Arson mystery solved when suspect leaves behind traceable gas cans, matching gas cans and receipt found in his truck

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.

My mother grew up in the same neighborhood where she raised me. When we lived in the city, there was a local neighborhood dry cleaners barely visible from our kitchen window, within walking distance of our house. The store was run by a family, the mother and father were hard-working people that I would see every day as I walked to school. The father worked long hours in the back of the store while the mother ran the front counter. They had two sons who were my age, one a year older and one a year younger.

After the dry cleaners moved out, the building remained vacant for a few years until a restauranteur bought the property. The new restaurant did well for a while, but once the novelty wore off and the locals grew tired of it, the eatery hit a slump. The restauranteur was forced to close up shop and the building once again sat empty.

Then the owner got an idea, a bad idea.

One day, my mother smelled smoke through our open kitchen window. The little restaurant and former dry cleaners was on fire. It had been vacant for years. Now, suddenly, it was in flames.

The firefighters came and put out the fire, but by then the damage had been done. The whole building was charred and blackened, beyond repair.

According to the neighborhood gossip, my paternal grandmother, the fire chief had discovered two brand-new red gas cans in the parking lot of the decimated restaurant. They were determined to have recently contained gasoline.

During a subsequent investigation, the owner of the business was found two have two matching gas cans in the back of his truck and a receipt for all four cans in his glove compartment. Rumor has it that the owner had caused the fire for the insurance money, and he was arrested.

The man had allegedly been desperate to collect the insurance money to keep his business afloat, so he set fire to the building himself. Unfortunately, I don't know what happened at his trial or whether they found him guilty. While circumstances seemed awfully suspicious, anyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and I am not aware of whether that happened.

Today, a small eatery offering build-your-own burritos, tacos, bowls, and other classic Mexican dishes stands in the place of the old dry cleaners. It is a popular spot with the lunch crowd and has a steady stream of customers throughout the day. The place always smells of spices and fresh-cooked food, and it makes me think of my childhood.

This new restaurant is a symbol of hope for the future, that even after something bad happens, something good can come from it. I am grateful to the new owners for bringing this delicious food and this sense of hope to my old neighborhood.

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