As one of the major early warning signs for future violent behavior, arson, or the criminal act of setting fire, has been connected to several serial murderers in adolescence and adulthood. Arson has been classified into several different categories, each one derived by a particular motive.
- Vandalism-motivated arson is usually committed by children or teenagers, but can also be seen in adult serial stalkers. Targets of this specific crime are most likely schools, churches, or other similar establishments.
- Excitement-motivated arson is subdivided into four separate categories characterized as thrill seeker, attention seeker, recognition (hero), and sexual perversion. These motives frequently pertain to serial killers, like the Son of Sam killer David Berkowitz, who kept an extensive record of all the fires he set.
- Revenge-motivated arson includes reasons such as personal retaliation, societal retaliation, institutional retaliation, group retaliation (typically applied to gangs and cults), or intimidation. As a form of punishment for the man who reported him for stealing automobile tires, David Wayne Roberts set fire to the man’s home, killing three people in the process.
- Crime-concealment-motivated arson is also commonly employed by serial murderers, such as New York’s Richard Cottingham who set fire to the hotel room where he had killed and dismembered two women.
- Profit-motivated arson is characteristically used by black widow killers, women who prey on family members, loved ones, or acquaintances for monetary gain. Belle Gunness and Virginia Reardon both committed arson to collect insurance payoffs before finally deciding to turn to murder.
- Extremist-motivated arson is normally used as a tool for terrorism, discrimination, or riots and civil disturbances. Anti-Semitist Joseph Franklin set fire to synagogues after his sniper attacks on black and interracial couples.
- Serial arson is the episodic setting of fires with the same emotional cooling off period in between as with serial murderers. Similarly, the arsonists who forgo the cooling off period are labeled spree arsonists, as well as the arsonists who set multiple fires at one centralized location, like separate floors in a high rise building, are called mass arsonists.