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Real Name: Unknown
Aliases: The Fashion Man
Wanted For: Arson
Missing Since: 1988

Case[]

Details: Authorities are trying to identify an arsonist who is believed to have videotaped a house that he set on fire. They are also trying to identify the house's location. Each year in the United States, more than 200,000 people become the victims of arsonists. Each fire is an individual tragedy. In many cases, victims are left not only homeless but injured or dead. This case started with an innocent discovery.
On August 15, 1989, along Interstate 205 near Stockton, California, Alfonso Lua's car overheated in the scorching summer temperatures. He pulled over to the side of the road and inspected the damage while his wife, Juanita, and son, Hector, looked on. Alfonso decided that he and Hector should walk to a nearby house to call for help. On the way, Hector noticed an old military camouflage jacket in the bushes next to Hansen Road. Wrapped in the jacket were a videotape with no label and several audio cassettes of heavy metal music.
The Lua family decided to take the videotape home and watch it. They were stunned when they realized what they were watching. The tape showed a house completely engulfed in flames. The police are convinced that the person holding the camera set the fire himself. A disturbing voice heard on the tape seemed to belong to the arsonist. The police have since enhanced the voice for clarity: "Look at the fire. This is beautiful. Look at it. You see what I can do…Do you see what I can do? This is my domain. My Hell." During it, he breathed heavily and laughed maniacally.
Alfonso decided to turn the tape over to the authorities. Fire Captain Frank Curry of the California Department of Forestry says he has never run across anything as eerie as the tape. It frightened him. He even thought about it that night when he went to bed.
Unable to pinpoint the location of the fire, investigators began an in-depth study of the tape itself. Captain Curry says that when they first listened to it, it was hard to understand certain words that the arsonist was saying. So, they sat down and went through the tape hundreds of times in order to come up with a script.
At one point, the arsonist says, "Look at it, Omar! Look at it, Omar! Ha ha ha. This is what I've been doin' on your week's vacation. Ha ha ha. I said I'll do it! I said I'll do it! Ha ha ha! Ah ha ha!" Captain Curry has tried to figure out who the "Omar" mentioned on the tape is. Is Omar the property owner? Was the fire a "revenge-type burn?"
Captain Curry wonders if Omar was involved in the construction of the house. He speculates that Omar may have hired the arsonist to work on the house and then fired him, and that that was the motive for the fire. Captain Curry says they do not know for sure; they still do not know who Omar is.
San Joaquin County Arson Investigator George Wells accompanied Alfonso's brother to the spot where the tape had been discovered. Amazingly, the jacket was still there. It contained a wooden pestle, the type used to grind herbs for Satanic rituals. Nearby, the two men found a glove that matched the jacket and a ceramic skull.
The pestle and the skull suggested Satanism, as did certain portions of the arsonist's monologue: "This is hell. I call it home. My hell. The whole sky is black with smoke. This is the fire that I will destroy and burn your soul up. Ancient spirit of evil."
Captain Curry says these are basically the only clues they have in this case. He says that is why they need to find out where the fire took place. As they viewed the tape, they realized that there was fire suppression equipment that had responded to the fire. During that point in the tape, the arsonist says, "Look at it. The fire department's trying to put it out. What a laugh."
Captain Curry thought that if they could enhance the tape and bring the shots in a bit closer, they could get a door mark, a house number, or maybe even a fire department insignia on the fire truck's door. Despite a frame-by-frame analysis, the photographic enhancements did not reveal any new details. Investigators were still unable to match the tape with any reported fires in the state of California.
The tape was found by the Lua family just a few yards from Interstate 205, near Stockton. Interstate 205 feeds into several major highways, so authorities believe the fire could have happened anywhere in the United States and that the arsonist might have been only traveling through California.
Doug Allen, the law enforcement coordinator for the Department of Forestry, says he has no doubt in his mind that the person who made the tape and is responsible for the fire will continue to set fires. He says that the arsonist needs to be apprehended and stopped before his fires become more destructive.
Allen notes that some serial arsonists later moved into another criminal area. For example, David Berkowitz, a.k.a. Son of Sam, killed six people in New York with a .44 magnum. He was also responsible for setting about 2,000 fires in New York City. Allen notes that after Berkowitz stopped setting fires, he started killing people.
Near the end of the tape, the arsonist says, "Look at the flames! Listen to the coyotes yell! Ha ha ha! Listen to ‘em! Good night ladies and gentlemen." Once again, he laughs maniacally.
The house appears to be a wood-framed, one-story ranch with two chimneys. There is another house on the left side of the picture, partially hidden by a white trailer. The trailer may indicate that the burning house was under construction. The setting is uncluttered, perhaps rural. The arsonist gives the date as 1988, and TV commercials recorded onto another part of the tape verify that date. Because fire engines do arrive, it seems fairly certain that somewhere a report of this fire is on file.
There are few clues to the arsonist's identity. On the tape, he refers to himself as the "fashion man." Police surmise that he was camping out near the spot where the tape and the jacket were found. The insignia on the jacket has continued to confound investigators. The design is a lightning bolt and a torch, crisscrossed by a key. It is black on an elongated, orange, pentagon-shaped shield. It is not an official armed services emblem. There is a possibility that it may be associated with Satanism.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the September 19, 1990 episode. It was updated on the October 3, 1990, and November 14, 1990 episodes.
  • It was submitted to the show by state arson officials.
  • There were more than 1,600 phone calls as a result of the broadcast, among the most they have ever received for one case.
  • Subsequent broadcasts change Alfonso's name to "Joseph Villa."
  • It was also documented on an episode of Cold Case Files, which references Unsolved Mysteries (episode "Fire Flicks"). The episode claims that the location of the fire was known prior to the broadcast.
Stockton arsonist5 and fire dept

