Accused Tennessee package bomber had been convicted of arson in 1990

A jail photo released by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation of Richard Parker, who is charged with murdering his in-laws. A home restoration contractor, Parker pleaded no contest to burning down a house he was working on in 1990.
(Wilson County Jail)

The Tennessee man charged with blowing up his wife’s parents with a package bomb worked with children at his church’s Sunday school, ran a home restoration business out of his in-laws’ backyard and was convicted of arson two decades ago, records show.

Richard Dean Parker, 49, was being held in jail in lieu of $1-million bond after he was indicted in Lebanon, Tenn., on Thursday. He’s been charged with two counts each of felony first-degree murder and premeditated first-degree murder in connection to the deaths of septuagenarians Jon and Marion Setzer.

Investigators said that they thought Parker was solely responsible for the attack but did not give specifics about what evidence led them to him. They did not cite a motive for the bombing.

Nashville First Church of the Nazarene appears to have removed several references on its website to Parker and his 48-year-old wife, Laura Parker. But as recently as last week, according to online archives, it showed Laura Parker was involved in the church’s women’s ministry and that both she and her husband were Sunday school teachers. They were scheduled to host an event at their home last September, according to a calendar.


Pastor Kevin Ulmet couldn’t be immediately reached for comment, but he told The Tennessean that he was “deeply troubled by whatever led to this act.” Ulmet told the newspaper that he saw Parker several times when they were visiting Marion Setzer in the hospital on Monday. He said the Parkers have four children.

The Parker family lived behind the Setzers, holding different addresses but sharing a driveway. A website for Parker’s company, Legacy Restorations, reads that the firm “can bring your historic building back to life, or provide building maintenance for the long term care of your old house or unique structure.” The website says the company has operated since 1989 across the South.

Parker ran into trouble in 1990, according to Tennessee court records reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.

On a Friday evening in July of that year, a 19th century, 5,000-square-foot log house on which Parker had been working caught fire. As part of a plea bargain on charges of felony arson and working without a license, Parker served four years’ probation, from 1993 to 1997.

The home belonged to Danny and Rosemary Martin. “We want the people to know what he’s really like,” Danny Martin told The Times on Friday as he recalled his experience with Parker.

Martin said Parker first offered to fix up the house for nearly $150,000. He said Parker returned two weeks later and offered to do the work for $60,000 because he wanted to start doing business on his own and this could serve as a model to show potential customers. Parker and Martin signed a contract written by the now-dead father-in-law, Martin said.

But Parker started to fall behind on the work, and the Martin refused to pay him till he was caught up. He worked overnight several times, Martin said. But ultimately, investigators found the house destroyed one night. They suspected arson because of gasoline residue and arrested Parker at the site when he showed up to work the next morning.

Authorities said Parker had tried to burn down the house earlier Friday, but a visitor put it out and Parker blamed the flames on someone smoking a cigar.

Parker paid substantial punitive damages after a civil court judgment, plus another $40,000 in restitution from the criminal conviction.

As in the case of his house, Martin guessed financial troubles sparked the slayings of the in-laws.

“I guarantee that’s what’s going to come out when all’s said and done,” he said. “I don’t hate anything that Parker is going to have to go through, but I hate that his family is going to have go on with this.”

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