Coalton man charged with setting his own home on fire
ELKINS — A Coalton man is facing first degree arson charges after allegedly setting fire to his own residence in October. Investigators obtained search warrants for social media messages to gather evidence before filing charges.
Gordon Lee Channell, 40, of Coalton, is being charged with first degree arson stemming from a fire on Oct. 17, 2019, at his residence at 317 Mabie-Cassidy Road. According to a criminal complaint filed in Randolph County Magistrate Court by Assistant State Fire Marshal Rick Sovastion, the Coalton Volunteer Fire Department responded to the structure fire at around 5:07 p.m. Upon arrival it was reported the front of the house was heavily involved with fire and the owner was not home.
“Justin George, assistant chief, stated that the structure’s utilities had been disconnected prior to the fire for non-payment. The owner, Gordon Lee Channell, arrived at the fire scene and provided information to the fire department about the events prior to the fire. The preliminary conclusion of the fire scene, by George, was that the fire appeared to be intentionally set.”
According to the complaint, Channell said his wife, Jules Channell, had set the fire because they were in a domestic dispute.
“A neighborhood canvas was conducted, and surveillance video was obtained from a nearby house,” it states in the complaint. “Upon reviewing the video, the footage is inconsistent with the statement and information provided by the occupant/owner Gordon Lee Channell.”
It states in the complaint, that Channell was recorded leaving the residence on his motorcycle at 4:48 p.m. and was captured again driving past the residence a few minutes later, slowing to look at the structure. The video shows the first sign of smoke approximately 10 minutes later. George contacted the State Fire Marshal’s office with concerns about the fire.
“George stated that one of his fire fighters informed him that a Facebook post about Gordon Lee Channell was made about his house being on fire,” it states in the complaint. “The fire department member further stated that he noticed a reply to the post which had asked Gordon Lee Channell why he placed a torch in the couch and left.”
According to the complaint a search warrant was obtained for the Facebook information of Channell. The information obtained from Facebook showed communication between Channell and his wife through Messenger.
“Several messages indicated the Jules Channell had knowledge of how the fire started and suggested a story to tell investigators to prevent Gordon Lee Channell from going to prison for ,” the complaint stated. “Jules Channell responded with a Facebook message that Gordon Lee Channell had lit a torch and put it on the floor to start the fire.”
According to the complaint, in the messages between the pair it stated the Fire Marshal had watched video of the fire and knew it wasn’t started by the stove.
“Gordon Lee Channell stated to Jules Channel that she needs to be spot on and we need to tell the same story, or he will go to prison for the arson,” it states in the complaint. “Additional communication with other Facebook friends that was obtained was asking about the fire. Gordon Lee Channell stated the Jules Channell brought her ex-boyfriend to the house and as a result he had a little ‘Channell fit.'”
According to the complaint, another message Gordon Channell had left with a Facebook friend stated he was upset and Jules Channell wasn’t going to take anything from the home. He said he proved his point and needed to stop getting angry. Jules Channell was interviewed on Dec. 2, 2019, and said she had returned to the house to get a few personal belongings and upon entry she lit a candle and didn’t remember putting it out when she left and wasn’t sure if the dog could have knocked it over. She said she obtained a ride from a friend and another friend was also with them. She said they came along in case a fight started with Gordon Channell.
The friend was interviewed by investigators on Dec. 5. 2019, and stated he provided Jules Channell with a ride to the home and went inside with her for her protection. He stated that the house was cold inside and he did not see any candles burning.
“(The friend) advised at some point Gordon Lee Channell asked for a few private minutes with Jules Channell,” it states in the complaint. “(The friend) waited on the front porch and eventually Jules Channell exited the house crying and got in the friend’s car. At that point, the three left and while driving down the road, Jules Channell said to (the friend and another witness) that ‘he lit a torch to burn my stuff up.’ (The friend) told this investigator that he saw a plumber’s style torch on the coffee table when he was inside with Jules Channell.”
According to the complaint, on Dec. 20, 2019, Jules Channell contacted the Fire Marshal’s Office and stated that she lied during her previous interview.
“Jules Channell stated that she was pressured into saying a candle started the fire to protect Gordon Lee Channell,” the complaint states. “Jules Channell stated that when Gordon Lee Channell threatened to cut her throat during a physical fight, she decided that sh had to leave and tell the truth about the fire.”
On Jan. 16, Gordon Channell’s ex-wife Donna Taylor was interviewed, the complaint states. She was asked if she had any knowledge of where to find Gordon Channell and if he was driving her car. She stated that she had not had any recent contact with him because of previous domestic abuse. She said that her car was in the shop being repaired.
According to the complaint, on Jan. 17 it was discovered that Taylor lied to investigators when she told them she had no contact with Gordon Channell and that he wasn’t driving her car.
“Jules Channell contacted this investigator and provided a screen copy of a message that was sent to her by Gordon Lee Channell. (Gordon) Channell was asking is she had any contact with this investigator and if so, what was said because investigators were looking for him,” the complaint states. “The message originated from Donna Taylor to Gordon Lee Channell and was forwarded to Jules Channell.”
According to the complaint, on Feb. 13, Facebook complied with the search warrants and released data records for Gordon Lee Channell, Donna Taylor and Jules Williams-Bennett (Jules Channell).
“Gordon Lee Channell had conversations through Facebook Messenger with various Facebook friends that indicated that Channell needed to come with an alibi for the fire, that he needed a place to hide out, that he was facing two counts of arson, that he may be in prison for 15 years,” the complaint states.
“Channell stated: “I f***** up, I don’t think they can prove it and eventually reaches out to Jules Channell frantically asking what she told investigators. It was at this point, Gordon Lee Channell provided Jules Channell a screen capture from a Facebook message that Donna Taylor sent warning him that the Fire Marshal’s were looking for him.”
Gordon Channell is being held in the Tygart Valley Regional Jail on a $50,000 surety/cash bond set by Randolph County Magistrate George Riggleman.