NEWS

Harry Burkhart Arson Suspect: German Arrested In LA Arson Spree Had Lived In Vancouver (VIDEO)

01/03/2012 07:51 EST | Updated 03/04/2012 05:12 EST
VANCOUVER - Harry Burkhart watched as his mother was arrested last week on fraud charges from their native Germany, and then exploded the next day in an expletive-laced rant against the U.S. at her court hearing.

The day after that, police say, the 24-year-old began a nighttime rampage of arson attacks that terrorized Los Angeles.

Authorities have yet to disclose why they believe the pony-tailed, 24-year-old Hollywood resident set the fires, but his mother's legal trouble provides one glimpse into the turmoil in his life.

Court documents unsealed Tuesday said Dorothee Burkhart, who is in her 50s, was charged with 19 counts of fraud in Frankfurt, including failing to pay for a 2004 breast-augmentation surgery and pilfering security deposits from renters.

In a brief court appearance, she appeared perplexed, wondering aloud if her son was dead.

At one point, she said, he is mentally ill.

"Where is my son? What did you do to my son?" she asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Nagle.

Harry Burkhart was being held without bail after being arrested in the arson case Monday.

Canadian court documents show he and his mother had previously lived in Vancouver for some time, and had once made failed refugee claims.

Outside Harry Burkhart's Hollywood apartment, some neighbours described him as a loner who loitered around the busy commercial strip at night and could be heard arguing with his mother.

But Shlomo Elady, a hair stylist who regularly trimmed Burkhart's long hair, recalled someone who spoke three languages, dreamed of visiting Jerusalem and cared for a sickly mother who had trouble walking.

Elady said he was stunned that the man who lived with his mother above his Sunset Boulevard shop is suspected of torching vehicles, some just steps from his home. The fires caused an estimated $3 million in damage.

"He loved his mom, the way every son loves his mom," Elady said. "He's not a creepy guy."

Burkhart was taken into custody after authorities received a tip from federal officials who recognized him in a security video that showed a pony-tailed man emerging from a garage where a car was set ablaze.

"When they saw the security footage, they recognized him and they contacted the arson task force," a State Department official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigations are ongoing.

The official didn't know her status or what type of visas the pair used to enter the country. As German citizens, they would be eligible to come to the U.S. without a visa for 90 days under the Visa Waiver Program.

A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the case, said Harry Burkhart was present when his mother was arrested Dec. 28 on a provisional arrest warrant.

Provisional arrest warrants are normally issued when there are criminal charges pending overseas against someone. Ordinarily, U.S. authorities then obtain an arrest warrant through the State Department and the Justice Department.

Burkhart had been in court Thursday afternoon. Harry Burkhart launched into an obscenity-laden tirade, saying "(Expletive) the United States!" said Thom Mrozek, spokesman at the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles.

Mrozek said Burkhart was detained and later escorted out of the courthouse. He said Burkhart did not make any specific threats against anyone or property at his mother's court hearing.

Galina Illarionova, who lives in the same apartment complex as the suspect, said through a Russian translator that an agitated Burkhart visited her Sunday and said his mother was having some kind of legal problems.

He told her his mother was in trouble with authorities and wanted Illarionova to attend a legal hearing with him, but he later said he didn't need her help.

A domain name for a website offering appointment-only sensual massage is registered to Dorothee Burkhart. Her name is not mentioned on the website, which states the service is not prostitution.

Other documents filed in British Columbia courts place the son and his mother in Vancouver in 2009.

The pair both filed failed refugee claims that were ultimately dismissed in May 2010, while the son was also charged with a traffic offence in B.C. and his mother went through small claims court.

The 24-year-old Hollywood resident is now being held without bail and is set to make his first court appearance Wednesday in the case that terrorized the community over the Christmas weekend.

In May 2010, the pair were both denied applications in federal court for judicial review of failed Canadian refugee claims.

Harry Burkhart had applied as a convention refugee, but the Immigration and Refugee Board determined in November 2009 he was "not a person in need of protection."

Other court records show the man was charged in October 2009 for failing to carry a licence in a motor vehicle, while his mother sued a commercial landlord over her security deposit in December 2009.

Dorothee Burkhart filed a notice on Dec. 15, 2009 claiming the landlord of the office in Vancouver's entertainment district changed the locks and did not return her security deposit. Her claim was for $4,576.

A counterclaim on Dec. 22, 2009 from the landlord, Derek Pellizzari, was for $3772.75, stating the security deposit was used to bring the unit up to the state it was in when leased.

A judge dismissed the claim on Sept. 2010, stating Burkhart did not appear and noting the defendant had cause to terminate the woman's lease.

The place of residence listed by the woman in her claim is an address for an 87-unit subsidized apartment building in downtown Vancouver that includes 30 units for addiction recovery.

The series of fires appeared to have stopped with Burkhart's arrest. The onslaught of intentionally set fires kept residents anxious over the holiday weekend in some of the most densely populated areas of the city.

One of Saturday's fires occurred at the Hollywood and Highland entertainment complex, a popular tourist destination bordered by the Walk of Fame in a neighbourhood that includes Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Damaged buildings included a former home of Doors singer Jim Morrison.

Hundreds of investigators, police officers and firefighters raced to deal with the blazes. Police conducted extra patrols all weekend, and the noise of helicopters and sirens persisted virtually nonstop in Hollywood.

The fires forced many apartment dwellers from their homes. There were no serious injuries.

_ With files from The Associated Press.