Anger simmered inside Joe Butler before he allegedly burned down his house Wednesday.
The 65-year-old was upset his wife wanted a divorce. He was mad she wouldn’t give him money. He was furious when she told him she couldn’t buy him a cell phone.
His wife, Vicki Butler, said her husband has struggled with mental health problems.
“He didn’t want a divorce,” she said Thursday. “So he told me he was going to burn the house to the ground. I don’t know what else to say. I’m devastated.”
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Investigators say Butler started a fire that destroyed the couple’s house in the 5900 block of 66th Avenue East.
Firefighters were first called to the property about 4 p.m. for a small garage fire. Nearly three hours later, crews were called back because the house was engulfed in flames.
Arson was suspected even before a neighbor told Pierce County sheriff’s deputies that Butler had confided in him about burning down the house “because he was mad at his wife … for leaving him,” court documents show.
No one was injured in the blaze.
Vicki Butler had left home that day after an argument with her husband about buying a cell phone. She told deputies she felt unsafe there and went to stay with family members in Lacey.
“I tried to deal with him,” Vicki Butler said. She added that she’d allowed him to come home to shower and get clean clothes.
Deputies arrested Butler after finding him in the driveway. He was covered in soot and had a lighter in his pocket, records show.
When asked where he went after the fire, Butler “said he tried to drive to the police department ‘so they could charge me and get this whole thing over with,’ ” according to charging papers.
On Thursday, prosecutors did just that, charging Joe Butler with first-degree arson.
He pleaded not guilty and was ordered jailed in lieu of $500,000. A court order bars him from coming within 1,000 feet of his wife.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653