Deadly condo fire ruled as arson, man with dementia charged


COBB COUNTY, Ga. – Police in Cobb County say an accidental fire was a murder.

Channel 2’s Matt Johnson learned a man is in jail but he’s suffering from dementia.

Channel 2 Action News first brought you this story in October when firefighters were working to put out the flames. Investigators believe the fire started on the second floor and the husband and wife inside were able to get out this door with their lives.

Rodney Greenfield lives next to the Austell condo where Sharon Croft, 63, was killed.

He told Johnson that he refuses to believe his disabled neighbor Richard Elsner, 63, is capable of murdering her.

“These things take time to develop dementia, or whatever, Alzheimster’s, and he has both,” Greenfield said.


Johnson obtained Elsner’s mugshot Wednesday night shortly after authorities booked him into the jail, charged with first-degree arson and murder.

In October, Channel 2’s Audrey Washington spoke to Elsner’s wife at the scene about how she says she, her husband, and their roommate Croft were all in the home together.

“I had to try to get him down the stairs and once I did that and tried to go back up, it was just too hot, and I couldn’t breathe,” she said.

Elsner has been in the hospital since the fire with his own injuries.

His neighbor says it would be unlike him to put people at risk on purpose.

“He’s an ex-Marine, c’mon man, he’s been with his lady 46 years, him and her, against the world,” Greenfield said.

Investigators say new accounts from witnesses and text messages revealed previous fires at the condo.

Those developments led to the two charges against Elsner.

For some who know him, they hope he doesn’t spend his final days in prison.

“The judge is gonna say, ‘C’mon man, seriously?’ If he’s in this state now, he had to be in this state when it happened,” Greenfield said.

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