David O’Dell was a gentle man, mentally slowed by a head injury, yet good-natured and trusting. He lived alone in an aging wooden house. He had no idea the home would become his coffin. O’Dell was burned alive for insurance money by someone he considered his best friend.
O’Dell worked for Joseph Meyers in upstate Wayland, N.Y. Meyers and his wife Iryn wanted to buy a double-wide trailer to upgrade their living quarters, and Joseph planned to buy two tow-truck businesses.
O’Dell and insurance money were their gateways to the good life. The couple abused his trusting nature. They maneuvered to buy the aging house from him for half its value. Cunningly, they let O’Dell keep living there as he had since childhood.
The couple insured the house and Iryn’s possessions for about $125,000, and secretly bought a $40,000 life-insurance policy on O’Dell. The insurance setup was in place. Joseph and Iryn used a blow torch to burn down the old tinder-box home, leaving O’Dell inside to roast alive.
Victim burned alive
He died a horrific death. Flames quickly engulfed the brittle wooden home early that chilly February morning in 2016. O’Dell had no chance. He was quickly incinerated down to 97 pounds of charred debris and seared bones. Medical examiners had to compare his singed backbone with an old X-ray to identify him.
Joseph and Iryn tried to make O’Dell take the fall. He’d lost touch with reality and wanted to kill himself, they told investigators. O’Dell left his clothes on the heater after hearing “voices” telling him to burn down the house. Increasingly unhinged, he also stole $40 from a tool box at Meyers’ business shortly before the fire. At least that’s the sham story the couple fed investigators. The fairy tale quickly fell flat.
In fact O’Dell was careful about using fire around the house he so enjoyed, grieving relatives countered. He knew the home was a fire hazard and made sure flammables were handled well.
“When he was using the wood burners, he was always very careful. He could smell the smoke, and he would get up and take care of it, so he was extremely wary of any kind of smoke in that house,” older brother Phil O’Dell said.
Burn patterns found on furnace
Experts also discovered “ignitable liquid patterns” on a wood-burning furnace in the basement, meaning someone intentionally set the fire. And surprise, a propane torch was found at Joseph’s business.
Joseph also forgot to turn off his cell phone. A phone mapping analyst tracked him and Iryn back and forth between their place and O’Dell’s house three times just hours before the fire. Surveillance video from Joseph’s business, which was based at his home, matched the phone findings.
O’Dell’s siblings loyally sat in the courtroom, looking for justice for their youngest brother. More relatives joined in, such was their caring for O’Dell.
Instead of that snazzy new double-wide, Joseph and Iryn will spend 23 years to life in cramped jail cells. They were convicted of arson, insurance fraud, murder and other offenses.
“It tears your heart right out,” said older brother Phillip O’Dell. “Your baby brother. (That) somebody whose is supposedly good friends would do something like that to him, to that extreme. Why they would do it at all, I don’t know. It just rips your heart out.”