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Forsyth woman charged with burning her own home

Authorities also believe couple was reponsible for racist graffiti painted on fence

POSTED: February 7, 2009 12:42 a.m.

Investigators believe that a Cumming woman charged Friday with burning down her own house also was directly involved in the spray-painting of racially-charged graffiti on a fence next to the burned home.

Forsyth County Fire Department Chief Investigator Steve Anderson said the arson at 47-year-old Pamela Graf’s home on Lanier Drive and the graffiti "are related."

Graf claimed to have been out of town for the inauguration of President Barack Obama when her home burned to the ground Jan. 18. The words "your black boy will die" were spray-painted on a fence on property that adjoins the 3,000-square-foot, five-bedroom home.

Investigators now believe Graf was never in Washington, and that either she or another man charged in the case, 46-year-old Steven Strobel, was responsible for the graffiti.

Graf and Strobel both were charged with first-degree arson Friday. Authorities are not commenting on how they believe the fire was set, but they believe both suspects were involved.

The pair may yet face charges of trespass or criminal damage for the graffiti, which was spray-painted on a fence that did not belong to them, Anderson said.

Anderson did not rule out the possibility of additional charges, noting that the investigation is continuing.

"The motive we think at this time is going to be monetary, insurance fraud," he said.

Both suspects are being held without bond, authorities said.

The case attracted widespread media attention in Forsyth County, which in the 1980s became an epicenter of racial conflict during a series of marches conducted by civil rights activists and counterdemonstrators. The federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assisted in the arson investigation.

Graf and Strobel were first arrested Tuesday. Graf faced drug charges, and Strobel was charged with giving false statements to investigators. Both suspects remain in the Forsyth County jail.

Times regional reporter Julie Arrington contributed to this story.



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