Arson Case Haunts Howard County Family, $30K Reward For Info: Police

HOWARD COUNTY, MD — Joseph and Betty Selby’s death in an arson fire nearly 43 years ago rattled Howard County residents. But even more alarming is the fact that after all these years, no suspect has been charged in the double homicide.

Lori Boone with the Howard County Police Department told Patch that a $30,000 reward will be offered for information that helps solve the Selbys’ cold case.
Click Here:

Joseph Selby, 56, managed The Enchanted Forest, a former fairytale-themed amusement park on Route 40, which was frequented by generations of families until it closed in 1995. On March 6, 1981, Joseph and Betty, 51, met friends to a drink at a local restaurant along Frederick Road in Ellicott City after work, according to the Howard County Police Department. They then ran home to relax before they were to meet back up with friends to listen to a bluegrass band. But they never returned to the restaurant.

Find out what's happening in Columbiawith free, real-time updates from Patch.

The couple died from smoke inhalation as a result of arson while they slept in their bed in their Ellicott City home, located at 12102 Frederick Rd. Investigators believe the suspect or suspects had a grudge against them or someone in the family, according to the Howard County Police Department.

Married almost 40 years with three kids and several grandkids, Howard County Police Cold Case Detective Wade Zufall said in a video about their deaths and the unsolved case that a fight had broken out in a parking lot at 17004 Frederick Rd. and one person was stabbed. Involved in that fight was a nephew of the Selbys, Johnny Selby, Jr.

Find out what's happening in Columbiawith free, real-time updates from Patch.

“Theory is, they got the wrong Selby,” said Joe Selby III in a video. “When the fire marshal came out, I asked if anyone was inside. He said two elderly people. I just about collapsed.”

Zufall said detectives believe the fire was started as a case of mistaken identity. The home of John Selby, Jr., also was located on Frederick Road, but further west from Betty and Joseph Selby’s home. The mailbox on the road in front of the home where Joseph and Betty lived said “J. N. Selby.” A mile down the road there was another mailbox that said “J. Selby.”

Police and family members believe that the person involved in the fight at the restaurant was looking for Johnny Selby, Jr. and found the mailbox that said “J. N. Selby” and lit the fire in Joseph (Nicolas) and Betty Selby’s house by mistake.

“I remember hearing about the case myself growing up. Seeing that more than 40 years later, it still affects the family. Joe and Betty were pillars in the community of Ellicott City,” Zufall said. “We do believe that this fire was started and was committed and it is a mistaken identity. They did choose the wrong house.”

The couple’s daughter Fran said in the video that the family always believed someone has information and they need to come forward.

“Someone knows something,” said Joe Selby III.

Betty and Joe Selby’s grandson Joe Selby IV was almost six years old at the time.

“I was supposed to be there that night when the tragedy happened,” he said in the video. “I still remember a lot of things. There’s things in your mind that you’ll never erase like the smells of fire. I’ll never forget that.”

A database of the county’s cold cases can be found at

Some of the other unsolved cold cases with $30,000 rewards include:

Anyone with information about any of the listed cases can contact Howard County Police at 410-313-STOP or Callers can remain anonymous.

Get more local news delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for free Patch newsletters and alerts.