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'I was engulfed in flames': Man charged in burning of woman, attack on grandparents in Waukesha

Posted at 3:17 PM, Sep 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-04 23:22:09-04

WAUKESHA — Authorities have charged a man with attempted first degree intentional homicide in the burning of a woman, the torching of two vehicles and the striking of another man with a car in Waukesha last Wednesday.

A criminal complaint released Friday alleges that the suspect was trying to attack his cousin but accidentally set on fire a woman who looked just like his cousin.

Waukesha authorities charged Joel D. Murn, 39 of Las Vegas, of one count of Attempt First Degree Intentional Homicide, two counts of First Degree Recklessly Endangering Safety, one count of Arson to a building and two counts of Arson other than a building on Friday.

The Waukesha Freeman reports that Murn did not appear in Waukesha County Court on Friday because he refused to leave the jail. Murn is set to be back in Waukesha County Court on Sept. 9 for his hearing.


According to the criminal complaint, Waukesha police responded to East Broadway and Lake Street last Wednesday for a report of a woman on fire.

A 911 caller had previously stated that they believed a man had set the woman on fire, who was reportedly on fire, running and screaming, the complaint states.

A responding officer soon found the victim, who had skin peeling and red marks across her body. The officer also reported smelling burnt hair and flesh.

The victim later told responding EMS that she had been walking her dogs when a man in his 40s approached and lit her on fire.

She described to an investigator that when she first saw the suspect, she tried to avoid him but he soon started to run at her.

The victim says she could see that he was carrying a dark-colored can in his hand. That's when the man poured a liquid on her, and she said it smelled like it was a flammable liquid, but not gasoline, the complaint states.

As the victim tried to run away, she tripped and fell down. She rolled onto her back and tried to kick the suspect. But her efforts to get rid of the suspect appeared to be unsuccessful, when the suspect reached down and lit her on fire, according to the complaint.

She later told investigators she had to let her dogs go because "I was engulfed in flames," according to the complaint. She added that she did not know who would try to do that to her.

One witness investigators talked to said they saw the suspect walking away after allegedly setting the woman on fire.

Another witness said that they saw "flames a couple feet high" coming off of the victim, the complaint states.

Officers soon gathered a report of a possible second victim, who turned out to be the suspect's cousin, who told them that the suspect had previously threatened her. Her home was only .2 miles from where the first woman was set on fire, the complaint states. The cousin added that she believed the suspect "may have killed somebody," the complaint states.

The cousin continued that the suspect had a history of mental illness following a bad car accident.

Law enforcement were then called to a second incident at a home on Fox Vale Court in the Village of Waukesha. Officers learned that the suspect was identified by residents of that home.

One of the residents of that home, identified as the suspect's grandfather, told officers that the suspect was "losing his mind," the complaint states.

A letter written to the grandfather from the suspect paints a picture that the suspect resented him and that he was "mentally abused."

The complaint then describes a video obtained by officers showing a dispute apparently between the suspect and his grandparents. The suspect told them that he had "killed" his cousin, interviewed by detectives previously, the complaint states.

However, the cousin was not attacked. It appears that another woman who also has two dogs, looks similar, is close in age and has similar height and weight was attacked instead. The detective concluded that the suspect thought the victim he had set on fire was his own cousin, according to the complaint.

The complaint then describes the second fiery incident last Wednesday, at the home on Fox Vale Court. Authorities had received a report that a garage was in flames and that a person had been struck by a vehicle. The home they were responding to turned out to be the same home where the suspect's grandparents lived in.

The grandfather there was injured but not severely. He told detectives that the suspect had tried to run him over with a vehicle as well as hit his grandmother with the vehicle.

Using surveillance video, officers eventually tracked the suspect down to Goerke's Corners and arrested him on an OWI first offense charge.

Two vehicles were on fire, as well as the attached garage.

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