The two videos were compared

Results: Captured - Within minutes of the broadcast, several viewers from Redwood City, California, called the telecenter and identified the location of the house seen burning on the tape as 3 Colton Court in Redwood City. The city is located sixty miles west of Stockton.
One of the viewers, Ed Tarantino, says that as he and his family were watching the tape during the broadcast, they realized, with utter shock, that the burning house was located behind theirs. He and his family were scared because they did not realize the tape even existed. He says he was certain that it was the house behind theirs. He immediately called the telecenter and gave them the information.
The arson occurred on August 15, 1988. The house that was destroyed was under construction at the time. It has since been rebuilt. Incredibly, on the night of the fire, Woodside Fire Captain John Dellinges also videotaped the fire. He says that while he was setting up the command post and directing companies in to extinguish the fire, he set up his video camera to film the fire for training and investigation purposes. By comparing Captain Dellinges' tape with the tape shot by the arsonist, investigators were able to confirm the fire's location beyond a doubt.
Investigators had previously connected the taped fire to ten others that had occurred in the Emerald Lake section of Redwood City between 1987 and 1989. The fires caused more than $2 million in damage. Many of the houses were under construction at the time. On some of the walls, messages like "no more homes" and "neighbors revolt" were written. One of the houses was occupied when it was set on fire. Fortunately, the occupants smelled the smoke and were able to escape.
Another viewer from nearby Woodside, Doris Lantz, believed that the "Omar" referred to on the tape was her seventeen-year-old neighbor. Detective Mark Pollio of the Redwood City Police questioned Omar. He initially denied knowing anything about the taped fire. However, he eventually confessed to knowing about it and said that his friend had set the fire and told him that he had videotaped it. He gave police the name of his friend, "John," who was a nineteen-year-old from Redwood City.
The police put John under surveillance. However, before they could act, John's garage caught fire. While Captain Dellinges and others investigated that fire, they found several disturbing items inside John's house, including: dismembered animal remains, a cutting table with a large blade, bloody knives, and a Freddy Krueger mask and gloves. Captain Dellinges was concerned and felt that John "needed some help."
On September 27, 1990, John was brought in for questioning. According to Detective Pollio, John broke down and cried, admitting that he had set the fire on the tape. He also admitted to taking the video and being the voice on the tape. He and Omar also admitted to setting fourteen other fires.
San Joaquin County Arson Investigator George Wells says that their biggest hope was that they would be able to find the area or location of the fire. They never dreamed that they would get the results that they did.
Investigators discovered that John was fascinated with the television coverage of the fires and had recorded it on other tapes. They also found a scrapbook, which included several newspaper clippings about the fires. Other tapes were found in his house. One showed him stabbing a life-size doll that he called "father." Others showed that he seemed to have a fascination with violence and Satanic images. In one video, he showed a knife to the camera and said he was going to find a specific person and kill them. He was shown dressed up in different bizarre outfits, such as Dracula's. Certain phrases he said were similar to ones said on the arson tape.
Another tape showed John and Omar "playing army" in Edgewood Park, near the scene of the fires. Investigators believe that John felt "compelled" to protect the park, where he had spent a lot of time playing games and hanging out with his friends. He apparently did not want the area to be developed, so he decided to set the fires to "protect" it.
Investigators believe that, between them, John and Omar may have been responsible for as many as twenty-six fires (fifteen grass fires and the eleven houses under construction) in the Redwood City area since 1987. Since he and Omar were both under eighteen at the time of the fires, they were tried as minors.
The investigators stated that they wanted to focus more on rehabilitation for John than punishment. In January 1991, he pleaded guilty to a single count of arson. He was ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment at an inpatient facility. He was also ordered to register with authorities as a known arsonist until the age of thirty.
In February 1991, Omar was found guilty of one count of arson in connection with a January 1989 house fire in Redwood City. This house was located close to the one that was on the tape. He served time in juvenile hall and was later released. According to some sources, John has since passed away.
The patch referenced is in fact a US Army patch and was then and is still currently the patch for the US Army Intelligence and Security Command.
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