Kathy James: The Arsonist is Out of Prison Today

Investigation Discovery’s ‘Fear Thy Neighbor: There’s No Place Like Hell’ features the story of Kathy James, who was convicted of three degrees of arson after her own and two other neighbors’ houses were burnt down in a fire. The incident happened in Omaha, Nebraska, in late September 1995. Kathy appears in the episode, recounting the events that led to the fire and explaining how she was allegedly caught up in the crime without her consent or will.

Who Is Kathy James?

South 23rd Street in Omaha, Nebraska, embodied a serene haven on the city’s outskirts, characterized by a close-knit community of working-class individuals. Newlyweds Katherine “Kathy” and Jason James decided to make this tranquil neighborhood their home in September 1995. Kathy reminisced, “The house we decided to buy was the tallest house on the street. So, therefore, it was the best — it was a home that I dreamed of as a little kid since it reminded me of my grandmother’s house.”

Adjacent to their home, the Lasseks — Denise, Wanda, and their four children — shared the neighborhood. Kathy fondly recalled her initial impressions, stating, “Wanda seemed nice. The type of woman any woman would want as a close friend.” Sally, the neighbor on the opposite side, oozed a grandmotherly vibe, contributing to the initial sense that Kathy and Jason had discovered the perfect place to establish their roots. Kathy and Wanda bonded over shared interests, particularly in music, spending hours chatting while the kids played.

According to other erstwhile residents, Kathy embodied the archetype of a good neighbor. She generously distributed cookies to the neighborhood children daily. However, harmony within this idyllic setting began to unravel, with discord arising between the husbands. Kathy alleged both Jason and Denise were noted for their short tempers. She asserted that Denise isolated Wanda, preventing her from forging bonds. She also claimed she connected with Wanda as she faced a similar fate at the hands of her spouse.

Tensions escalated as heated arguments and bitter fights erupted between Denise and Wanda, mirroring similar conflicts between Kathy and Jason. In their shared struggles, Kathy and Wanda found solace in each other’s company, and the two women drew closer in the face of adversity. However, their husbands constantly snapped at each other over trivial issues. The feud reached a boiling point when Kathy and Wanda organized a block party, leading to a physical altercation between their spouses before storming off into their houses.

The initial clash snowballed into a relentless cycle of retaliation between the two men, dragging their wives into the escalating conflict. The Omaha police were summoned to intervene over 40 times within a brief period, resulting in such heightened tension that Kathy and Jason resorted to seeking refuge in a hotel two miles away on weekends. Kathy claimed that one of Wanda’s friends had threatened to burn down their house, and the Jameses allegedly found a Molotov cocktail lodged between their screen door one morning.

According to Kathy, she and Jason had filed numerous complaints with the authorities, but no action was taken, leading them to leave their residence over the weekends in fear. The once-promising neighborhood, steeped in tranquility, had become the backdrop for a tumultuous saga of interpersonal strife and discord. It reached a devastating end when a fire broke out in the street, eventually burning down the three houses of Kathy, Wanda, and Sally on September 24, 1995. The authorities quickly determined it was not an accident but an arson.

Where is Kathy James Now?

The show noted how Kathy tried to pin the crime on her feuding neighbor but was quickly caught when the authorities found a tip. She and Jason had plotted to burn down their house for insurance money, but their contact sold them off to the authorities in exchange for money. When Kathy had been elaborating their plan to their contact, he had been wearing a wire with the police and arson experts listening in. She was charged with two counts of arson in the first degree and one count of arson in the second degree on October 6, 1995.

Kathy tried to blame it on her husband, claiming he had coaxed and manipulated her into the scheme. She even had her brother-in-law on tape with somewhat incriminating statements. But the prosecution was unconvinced, and she was arraigned on the three charges on November 19, 1996. During her March 31, 1997 sentencing, Kathy had initially entered no-contest pleas to all charges but tried to withdraw her appeal. She claimed her legal counsel had not informed her of the possibility of restitution.

The court overruled the motion and sentenced her to consecutive prison terms of four to eight years each on the two counts of arson in the first degree and two to four years on the count of arson in the second degree. However, she was not mandated to pay any restitution for the damage to the three homes destroyed by the fire. According to court records, Kathy served six and half years of her sentence at the Nebraska Center for Women in York, Nebraska. Her present address or other private details are unavailable in the public domain.

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