ShareThis Page

Police: Men found dead in burning Point Breeze rowhouse were killed before fire; man rescued from blaze charged

Megan Guza
| Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, 6:30 a.m.
John Van Dyke
John Van Dyke
Vincent Smith
Vincent Smith

A man rescued from a burning Point Breeze home on Monday has been charged with killing the two men found dead inside the home and with starting the fire that endangered police and sparked a standoff, according to the criminal complaint filed against him Wednesday by Pittsburgh police.

Vincent Smith, 58, is charged with two counts each of homicide and abuse of a corpse, as well as nine arson-related charges, court records show.

The series of deadly events started Thursday in Swissvale when Jeffrey Van Dyke reported his brother, John Van Dyke, missing to Swissvale police, according to the complaint. He told officers family members had gone past the missing man's home and noted his truck gone and the home in deplorable condition.

Data showed that the location of the missing man's phone was at a home on Penfield Place in Pittsburgh's Point Breeze neighborhood, according to the complaint. Officers from Swissvale and Allegheny County police went to the home, where they found John Van Dyke's vehicle. Officers knocked at the door, but received no answer, so they forced their way inside through the basement.

One the home's first floor, officers noticed shadow movement from the second story, police wrote. When they announced their presence, a voice responded, "Steven's not here." Looking farther upstairs, officers saw a man later identified as Smith striking matches and tossing them to the floor.

One match ignited what was later found to be a pool of lighter fluid, police wrote in the complaint. Officers retreated, and a standoff ensued outside the now-burning home.

Smith was rescued from the home and admitted to UPMC Mercy's burn unit in critical condition, police said.

Pittsburgh police soon discovered a dead man in the basement, later identified as homeowner Steven Pariser, according to the complaint. His body had been covered with plastic garbage bags and other clothing. He'd suffered head trauma, and his death was ruled a homicide, according to police.

Futher investigation turned up a second body, this one of the missing John Van Dyke, police said. His body — also battered and showing signs of head trauma — was found hidden under a wooden staircase and covered with detritus. His death was also ruled a homicide.

In an interview with police from his hospital bed, Smith he'd been watching television in the Penfield Place home the night of Feb. 21 when Van Dyke and Pariser began to argue with Smith, which Smith said was because he'd threatened to steal their marijuana, according to the complaint.

He said he "fought back" and threw the two men down the basement stairs, then continued to assault them, police wrote. He hid the bodies and tried to kill himself, he said, "any way he could."

When officers asked about the fire, according to the complaint, Smith stopped cooperating.

Staff write Brian C. Rittmeyer contributed. Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519, or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me