(LOS ANGELES) — The German man who authorities have called “the most dangerous arsonist in L.A. history” will appear in court Wednesday to face charges that he allegedly set a series of 52 blazes in the Los Angeles area over the past four days.
Harry Burkhart, of Hollywood, was arrested early Monday after a rookie reserve sheriff’s deputy spotted the 24-year-old in a vehicle that matched the description of the suspect’s.
Authorities said they were “very confident” in the arrest of Burkhart, who told police officers, “I hate America” as they placed him under arrest.
“For four days, someone has been terrorizing our community. Our four day nightmare is over,” Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck said at a press conference Monday night where he announced Burkhart’s arrest.
Burkhart, a German national, may have been motivated by his anger at U.S. immigration authorities that stemmed from a deportation hearing involving his mother, Dorothee, that took place in Los Angeles County about a week and a half ago, sources told ABC News exclusively.
Burkhart reportedly broke into in a tirade, spewing angry anti-American statements, during the hearing for his mother, said the subject of a provisional arrest request by Germany.
It was this incident that eventually led police to zero in on Burkhart as a suspect after a tip came from an official at the State Department.
ABC News has learned from sources that a possible reason for his mother’s deportation may be that her address and phone number — and that of her son -– were linked to a business, specifically a massage website, Hollywoodtantramassage.com.
Burkhart was traced on the ground by his identifying ponytail and the Canadian license plates on his van.
Los Angeles Police Deputy Shervin Lalezary spotted a minivan Monday with British Columbia plates that matched the description of a vehicle seen at several of the vehicle and carport fires which were ignited around Hollywood and West Hollywood, beginning Dec. 30.
When Lalezary initiated a traffic stop, he discovered the van’s driver, Burkhart, also resembled the person of interest seen in a videotape released by the multi-agency arson task force assigned to the case. Grainy security footage from a parking garage that was set on fire showed a man in a ponytail, too.
Police seized flammable materials that matched the materials used in the blazes during the search of the minivan, according to sources.
Initially identified by police as a person of interest, Burkhart soon became a prime suspect. He was detained and questioned and, after subsequent interviews with police, was arrested.
On Monday afternoon he was charged with one count of arson of an inhabited dwelling, with more charges expected as the investigation proceeds, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.
Burkhart is currently being held on $250,000 bail.
The fires were mostly ignited around vehicles, and then spread to structures, eventually causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. Since Burkhart’s arrest on Monday, there have been no new fires set in the Los Angeles area — a promising clue that the right man is in custody.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Wayne Drash, CNN
Laura Koran, CNN
Steve Almasy, CNN