Man charged with arson in south Austin fire where body was found


AUSTIN (KXAN) — A man is charged with arson after authorities say he started a fire near where a body was found in south Austin, according to an arrest affidavit.

Richard Edwin Wroblewski, 34, is accused of starting a fire at a “large transient camp” located along northbound Interstate 35 just south of East William Cannon Drive around 10:12 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 26. 

When firefighters arrived, they were able to put it out before it spread to other camps around it. Witnesses at the scene told authorities Wroblewski, who goes by the nickname “Elephant,” started the fire, according to the arrest affidavit.

One witness told detectives Wroblewski was “agitated” that morning and was looking for a woman who he said took his bicycle and didn’t return it. The witness told Wroblewski she didn’t know where the woman was and went back inside her tent. 

As she was inside her tent, she told investigators she could hear the suspect saying, “Nobody steals from me. You guys know where she is and you’re hiding her.” Minutes later, she heard “popping and smelled smoke.” When she stepped outside, there was a fire next to her tent, according to the affidavit.

A witness who was driving in the area that morning told detectives they saw a column of smoke coming from a wooded area. She then saw three men “dart out of the wooded area” carrying small propane tanks with nozzles, continued in the court documents. 

One of the men described had the same description as Wroblewski. 

Austin police say another fire that was started on the same day in the same area around 6:20 p.m. led to firefighters finding a man’s body within the fire. The victim has been identified as Harold Maurice Parham, 66. An autopsy determined Parham died as the result of trauma to the body. Investigators believe he was killed before the flames reached his body.

According to the affidavit, the suspect was “reckless about whether the burning will endanger the life of some individual.” He is currently being held in the Travis County Jail charged with arson and theft. Wroblewski has not been charged in connection with Parham’s death.

Investigators have not connected Wroblewski or anyone else to the second fire at this time, however, they say he is a person of interest in the homicide. 

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story indicated the body was found in the first fire, but the body was found in the second fire. Investigators say it’s not clear if Wroblewski was homeless.

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