COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The scene of a house fire in south Columbus that sent two people to the hospital has now turned into a homicide investigation after a man’s body was found in the home.
The fire broke out around 10:20 a.m. Tuesday at a home in the 250 block of Southard Drive near Parsons Avenue.
Firefighters said the fire started in a small building detached from the main home.
Neighbor Ed Burnett said a couple had been living in the building for about six months.
“I heard something go ‘pow’ and looked out the window, and smoke was boiling out of the house out there.”
Witnesses said the two victims, a man and a woman, both got out of the house on their own and were talking and moving around when paramedics arrived.
They suffered burns and were taken to the hospital in life-threatening condition. The woman has since been upgraded to stable condition. The man is in the Intensive Care Unit at OSU Wexner Medical Center.
Firefighters then conducted a wellness check in the house and found the 80-year-old homeowner dead.
Homicide Detective Dave Sicilian said the man was definitely killed by someone else. Sicilian said investigators don’t know yet whether the fire and the homicide are related to each other.
Neighbors and friends identified the owner as Joseph McDowell. McDowell was the pastor of a small neighborhood church and was well-known and well-liked in the community.
Parishioner Bob Alford called McDowell, “one of their good guys.”
“He loved everybody and he helped everybody in this neighborhood. Everybody liked him because he was there to give them a hand at whatever they might need.”
Polly Henricks said she’s known McDowell for about 15 years. She said he had been sick lately and wouldn’t have been able to put up much of a struggle with an intruder.
“He didn’t do nothing to nobody for anybody to do anything to him,” Hendricks said. “I just hope they catch who done it.”
Detectives said there was no sign of forced entry in the home.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.