Tacoma serial arsons: Woman charged with murder, 17 counts of arson

A woman in Tacoma is now charged with murder and 17 counts of arson after, in one of the fires, an 83-year-old man died in his home on New Year's Eve.

Tacoma police arrested 42-year-old Sarah Ramey on Jan. 28 in connection with a string of arsons in Tacoma that happened between the evening hours of Jan. 25 and the early morning hours of Jan. 26.

Ramey was originally charged with eight arsons between Jan. 23 and Jan. 26. Probable cause documents just obtained by FOX 13 News allege Ramey is responsible for arsons dating back to Dec. 30, including the fatal fire on New Year’s Eve which killed 83-year-old James Elliot.

Also among the new cases is a string of three arsons set within 2.5 hours in Tacoma on Dec. 30, according to the documents. Ramey has denied setting the fires, but told her lawyer she knows who did.

At Elliot’s home, the ATF used an arson dog to search the grounds for suspicious chemicals or materials. The dog ‘hit’ 17 times for possible accelerants such as gas or petroleum. Five items were later removed as evidence: a red gas can, a red plastic can, a door mat near where the gas can was found, and a soil sample from that same area. Three containers were also found near the northeast corner of the house that may have contained accelerants; witnesses told the ATF they believed the fire started in that area.

Detectives traced Ramey’s cell phone activity for the night of the arson. They said she was in the vicinity when the house first fire, stating the phone pinged in that location for ‘several hours.’

Earlier reporting indicated that Ramey was found in possession of Elliot’s checkbook. The new documents say she was also in possession of three credit cards, which had belonged to Elliot’s dead wife.

According to probable cause documents, Ramey allegedly used the cards to buy more than $6,200 worth of goods, the bulk of which were purchased at Lowe’s hardware store in Tacoma. Surveillance footage from the Lowe’s shows Ramey allegedly making the purchases. Detectives learned that Ramey had stored ‘large amounts of newly purchased items’ at a property linked to a boyfriend of hers. Investigators also allege Ramey used money burned in one of the arsons to pay for goods.

Later, detectives say Ramey went back to Elliot’s burned home with a friend whom she had asked to help her remove items from the property. She allegedly told the friend that the house belonged to someone she knew who had given her permission to remove anything valuable left over from the fire "so she could make money to pay rent." The friend told police he thought Ramey had been there before because she had already boxed up many items.

The friend said Ramey defecated inside Elliot’s home while they were there – police were able to find the excrement and take it to a lab for testing - the results are still pending.

Police later searched Ramey’s phone after getting a warrant. Her browser history showed several suspicious search terms, including "leads on Tacoma arsons," "what happens if you get found guilty of spending $10,000 on somebody’s credit card," "how long do you go to jail for credit card theft," "easiest way to siphon gas," "how to ignite diesel fuel," "fire setting behavior," "profiling what kind of person starts fires," "how to cash a stolen check without getting caught," and "can I take my burnt money to the bank and get it replaced".  Chillingly, the search terms also included "how much scrap metal is in an eight-bedroom three bath older four-story [sic] house" - those are the dimensions of Elliot’s destroyed home.

Timeline of the fires

Dec. 30, 2021

  • 5:30pm - 1300 block of S. Prospect St.
  • 6:00pm - 2600 block of S. Melrose St.
  • 6:05pm - 2900 block of S. Melrose St.

Dec. 31, 2021

  • 5:30pm - 0 block of Rosemount Way

Jan. 19, 2022

  • 11:15pm - 5200 block of N. Shirley St.

Jan. 23, 2022

  • 5:27am - 5200 block of N. Highland St.
  • 7:35pm - 5500 block of S. Fawcett Ave.
  • 8:03pm - 400 block of S. 54th St.

Jan. 25, 2022

  • 7:47pm - 600 block of S. Trafton
  • 8:10pm - 2000 block of S. 8th St.
  • 8:26pm - 600 block of S. State St.
  • 11:06pm - 12:10am (Jan. 26) - 5100 block of N. Pearl St.

Jan. 26, 2022

  • 12:04am - 5300 block of N. Bennett St.
  • 1:15am - 4700 block of N. Orchard St.
  • 2:05am - 4600 block of N. Gove St.
  • 2:18am - 3900 block of N. Verde St. (attempted arson)
  • 3:08am - 3700 block of N. Cheyenne St.
  • 4:05am - 3700 block of N. Cheyenne St.

The charges

Ramey is now charged with:

  • Murder in the 1st-degree (2 counts)
  • Murder in the 2nd-degree
  • 1st-degree Arson (17 counts)
  • 1st-degree Attempted Arson
  • 2nd-degree Burglary
  • Residential Burglary
  • 1st-degree Identity Theft (2 counts)
  • 2nd-degree Identity Theft
  • Motor Vehicle Theft

Ramey has been in jail since Jan. 28, 2022. A judge set bail on Nov. 8 at $5 million. Her next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 8.