In 1967, Cornell University invited fifty gifted students to earn their Ph.D.s in six years as part of an experimental, accelerated program. Eight of them died in a dorm fire. The ones who survive avoided two subsequent fires, which aroused suspicion that someone was targeting the students. But who? A thorough police investigation produced no suspects.

For The New York Times, N.R. Kleinfield retraces this dead-end case and profiles William Fogle, the retiree in Arizona who has devoted himself to investigating it. Fogle is obsessed. No one understands why. He’s contracted the FBI, the police, the surviving students, Cornell. Many people dislike him. They certainly dislike his methods. Without evidence, he thinks he’s found the culprit. What no one understands is why he cares.

At first Mr. Fogle fixated on finding a killer.

Using the online Cornell alumni directory, he identified everyone living at the Res Club in…

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