my burning desire to see a show about arson
January 21, 2006 5:52 PM   Subscribe

A few years ago, I saw a TV-documentary about a man who was burning down luxury homes somewhere in the American west. The arsonist's best friend (brother?) was instrumental in capturing him. It was on 20/20 or Primetime or some similar show. I was riveted by the story, have never forgotten it, and I'd love to see it again. Which show was it on? Is it available on DVD? Transcript? Based on a book?
posted by grumblebee to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure what the show was but I lived in the Phoenix area for a few years and we had a luxury home arsonist. So maybe try googling with "Phoenix" and "Scottsdale" in the search terms.
posted by birdie birdington at 6:02 PM on January 21, 2006

Best answer: In fact, I just googled with them and got the name Mark Warren Sands - hope that helps.
posted by birdie birdington at 6:04 PM on January 21, 2006

Response by poster: That sounds right, birdie, thanks. I'll get busy googling. I'm not interested in the arson itself. I'm interested in the human drama. The guy who was closest to Sands had to choose whether or not to betray him to the police. This is what the show hinged around. It included interviews with both Sands and his friend.
posted by grumblebee at 6:09 PM on January 21, 2006

There was an arsonist in the Seattle area named Paul Keller; someone in his family recognized him from a composite scetch. The Court TV series Forensic Files dramatized the case in an episode called "Fire Proof." (I saw it, but I don't remember if he specialized in luxury homes.)

Another Documentary, "Portrait of a Serial Arsonist," apparently goes into more detail. It's available on video from Amazon and other places.
posted by wryly at 6:24 PM on January 21, 2006

I'm interested in the human drama. The guy who was closest to Sands had to choose whether or not to betray him to the police.

Off-topic, but related -- brings to mind David Kaczynski's ordeal of recognizing his brother's writing in the Unabomber's Manifesto and ultimately turning in his brother, Ted (aka The Unabomber).
posted by ericb at 6:30 PM on January 21, 2006

In related news this week -- Accused Domestic Terrorists Indicted.
posted by ericb at 6:31 PM on January 21, 2006

Response by poster: I don't that's him, wryly. The police were pretty sure that the guy I'm talking about was doing the arson, but they couldn't prove it. So they convinced his best friend to talk to him about it while his friend was wired with a hidden mic. The friend wasn't convinced that the arsonist did WAS actually the arsonist, but he couldn't totally discount what the police were telling him. He felt horrible, gathering evidence on a man who might be innocent. Meanwhile, the arsonist suspected his friend might be ratting him to the police and began started playing a sort of cat-and-mouse game.

The arsonist was burning down the houses as an environmental statement. He didn't like the fact that the home owners were building in the desert.
posted by grumblebee at 6:32 PM on January 21, 2006

Response by poster: It WAS similar to Kaczynski's brother's story, ericb -- and I think it happened around the same time.
posted by grumblebee at 6:33 PM on January 21, 2006

Response by poster: It was DEFINITELY Mark Warren Sands!
posted by grumblebee at 6:34 PM on January 21, 2006

grumblebee -- I, too, now recall having watched the television show. If I recall correctly, the friends spent a lot of time mountain biking together, etc. It was indeed on 20/20 or NBC Primetime (or, some similar show). And -- I think there eventually was videotape evidence -- the perpetrator videotaped the conflagrations as firefighters tried to put them out.
posted by ericb at 6:37 PM on January 21, 2006

Ah -- yes, it was him -- the defacing of signs was a significant clue to solving the case.
posted by ericb at 6:38 PM on January 21, 2006

"Mark Warren Sands, a laid-off public relations executive, wanted to prove to himself that he still knew how to spark the interest of the media, so he began setting fires at construction sites in his hometown of Phoenix, then claiming responsibility on behalf of a group he called the Coalition to Save the Preserves. His actions generated a heated debate over eco-terrorism, until his real motivations were discovered. In an interview with The New York Times, he explained, 'I knew what a good news story was; I knew how to sell it. My drug was the news media coverage. There was the excitement of waiting for the media coverage to come out. There was a sense of power.' Sands is now looking at serving 15 to 20 years for his crazed publicity stunt." [source]
posted by ericb at 6:40 PM on January 21, 2006

not the 20-20 show you're looking for, but some great reading (imo, even more riviting than the documentary you seek): an interview with the preserves arsonist from the phoenix new times

for more background, see also: this, and this, and this.
posted by RockyChrysler at 7:04 PM on January 21, 2006

Best answer: I believe you might be thinking about the two hour Dateline expose on Mark Sands and the fires he was setting. I've seen it twice.

If you look about 1/2 way down the page on the right, there is some info on getting transcripts and/or tapes of segments.

Fascinating stuff.
posted by SoulOnIce at 10:46 PM on January 21, 2006

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