of the blaze.

The federal indictment alleged in one count that Cromer “maliciously attempted to damage and destroy, by means of fire and explosive materials the building at 8207 Highway 47” known as “the St. Clair Livestock Auction Barn, used in interstate commerce.”

The second and third counts made the same allegations pertaining to damage to two 2007 Sundowner horse trailers.

A total of six trailers were parked in front of the center which included an office area. Four of those trailers were not damaged.

The livestock barn and office were located behind Cromer Motors, a used car business.

Schuhmacher said that Cromer used gallon milk jugs filled with gasoline and outfitted with newspaper wicks to set the fires. Several of those did not ignite, however, because a lack of air smothered the fires.

A truck driver contacted authorities later and reported that he had seen a parked Jeep and a person standing by the gate to the auction barn prior to the fire call.

Investigators were able to trace the vehicle to Cromer Motors and later learned that it had been sold in St. Louis the day after the fire.

Blood was found in one of the horse trailers and it matched a DNA sample from Cromer, Schuhmacher said.

“We just had tons of evidence against him,” Schuhmacher told The Missourian.

Schuhmacher said the case had been set to go to trial July 15-20. He said more than 65 witnesses were scheduled to testify.

The case was investigated by the Franklin County arson investigator and sheriff’s office, agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Missouri State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Cromer is facing a sentence of three to four years, according to federal guidelines.

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