What's Going On Here?

The noir adventures of Franklin and Turner, two former English Majors who teamed up to pool their knowledge of TV crime dramas to solve Boston's toughest cases.

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Current Case: #002 The Fuschia Falcon


The Mind Trap

As I mentioned last week, one of the problems with Arson cases is that the physical evidence is often destroyed by the crime itself. What isn't destroyed, however, are the things we can infer based on what he does--or has to do--to pull the crime off. There are shrinks who make most of their dough doing this kind of jazz. Remember that before we took the case, Franklin and I knew about as much about Arsonists as we do about violins (which isn't much: they're stringed instruments you play with a bow).

What they find about these mugs is that they're generally unmarried men around 27 years old, and they travel solo--few if any friends, and none they'll confide in. They feel like the city has betrayed them, or that they're the mark in some crazy con--which makes them a little more dangerous than your average firebug. They're seeking some kind of revenge for a sleight they feel--which may or may not be real. Don't get us wrong, the guy isn't a total boob--most Revenge-based arsonists are well educated, but he still works a pretty menial job.

There's also a chance they've tried to pull the Dutch act, or have some psychological history; not to mention odds are good they have a criminal record. Probably also huge fans of the giggle juice, may even seek some confidence from the stuff (looks like Centre Street Liquor may be safe). They know their scenes well, usually within two miles of their home or work--and odds are very good (As we've discerned with this case) that he has a car. These cases also tend to be intra-racial--so in our case he probably feels like the grifters were the Hispanic residents of our fair neighborhood. What is also interesting is that most of these kinds of hotheads won't stick around to watch their fire, but they'll be back the next day to check their handiwork over.

The standard profiles more or less back up what we've got, and adds a few new elements to the mix. We have his history of addle-brainedness and a possible criminal past. A taste for alcohol, and the education. It's also pretty likely that he was using a lighter, as these jobbies are as likely to drop a matchbook on the ground as they are to breathe.

Here's a photo of the perp in action, courtesy of BPDNews.com

Recommended Reading:


Real Men Never Say Sorry

A strange week it has been. The case has definitely not gone cold, yet, and the trail is far from gone. Just between a couple of side-projects and some unlucky breaks, I for one haven't had a chance to sit down like a real dick and get some legwork done. Tough breaks? How does locking myself out of the apartment and a broken computer grab ya?

Wednesday morning, I was at my desk job by the time I realized the keys weren't in my pocket where I usually keep them. Their location was a mystery, but I am a professional. A little thinking lead me to remember that they were on the mantel at the office. Unfortunately, Tiny "Bling" is out of town and Dreads Mahoney had already legged it to work. When I got to the office, the doors were all locked, and I couldn't make an effective lock pick out of what was in my bag. I pondered grabbing a ladder and climbing up to the deck front office. But in the end decided to go visit Nervous Mahoney in her new place until Dreads got back.

The following night, last night, I had planned to work on what police head quacks call "psychological profile". A lot of people think the whole science is a load, but with arson cases most physical evidence is destroyed by either the crime or by fire crews. Anyway, that had been the plan, and perhaps some filing that needs to be done. Instead, while putting in an update, the Office Computer stopped working, so I ran down to a contact of mine at the Genius Bar. While I was out, ran into some friends from out of town. Did some light research, but nothing yet substantial.

All of this has nothing to do with the case. Maybe I'm making excuses, maybe this whole entry was a trip for biscuits. Either way, real men don't apologize.


The Silver Bullet

With Franklin out of town, I knew that if I didn't get some work on this case, it would grow cold. Cold like the pizza I kept in the fridge overnight. So, I started with some quick research on Forensic Psychology--a few episodes of Criminal Minds I'd been saving--not sure if it was paranoia the research was inflicting or that Lady Luck just gave me a good hand that day, but I found myself on Google Maps again scouring it like a madman. I had something here: Gas stations. If he's using tires and gasoline to make fire, then he is getting them from somewhere. You have to ask yourself, how easy is it to get your mitts these things? All it takes to get a can of gas is a can and a gas station: pull your heap into the station, put the can on the ground and you got a few gallons of 85. Tires, you can probably get, no questions asked, from an auto body or tire store: just say you're putting 'em on yourself (obviously not on yourself, but by yourself maybe).

