The fire started with an explosion and spread along the exterior of the apartments so fast that some residents were awakened by the whoosh of flames before fire alarms had the chance to go off.
One resident of the Highland Oaks apartments jumped to safety from a second-floor balcony. But Tony Baucom was overcome by the smoke and flames and died inside his apartment on April 29, 1985.
For nearly 30 years, investigators didn’t know who set the fire, or why.
On Thursday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police announced they had made an arrest in the fire that left Baucom dead.
Arthur Blake, 58, is charged with murder and first-degree arson in connection with Baucom’s death. Blake was in Mecklenburg County jail on Thursday. He is being held without bond and is scheduled to make his first court appearance on Friday.
Blake has been convicted of crimes three times before, according to a search of criminal records conducted by the Observer. He was found guilty in 2002 of selling illegal drugs and was placed on probation. He was also placed on probation twice in 1992 for passing worthless checks, records show.
Baucom’s body was found in the aftermath of the 1985 fire at the apartment complex on East Seventh Street near Hawthorne Lane. The fire burned the steps leading to his apartment, and firefighters had to use an aerial boom to remove his body.
CMPD Homicide Capt. Cecil Brisbon said Thursday investigators don’t believe Baucom was targeted by Blake. Brisbon would not say what investigators believe the motive was in the intentionally set fire.
In March, Chief Fire Investigator Paul Wilkinson gave homicide unit detectives information that led them to reopen the investigation. Detectives and Wilkinson have not said what the information was, but they interviewed key witnesses in the arson case and were able to obtain arrest warrants for Blake.
“It’s a good thing that we’re finally able to give the Baucom family what they deserve, which is information about the death of their loved one,” Brisbon told reporters.
CMPD’s Homicide Cold Case Unit has reviewed 140 cases since it was formed in 2003. Baucom’s case is the 39th that has been cleared by the unit. Staff researcher Maria David contributed.