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'Long days' spent on fire case
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Forsyth County News
Woman, boyfriend charged with arson.

The investigation into last month's Lanier Drive house fire, which at first appeared to be politically or racially motivated, has taken its toll on those working the case. And their work is not finished.

The arrests last week of homeowner Pamela Morrow Graf and her boyfriend, Steve Edward Strobel, on drug and arson charges does not mark the end of the probe.

Authorities think the couple set fire to the nearly 3,000-square-foot house and tried to make it look like an attack.

The real motive, they say, likely was insurance money.

While both suspects remain in custody, investigators are continuing to look into racially charged graffiti spray-painted on a fence along Graf's property.

Forsyth County Fire Marshal Steve Anderson has said the blaze and graffiti are related, and that one or both suspects is likely also responsible for the vandalism.

"We're still waiting on some evidence, and we've still got to deal with the graffiti, so there's a lot of work to be done yet," he said.

Anderson said Friday the investigation took "long weeks and long days" of hard work.

"Throughout the last three weeks we've had 12, 15 investigators working on the case," he said. "We basically had four working 24 hours a day on it, and then we had support from others."

Anderson said he didn't know exactly how many man hours the investigation has required so far.

"There were some days that we didn't get home until three or four o'clock in the morning," he said. "Of course, the case led us from here to Barrow County several times, too."

It appears the incident has taken its toll on the community as well.

Within days of the fire, many publicly defended the community, including the Forsyth County Democratic Party, the Anti-Defamation League and Graf's father, William Morrow.

They said the incident, which at the time appeared may have been motivated by Graf's support of President Barack Obama, did not represent the county.

The local Democratic Party released a statement Friday saying its members hope responsibility for the fire is determined fairly and quickly.

"The spontaneous show of support and concern for the matter in the last three weeks is a testament to the good will of the citizens in Forsyth County," the statement said.

In a letter to the editor, Forsyth County resident Nathan Waters shamed anyone who may have labeled the county as racist as a result of the incident.

"You've been made the fools in a common conspiracy," Waters wrote. "The next time someone's home burns, let's take a longer look at the homeowner. Home foreclosures are at an all-time high, and I doubt we've seen the last of related arsons."

What at first appeared to be an attack on a Democrat and single mother of three evolved into a criminal act linked directly to her.

Forsyth County Fire Capt. Jason Shivers said Graf's house was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived.

He said the fire department received multiple calls reporting the blaze, some from callers who could see flames through the trees but weren't sure of the exact location. None of the reports came from Graf's house.

Graf, 47, who maintained her house was targeted because of her support for President Barack Obama, was not home at the time of the fire.

She and Strobel, 46, showed up the next day, claiming to have cut short a trip to Washington, D.C., after hearing about the blaze.

Graf also claimed to have been threatened earlier in January, saying she found a note in her mailbox after the New Year's holiday, which she spent on Tybee Island.

The message was written on a piece of notebook paper, she said, and included a racial slur and the phrase "watch your back."

Graf said she did not alert authorities because she didn't take it seriously. But she did take down an Obama campaign sign in her yard.

The fire was ruled arson less than a week after it occurred.

Graf said she was afraid for her safety and that of her children.

According to Forsyth County Superior Court records, however, Graf's three children, who range in age from 11 to 17, live with their father.

Neighbors reported that Graf had been trying to sell her home, where she lived alone, before the blaze.

She contended, though, that she had placed a "for sale" sign in her yard for about a week last summer in order to teach her children a lesson.

Anderson said the house had been for sale, but was not on the market at the time of the fire.

He said authorities were able to verify that Graf boarded four of her five her cats before the fire. The fifth cat is believed to have run away.

Anderson said Friday that the charges brought against Graf and Strobel were the result of "information obtained through scene investigation, interviews and search warrants."

He said investigators also looked into Graf's past.

There they found Forsyth County Sheriff's reports showing Graf had been involved in at least nine documented incidents since September 2006.

In November, she was accused of shoplifting. A month earlier, she reported her home had been burglarized.

There also were complaints against Graf of criminal trespassing and loitering and prowling.

In January 2007, she reported that her vehicle and checkbook had been stolen. She and an incarcerated ex-boyfriend have accused each other of harassing communications, reports show.

She has said that she has a restraining order against the man.