Morristown police arrest man suspected of trying to torch Masonic Lodge; caretaker detained suspect


An alert caretaker is being credited with stopping a man from setting fire to the Masonic Lodge in Morristown during Friday’s snowstorm.

The caretaker saw the suspect breaking into the Maple Avenue facility carrying cans of gasoline around 10:35 pm, fought with the man, and somehow managed both to detain him and call police, who arrived to find the scuffle in progress, according to police.

“He should be credited for preventing something harmful from happening,” Police Capt. Steve Sarinelli said of the caretaker.

The Morristown Masonic Center. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
The Morristown Masonic Center. File photo by Kevin Coughlin

The suspect, identified as John Mowbray, 50, of Morris Township, was charged with aggravated arson, burglary and simple assault, and taken to the Morris County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bail. Municipal Judge Gary Troxell did not give the suspect an option to post 10 percent.

Police are investigating Mowbray in connection with a prior break-in at the lodge, Captain Sarinelli said.

The alleged arson attempt appears to be an isolated incident, police said.

“John Mowbray appeared to be focused on one location. There is no indication that a threat exists to other locations in town,” the captain said in a statement.

Anyone with information is asked to call Morristown Police Detective Dennis Bergman at 973-292-6643.

The Daily Record identified the caretaker as Drew Jardine, a member of the lodge’s building committee. He was at the lodge Friday night to clean snow from the sidewalks, according to the newspaper.

“It’s a stroke of luck I was here. The building could have been burned down,” he told the paper.

The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office and Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene, as did the Morristown Fire Department and Ambulance Squad.

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