Hate and revenge seem to be what fueled Harry Burkhart’s arson spree. He has had 63 counts of Arson added to the charges already against him, bringing him up to 100 felony accounts for his four-day frenzy of arson across Los Angeles from December 30 to January 2. The 24-year-old German national, born in Russia, came to America with his mother last November. It was his mother’s arrest that set him off.
Pulled over for a traffic violation, Dorothee Burkhart, the mother of Harry Burkhart, was arrested regarding 19 counts of fraud, non-payment of breast augmentation fees, the cheating of renters and landlords, and other charges, in her native Germany. She repeatedly interrupted the court proceedings, addressing the audience: “Dangerous? I am dangerous? Non rent payer for extradition? Is there no murders, no terrorists, no nothing?” Her son was even less civil: “While in the audience the defendant began yelling in an angry manner ‘F—k all Americans!’” investigator Edward Nordskog wrote. He was ejected from court that day. On the following day, the fires began.
In what appears to be a campaign of destructive revenge, Harry Burkhart is charged with setting Los Angeles area cars on fire: “The defendant set the fires by placing an incendiary device under the engine of the cars,” Nordskog noted in his written affidavit. “It is my opinion that the defendant’s criminal spree was motivated by his rage against Americans and that by setting the fires the defendant intended to harm and terrorize as many residents of the city and county of Los Angeles as possible.” Though the arson has cost no lives, the estimated damage of of 3 million dollars exceeds even Burkhart’s bail of 2.85 million dollars.
Los Angeles fell into stress as the sporadic and random car blazes continued to be set off for the 4 day stretch. It is believed Burkhart set off 49 such fires. He ignited them with a common briquette, normally used for starting campfires and grills, setting it under car engines and using the device’s delay to flee the scene. It seems this may not have been Burkhart’s first arson: On October 14 a fire burned down a vacant house owned by the Burkhart family, which, after arriving in Las Vegas, they filed an insurance claim on. In his residence, investigators discovered articles from German newspapers of similar fires in Frankfort.
Dorothee Burkhart pled the federal judge to consider that her son is mentally ill. Her second theory exonerated her son completely: “My son didn’t do this arson. He is not capable of arson like this, so big, so horrible. A very well-organized criminal group of Nazis” were to blame.
The district attorney Steve Cooley said that due to the “amount of harm he did to the psyche of these communities” where he committed arson, he felt a life sentence was called for, since his crimes were “almost attempted murder.” Harry Burkhart, if convicted, could face as long as 80 years in prison.