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SALT LAKE CITY — A man has been arrested on suspicion of murder after his grandfather died in a Salt Lake City house fire Friday morning.
Maxwell Wolcott, 28, was arrested after 74-year-old John Peel was killed, Salt Lake City police announced Saturday. The fire happened at 717 E. Logan Ave., officials said.
Salt Lake police detective Greg Wilking said that Wolcott is Peel's grandson. He said Peel was stabbed before the fire began.
According to a probable cause statement, the front of Peel's house was fully engulfed in flame when firefighters arrived on scene at 7:07 a.m. Friday.
Wilking said firefighters were quickly made aware that an elderly man was unaccounted for. Firefighters found Peel's body in the course of extinguishing the flames, the statement says.
"When the victim was rolled over a knife stab wound was observed on the upper chest of the victim," it says.
Detectives later found surveillance video showing Wolcott's car leaving the area. When detectives interviewed Wolcott, the statement says he admitted to forcing Peel's front door open and stabbing his grandfather.
Wolcott told police he left the scene, returned a short time later and doused Peel's body in lighter fluid "with the intention of destroying evidence."
"What we understand is that the suspect came over to that house, made contact with the victim and ended up killing him," Wilking said in a press conference Saturday afternoon. "And then came back and set the fire in hopes of covering up that homicide."
Wilking said the department is not yet sure how much time elapsed between the stabbing and the fire. He said it is a "strong possibility" that the homicide might not have been evident if the fire department had not responded quickly and aggressively.
In addition to murder, Wolcott is also being held on suspicion of aggravated arson, aggravated burglary, obstruction of justice and abuse or desecration of a dead body. Wilking expects formal charges to be filed against Wolcott early next week.
House Fire on Logan Avenue yesterday is now a homicide investigation. PIO will be giving an update at the Pioneer Precinct 1040 W. 700 S. at 1 p.m. Maxwell Wolcott 28, has been arrested. John Peel 74, has been identified as the victim. #Homicide— SLC Police Dept. (@slcpd) January 11, 2020
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was assisting in the investigation as of Friday evening, fire officials confirmed.
Correction: In a previous version, officials had released an incorrect address for the house fire. That has been corrected.
Contributing: Garna Mejia and Sean Moody, KSL TV; John Wojcik, KSL NewsRadio