Arson Exclusive

A new note, the Biltmore fire, the U.S. Attorney General

The Preserves arsonist apparently hasn't ended his campaign.

An arson task force investigator told New Times that a new note purportedly from the arsonist was discovered at a home construction site on North Arroya Grande Drive. The note was found by residents near the North Phoenix Mountains Preserve, Phoenix Police Sergeant Trent Crump confirmed this week. No fire was set.

In the message, the group claiming responsibility for the burning of 11 luxury homes warns against further construction. The arsonist has twice set fire to a home on that street to protest development near the Preserve. Crump says the note is still being analyzed to determine whether identifying variables such as the type of paper, font and grammar in the note match previous communiqués.

Crump also said arson investigators do not believe Monday's fire in the Arizona Biltmore Estates was related to the Preserves arsons. Crump said there were several apparent differences between the Preserves arsons and the Biltmore blaze. Officials speculate that a construction accident such as "spontaneous combustion" caused by painter's supplies may have started the Biltmore fire.

When asked if investigators have suspects in the arson case, Crump turned rhetorical -- asking how one should delineate an "investigative lead" versus a "suspect." The number of individuals suspected by tipsters of being the arsonist totals "more than the number of yards on a football field," he said.

The last fire credited to the Preserves arsonist happened on January 18. Crump said the arson task force has not scaled back since then.

Also, New Times has received a letter from Arizona U.S. District Attorney José de Jesus Rivera requesting production of a taped phone interview with the Preserves arsonist. Rivera warns that if the tape is not handed over, a federal grand jury subpoena may be authorized by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Last month, a Superior Court judge quashed a grand jury subpoena filed by Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley seeking testimony and written and electronic records from New Times.

The paper published a story January 25 based on an interview with the arsonist, who was disguised and did not identify himself or the three people he says are in his group. He agreed to the interview only if the reporter came alone and did not tape record him. The tape requested by investigators was made during a short phone interview to set up the face-to-face interview.

For complete New Times coverage of the Preserves Arsonist, click over to our Arsonist Archives.

 
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