The day after Christmas, Wayne Liersch showed up for work at Paradise Valley Mall. He was a maintenance guy; normally, his day consisted of changing light bulbs and cleaning up spilled sodas. But on this day, his job was to pressure-wash blood and ash off a pair of benches where a man had burned to death the night before.

Liersch's stomach turned when he learned that the victim was Aaron Taylor. Liersch had known Taylor, a 36-year-old homeless man and acquaintance of many workers at Paradise Valley Mall.

"He was just a nice guy who hung around. He never bothered anybody," Liersch says. He and others describe Taylor as a friendly and endearing transient who had taken to the breezeway by the Subway on Cactus Road near Tatum Boulevard.

Matt Mignanelli

Taylor was a good listener, say Liersch and other mall employees interviewed for this story. He often sat in his blue sweatshirt and baseball cap and talked with bored workers. He told stories of his unsuccessful efforts to kick drug addiction.

When Subway customers left their trash behind, Taylor would clean it up. When he would get money, he'd walk to the Circle K and buy a candy bar, which he'd give to a Subway worker.

Now Taylor is dead. And police are investigating.

"It was Christmas Day," Liersch says. "Somebody should have been taking him a meal. Instead, somebody did this to him."

Last week, details emerged from a Phoenix police report, indicating that Taylor may have been the victim of frequent torture from three men.

Liersch and others say they saw Taylor duct-taped to his bench on more than one occasion. According to the police report, one mall security guard had also seen Taylor's attackers pour liquids on him and push him on multiple occasions since July.

Then came Christmas Day. The first 911 call came at 6:56 p.m. The caller reported a man on fire, in front of the Subway by Paradise Valley Mall.

During the next four minutes, a mall security guard and a Circle K attendant tried to smother the fire with their jackets. Neither succeeded.

The Phoenix Fire Department arrived to find Aaron Taylor burning while straddling a concrete bench. It is unclear whether he was taped to the bench. Firefighters extinguished the fire and began CPR.

Paramedics rushed Taylor to Maricopa Medical Center's burn unit, where he was pronounced dead. The medical examiner's report shows that Taylor was alive when he caught fire. He stayed alive long enough to inhale the smoke and flames of his own burning body. Ultimately, he burned to death.

A collection of small alcohol bottles littered the benches nearby. A larger, half-empty bottle of Ten High sat on the table next to an unopened Miller Lite and a bag of Cheetos.

Three weeks later, the case is open, labeled a suspicious death without suspects. According to the police report and New Times' interviews, a number of witnesses and nearby employees think Taylor was murdered — lit on fire by the same three men who allegedly taunted him and duct-taped him to the Subway bench.

Because the investigation is ongoing, authorities won't identify the three men — ages 17, 20, and 24 — accused of routinely harassing Taylor.

In the police report, Detective Michael Coddington wrote, "It was believed by some witnesses that some or all of these males were with Aaron earlier in the afternoon and may have had some involvement in Aaron's death."

One of those witnesses says he saw the three men offering Taylor alcohol moments before he caught on fire. Also in the report, another witness told Officer Ronaldo Canilao that around 7 p.m. he saw those three men drinking with Taylor near the Subway. He returned at 7:30 p.m. to find police officers and firefighters there.

A Circle K employee who said he'd known Taylor for three years told police he did not think Taylor was suicidal.

Homeless advocates say there's a trend of violence against transients.

Nicole Peña of the Phoenix Rescue Mission says, "We have seen an increase in the brutality of attacks. It used to be that maybe a guy would be hit on the head and have his bike taken. Now the attacks tend to end up in the hospital."

The Phoenix Rescue Mission has three full-time designated "med beds" for homeless people who have been beaten or injured.

Michael O'Neill of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C., confirms that there have been more attacks on homeless people nationwide recently.

In 2006, 122 homeless people were attacked and 20 were murdered, according to NCH data. Sixteen of those attacks took place in Arizona. The data, based on media reports, shows that none of Arizona's attacks that year were fatal.

Nationally, at least two other homeless people were beaten to death within weeks of Christmas 2007. Two Montana youths have been charged in the December 13 beating and murder of a 56-year-old transient. Police say the teens jumped and stomped on the man's head at least 20 times. On December 31, police found a homeless man similarly beaten to death in an abandoned house in Houston.

Sergeant Joel Tranter of the Phoenix Police Department confirms that Taylor's death is under investigation.

"We are following up on some leads. Nobody has moved from lead to suspect," Tranter says. He adds that police are also waiting for results from chemical tests of Taylor's clothes, to see if he'd been doused in alcohol.

As for Wayne Liersch, he cleaned up the ash and blood Aaron Taylor left behind. Then he quit his job.

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Nimoy Thorn
Nimoy Thorn

My name is Nimoy I knew Arron Tayler four years. I met him 2004 when I had moved to The Summit Apartment Homes right down on Windrose and Paradise Village PKWY W. I am in a power wheelchair. Some of you may remember me. Arron Taylor was NOT suicidle and was a nice man and Just because he was homeless they wanna rool this a suicide? NOT RIGHT. Where is justice served here. Three young rich boy's get away with murder. Just because he splept outside instead of being in four attached walls. WRONG and my appinon this case should be reopened up. Let someone violate there probation they will hunt you down throw you in jail for that though but it's ok to kill someone why just become there homeless? NO I better not give my appinon of what I think of are Wonderful phoenix police department.

And I know for a fact that no cpr was performed on arron taylor when fire department got there because my caregiver and I were there and were the ones who told this man to call 911 there is a man on fire he was dead before fire department arrived there. And they only sprayed water on his burning body. So they can't even get that story on here right how do you exspect a profetional oppinon to be desided here.

They were not interested in helping him from the minute they noticed he was a homeless guy. It's pathedic.


Subway on Cactus Road near Tatum Boulevard.we know one of the guys how was there how say he did it and he was the one that lite him on fire.we know how pored the alcohol on him and lite him on fire and this guy is not in jail why ?there was 5 of them not 3they say there was a 24 year old not somark 22 was the oldest and brian was there

i know how was the one that pored the alcohol on him and lite him on fire


that was one of my best friend, the pv area wont ever be the same without him, i know the little bastards who did this shit too, bunch of rich fucking kids always messin with him. those mutherfucker are going to die a slow painful death, count on it.


This is and was my first born son and tho he chose the freedom of life on the streets, he did not choose to end his life this way. Why are we still waiting for test results and why have these 3 individuals not been brought in for some serious questioning especially when they were with him right before the 911 call???? These are not just throw away people that no one cared about.....these are our sons and daughters and they have people who love and care about them. IF YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THIS EVEN IF YOU THINK ITS NOT IMPORTANT, PLEASE CONTACT THE PHOENIX VIOLENT CRIMES UNIT OR CRIME STOPPERS. HELP MY BRING JUSTICE FOR MY SON AARON BERNELL BEARDALL AKA AARON TAYLOR.


erik d
erik d

Truly one of the most disturbing stories I have ever read.

What is going on in this Valley?

Right after I left, serial killers were on the loose.

Now I come back and people are burning the homeless to death.

Is it me, or has crime gotten more prevalent and brutal in the last five years?

The last 10 years?

Now I remember why I never used to read the newspapers... it seems like this world is going off the rails.


to those who r fucking around with the homeless come fuck with us we homeless to up in the 361 but we stand up to muther fuckers like those that did that brutal crime fuck u putos frum all th homeless in c.c. tx. p.s. homeless r us bitches!!!!!!

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