So where are there gas stations and auto body shops in the Plain? I kicked myself for letting Franklin take the notes and the map when I saw him last, so I noted some down to add later. I was going to hang with Books Mahoney later that evening, and she would be able to return the map. Books, Mix Mahoney and I spent the evening working on another case: Who at Fox Studios was so determined to see the X-Men series fail? Who profits? What happened to Shatner in Abrams' Star Trek?

In the cold light of morning, I went back to the maps. I drew the gas stations in red--maybe a poor choice--and the tire or auto body shops in green. Adding them to the map, I got this:

I then noticed something interesting and circled it: There is a gas station and an auto body shop right next to each other. A pump stand called Hatoff's and a garage that goes by CarStar--according to Google. Convenient location if our boy was in a hurry, isn't it. That's when something else hit me like an idiot's car door into a biker: He was in a hurry on one occasion, wasn't he?

He was hitting places regular for a few months and then stopped, but there was one exception: January 28, Maria's Salon. If you took that one out, it would almost seem like clockwork, hitting towards the beginning of the month in December (the 11th), January (the 6th) and February (the 7th). Which means maybe something got him a little jingle-brained on before the 28th.

He'd have to be on the swift to rush a plan together, and maybe that means he'd have to swing by the corner of Washington and Rockvale, which looks like his personal shopping mall from where I'm sitting. If I've got the right slant on this: Between the 7th and the 28th, he must have heard something about Maria's that set him off, and must have started planning then--The one-a-month thing seemed to be working out for him otherwise.

Something caught my eye then, and I marked a small X on the map. The spot I circled was about the same distance from that point as all of our scenes seemed to be. Odds are that our meat lives near there: he'd probably have a base of operations there he could be at day or night, like maybe his house. I thought maybe he'd take a day off work in that few weeks, but I don't know about that. I also don't know what he took a month off in March. Maybe he thought the heat was on, waited for it to cool? What I do know is that to stay ahead of the buttons, he'd have to be smart and organized. My hunch is, he would plan this out. If we're right, he's been at this a while.

What else I know is that I could go for a sandwich. Later, chumps.


The Night that Disappeared

Franklin here. More educated speculating (has a nice ring to it, right?) last night.

We were forced to use the back office again since the light's still out in the front. At least in the back the lighting was appropriately seedy. Fincher-esque, even. Armed with beers, we looked into a tip from Ninja Mahoney about the distance and chronological pattern of the fires. Noticed that there is somewhat of a counterclockwise motion - beginning at El Oriental de Cuba in July 2005, southward to the hair salon, then around and back to the autobody shop this past April. There are two anomalies, though - the perp hit the hair salon three times, and the Sigourney St. condos twice, once after lighting up a house on School St. The pattern is not linear, but the investigation provided us with a few insights and a few new questions:

1) There is likely a relationship between our firebug and the owner of the hair salon. Our hunch is that the perp is trying to punish them for some sort of continued behavior - also the case with the autobody shop. If the crimes are indeed racially motivated, he could simply be telling these people to close up, or else. This would explain why there were multiple attacks on the hair salon, which reopened each time. Same story with Sigourney St, a well-known site of a property dispute.

2) Assuming that these are all the work of one man and not any copycats, the firebug struck in '05, '06, '08 and '09. Where was he in '07? Cooling off in the hoosegow? Down and out in Paris and London?

3) The crime scenes make a radial pattern, suggesting that our man could be centrally located between them. The distance between sites indicates that a car had to have been used to transport the tires. We considered the possibility of his using a rental vehicle, but the specificity required by most rental organizations would be detrimental to one's alibi. This also brings up the question of a partner - does he have a wheelman?

