Louisiana Woman Faces Murder Charge in Arson-for-Insurance Scheme

July 12, 2013

A woman accused of igniting a deadly bakery fire in Gretna, La., last month is facing murder charges after authorities said she torched her business in a scheme to collect insurance proceeds.

Authorities say Lesly Martinez, 41, owner of Lesly’s Bakery, was severely burned in a gasoline-fueled explosion that fatally injured her friend, Afi Marta Alvarado-Lopez, 40.

The Advocate reports Alvarado-Lopez received burns to 70 percent of her body and died several days after the June 21 fire.

“Our suspicions are that the motivating factor was an intent to collect on insurance proceeds as well as her desire to relocate,” Brant Thompson, deputy chief of the state Fire Marshal’s Office, said of Martinez. “It took a few days before the pieces of the puzzle began to reveal themselves.”

Martinez is expected to recover and be taken into custody upon her release from the Baton Rouge General Medical Center burn unit.

“As soon as she’s able to be released, they will book her on our warrant and we will pick her up from there and bring her back,” Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson said.

Martinez faces counts of second-degree murder and aggravated arson.

The blaze aroused suspicion among investigators even before the flames were extinguished. The stench of gasoline filled the air, authorities said, and the front doors of the shop had been blasted into the parking lot by an explosion that seemed unusually potent.

“We see that with natural gas that may build up,” Thompson said. “But most of this facility was electric, so that was immediately suspect.”

It took several days for investigators to determine the full impact of the arson, Thompson said, in part because Martinez and Alvarado-Lopez fled the bakery and did not immediately seek medical attention despite their serious conditions.

When they finally did go to the hospital, they gave aliases and false stories about how they were burned, information Thompson said was reported to the Fire Marshal’s Office.

The women eventually were both transported to the burn unit in Baton Rouge, where Thompson said they “pretended as though they didn’t know one another, even though medical staff suspected there might be some connection.”

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