Ongoing trial in the 2017 Salem arson


June 17 – SALEM – On the night of September 6, 2017, the end of the line was right in front of Robert Cole.

He was nearly $30,000 in arrears on rent for 9-11 Franklin St. — a small commercial building across the North River in Salem — where he ran Ideal Transmission, an auto repair shop, the prosecutor said. Anne Marie Gochis to a jury in Lawrence Superior Court. Thursday.

Goldberg Properties had obtained a court order to evict Cole, but gave him until September 7 to find new space for the large amount of automotive equipment he had amassed there. But he hadn’t. Meanwhile, his commercial insurer was demanding payment by September 9 to avoid a lapse in coverage. He had not made this payment.

But was that all the motive for Cole, now 54, from Salisbury, to burn down the business his father Barry started in 1959?

That’s what Gochis hopes to convince jurors who will decide if Cole is guilty of burning down a building and burning down a building to commit insurance fraud.

Cole’s attorney, Scott Gleason, painted a different picture of Cole’s situation in his opening statement to the jurors, pointing out that due to the extent of the damage from the fire, no one – not investigators Salem Fire Department, State Police, Fire Marshal, or Salem Police – was able to determine the cause.

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“Experts not only don’t know what caused the fire, they don’t know whether it was intentional or not,” Gleason told the jury. “They just don’t know.”

Gochis suggested, however, that while there was too much damage from the fire – which officials at the time estimated at around $500,000 – to find a cause, they were able to rule out many. common sources of ignition.

But she also said Cole’s changing account of the hours before the fire cast suspicion on him early on.

Cole had arrived on the scene that night and agreed to speak to the police.

He told detectives he left the business at age 6 and went to Lynn to meet a man interested in buying a lift. They couldn’t come to an agreement on the price – Cole thought it was worth more than the buyer was offering.

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Two weeks later, insurance company investigators interviewed him, Gochis told the jury. But this time he said he only wanted $1,000 for the elevator because he was old.

He also mentioned that he stopped at McDonald’s for coffee. But a receipt showed $18 worth of items.

When police questioned him again afterwards, Gochis said Cole had accused insurance investigators of backing him off – that he didn’t drink coffee.

“The problem with the truth is that it never changes,” Gochis told the jury.

“Can we give the guy some slack?” Gleason responded in his opening. He called the inconsistencies “minor” and suggested that Cole’s actions – going to the scene, identifying himself and agreeing to speak to detectives – were not those of a guilty man.

“He gets a call when he’s home, ‘your business is on fire,'” Gleason said. “What did he do? What somebody does – he went straight to the fire and when he got to the fire he introduced himself, ‘I’m the owner of the business, I’m call Robert Cole.'”

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If he was inconsistent, Gleason suggested, “please put yourself in his shoes. It’s where he’s worked his whole life, his family business is on fire. Everything he and his father worked is in flames.”

The fire was discovered around 9:30 p.m. by Salem Police Officer Kristina Monk while on patrol in North Salem.

As she approached the intersection of North and Franklin streets, she testified that she smelled “an extremely strong smell of smoke” and then saw heavy, thick smoke. She told a dispatcher she was going to find the source.

Moments later, she found him.

The blaze took hours to bring under control, officials said at the time, and several other local fire departments arrived to assist Salem firefighters throughout the evening.

Cole was charged in 2018 after an investigation.

Forensic reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis

Forensic reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis


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