We then thought about the hood himself, tried to stir up a profile of some sort. The one time he was caught on surveillance he appeared to fit the late 20s - mid 30s white male profile pretty well. We don't think he's striking at random. Specific motives means he's a JP resident, and has been since at least '05. Probably has his finger on the pulse of the community, but certainly isn't a good doctor. Not outspoken. Not interested in killing - or else he would've attacked the homes of the business owners. If you're going to go through the effort to bump someone off, you'd probably be willing to tail them home. As for the School and Sigourney St. sites, no one was injured in those fires. He just wants to get some sort of message across.

Towards the end of the conversation it started to get chilly in the office. We deduced that it was because the heat's broken. It'll probably stay that way. No one said this job has luxuries, and that no one was a dirty liar.

We share the office space with Dreads Mahoney and a shady figure named Tiny "Bling" Mahoney. While Turner and I made some more dead soldiers in the reception area, Dreads periodically contributed to our conversation, though she had some smut to write. All I can say is even our detecting skills can't figure out some of the choices Zack Snyder made in the Watchmen movie. Tiny lurked in late in the game and proffered up his maltese hookah. Knowing we might have to enlist his talents later, Turner and I kept on his good side and accepted. From there the evening vanished in a cloud of smoke.

I'm off to Atlanta to take care of some business (in the tune of a keg of beer and the Renaissance Festival). Turner has homework to do while I'm away, so keep your eyes peeled for the update. Then put some lotion on them so you can read it.


One For the Books

I was finishing up some dinner when someone rapped on the back door. It was of course Franklin with a book and some beer. Time was here to get down to some serious gumshoeing, and so we went out to the main office with some papers I'd drawn up for the occasion. A few seconds out there, we realized we were not alone: we had stumbled into a Battle of the Bees that can only be described as epic--in the Homeric tradition. One was hovering above the desk, dripping a strange liquid, another hiding out in the gutter, somewhere beyond the porch there was a third. Franklin and I made a clean sneak and decided the back office might be better.

Setting up the deck office chairs, we got to work; a cool breeze blowing the cigar smoke away from us while we talked shop. There is an arsonist still at large in Jamaica Plain, having hit five scenes since December. I came to the discussion with some notes, and here's what I figured:
  1. All of these cases have the same MO: a gasoline-soaked tire starts the blaze.
  2. One of the locations (which was hit twice) had an ongoing housing dispute.
  3. Slices of toast are terrible witnesses, but make an excellent breakfast. Interrogated one for seemingly obvious connection, knew nothing. Sent downtown on unrelated charges.
Seemed to me a possible angle was vigilantism: someone was tracking down social issues and making a thing of them; although I wasn't convinced they'd put the curse on anyone--thinking instead the object was the message and the damage. Franklin's gut told him there was something else, and he tossed in a racial motive. At first, I wasn't sold, but we kept it on the table.

We started by filling in a map of the fire locations over some brews. I had one printed from Google which covered the area I thought most of them were. Using local sources, we painted a picture of a neighborhood in flames.

Local Sources:
We quickly realized that this has been going on for a lot longer than the past six months. Some quick research turned up some more:
Clearly, this was a little bigger than we expected, and I was starting to buy into the race theory. Most of the names mentioned in the articles were of Hispanic origin, all of them were those affected by these fires. One that seemed like the anomaly was the original fire at Maria's Salon, which had a different MO than the others. Our theory, assuming that these are not copycats, is that the original arson was a sort of experiment for our boy, and that the tires were a later addition--some might say an evolution.

We felt it was a good moment to take a break for some real hard vice. So we went through a half dozen vegan peanut butter cookies I'd baked the night before.
That's when a beep sounded from Franklin's pocket, and he spent a few minutes on the horn with his dame while I filled in the calendar with some dates. Despite misreading one of the Franklin's notes on the map, I did notice a pattern develop over the last few months. With the exception of March, there has been at least one fire every month since December. Which means three things:
  • Something set him off, what Forensic Shrinks refer to as a "Stresser"
  • Something stopped him in March.
  • The Boys in Red have been kept busy.
Not that the last note helps at all, but the Firefighters deserve credit.

