Fire paramedics soon took Marin to the county hospital to get treated for smoke inhalation.

"I lost a day," he says. "I can't remember much of anything that happened for a while."

Back at 71 Biltmore Estate, veteran Phoenix fire Captain Dorian Jackson told a television reporter that he'd never heard of anyone saving him or herself by employing a scuba tank.

New Times photo illustration; photo by Jamie Peachey; Model: Gary Moyer
71 Biltmore Estates Drive on the morning of July 5.
Phoenix Fire Department
71 Biltmore Estates Drive on the morning of July 5.

It would be Marin's claim of using the scuba gear that kept the house fire in the minds of the general public long after it normally would have faded away.

The Phoenix Fire Department assigned Captain Peabody to head the investigation into the Biltmore fire, with assistance from Captain Willie Nelson.

The report of the initial scene-investigation notes that the two garbage cans at 71 Biltmore Estates — recycle and regular — were almost empty and connected by spider webs, "indicating that they have not been moved for a while."

That finding, among others, caused the investigators to pause, especially after Marin told them in an interview that he had been living there "70 percent" of the time.

Their first of two interviews with Marin took place July 7 at his home in Gilbert, two days after the fire. Marin described his mortgage, pointing out that he was insured with State Farm as a package deal from his lenders.

Marin told the investigators that he had bought the house for $3.5 million (not true), and owed $2.3 million (true).

According to the investigative report, Marin said he had "hundreds of thousands [of dollars] in liquid assets," though in a second interview he apparently claimed to have only $100,000 or so in liquid assets.

Marin's Picasso prints still were hanging on the dining-room wall at his Gilbert home at that point, and Captain Peabody asked him how much they were worth.

"Seven figures," the investigator quoted Marin as saying.

Remarkably, Marin claimed not to have insurance on his extremely valuable artwork, because could not afford it.

He told the investigators that he had been planning on moving into the Biltmore house full time and gifting the Gilbert home to his children. How he was going to pay the $2.3 million he soon owed remained unclear.

On the day of the fire, Marin said, he had been working on his artwork on the ground floor of the Biltmore home, noting that he kept highly flammable cans of fiberglass resin, acetone, and peroxide on hand.

He also said the home had nagging and well-documented electrical problems.

Captain Peabody had started his "origin and cause" investigation soon after he arrived at the still-burning home shortly before 5 a.m. on July 5.

"This fire was in an advanced stage of burning when the first fire units arrived," he wrote later. "My observations of this size house and the amount of fire damage was suspicious, being that an occupant was home at the time."

Peabody wrote that he observed several points of possible origin (of the fire), and that "these low points of origin on the second floor and the severity of burn downstairs gave me reason to believe that this fire was intentionally set in different areas both downstairs and upstairs."

On July 9, Peabody and Willie Nelson started digging through the smoldering debris and ashes.

With them was Captain Fred Andes, who handles the fire department's chocolate Labrador, Sadie. The dog is trained to point out fire accelerants.

Fire officials say Sadie has proved more sensitive to the presence of accelerants than the crime laboratory itself.

The investigators noted the long line of boxes leading up the spiral staircase, the ones with junk in them. Some of the boxes had deeper charring on them than others, which to Peabody indicated "an attempted area of ignition."

Along that line of boxes in two locations, Peabody counted all the phone books. Some dated back to 2005.

Sadie picked up the scent of accelerants in several locations, including upstairs in the master bedroom.

In all, Peabody concluded, "I discovered four points of origin where Michael intentionally set fire to burn his house, and three additional areas of interest that showed inconsistent burn patterns with the surrounding area."

Michael Marin's girlfriend, Jana Bru, says longtime Phoenix attorney Richard Gierloff has agreed to represent him. Marin was still in custody as of noon on Tuesday, August 25.

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