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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.
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John Van Dyke
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John Van Dyke
Vincent Smith
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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, mguza@tribweb.com or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.

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