There was a moment of panic when I smelled burning, and we thought that the arsonist had already tracked us here, to our office. Then I remembered we were still smoking cigars--those things'll kill you.

One other angle we needed to explore was where he was getting these tires from, and how he was transporting them. If he is getting them from a junkyard, which junkyard? My initial take on the Auto Body Shop was that it was an anomaly and he used it to restock on tires--however, uncovering the other articles proved that the houses were the anomalies. So the big questions we were left with were:
  • Where was he getting the tires, and how was he lugging them?
  • What is the connection? If it is race, how was he choosing targets?
Having reached what we felt was a suitable place for the evening, we threw back another few beers and talked for a while. We tried to figure out if Boston was surprisingly grungy for a clean city, or if it was the other way around. As night fell on the city, the chick next door started an art project--she called up to us once about how we looked like we drank from the same bottle; we told her that this is because we're partners, in solving crime. Then we headed into the waiting room for some research on race relations: Die Hard With a Vengeance.


Justice is a Game -- These Are the Rules:

A post for future reference. Notes that will come into play in later cases. Rules that any detective worth his salt should be aware of.
  1. Eliminate your Usual Suspects first. Our Usual Suspects:
  • Gary Busey
  • Tony Blair
  • Uwe Boll
  • The Jonas Brothers
  • Whoever invented Survivor
  • Ashton Kutcher
  • Glenn Beck
  • Fox News
  • All of Fox' "and Friends" (i.e. known associates)
  1. Communism is a red herring
  2. Butler always did it
  3. Conspiracies always go back to involvement with the Nazi Aliens
  4. Dinner Parties are iffy: if held in a mainland home, you will have to solve a murder; if on an island, you will probably die
  5. Holmes once said "when everything logical has been eliminated, whatever's left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." Therefore, save time and start at the improbable.
  6. There is no such thing as a vacation. Someone will probably die the moment you start unpacking your flip-flops, and you'll be reluctantly roped in.
  7. Use as much Pulp Slang as you can: http://www.miskatonic.org/slang.html

Enough of the Arson Holes

Guess this is where I come in. Franklin's the name. Turner and I did some work back in the English department at NU. Mostly Victorian in nature. He contacted me the other day about this arsonist burning up our neighborhood. Reward sounded pretty easy on the ears. Looking at my student loan statement could be deadly for the faint of heart - so I said what the hell. Someone's gotta stick up for the good people of Jamaica Plain. Besides, Centre Street Liquors could be hit next. And then there'd be real hell to pay.

Turner supplied the office space, I'm supplying the vice enablement. Case should be pretty open-shut - what else do you do with cases, after all? Half-shut them? We may be broke, but we ain't stupid.

The Wages of Intrigue

Boston, Massachusetts. A city of education, history, and recently, of fire. I saw the story in the day's paper, and it captured my imagination like an inhumane bear trap: Five arsons in my home of Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood as wild as the Jurassic era. The most recent, an auto body shop I had passed once or twice on foot. A few minutes of research later, it hit me like the blonde girl I called "sweet cheeks" the other day. I contacted Peter Franklin, the man who would be my partner, and filled him in on the details: there was a $5000 reward for this guy. Franklin pointed out that we would need a few things, such as vices, fedoras and an office. The porch was recently set up, so i suggested we start there. What follows is a record of our logs, case notes and meeting minutes.

I knew that tracking the perp down would be a difficult task, like playing Guess Who with a phone book, but I knew that between us we had seen enough police dramas and detective films that we just might be able to pull it off.


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Side effects may include: Post-modernism, Increased Flow of '30s slang, dizziness while standing, and thoughts of Alien Nazi conspiracy. These are perfectly normal, but if you are concerned, consult your local sawbones.

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