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Knox arson cases still unsolved: what's the challenge?

KNOX, Ind. - Three months after Knox saw three arson cases in a few weeks, ABC 57 is taking you back to find out what makes arson cases so difficult to solve.

An ice cube tray covered in debris, a lone metal door discarded, and fire tape that still advises you not to cross are what’s left of the three fires set ablaze in Knox in three weeks this spring.

“Fires are very easy to determine whether they’ve been set or not, it’s very difficult to prove who set them,” said Knox Center Township Fire Chief Kenny Pfost.

In the cases of the April 27 fire on East Street, the May 2 fire on McGill, and the May 10 fire on Spruce Drive, investigators determined these are definitely arson cases, but that’s about it.

“Your crime scene has been destroyed. It’s not only been destroyed once from the fire, but then when the firemen come in to do their job, and it’s no fault of theirs, they’re just doing their job, they destroy it a second time, and sometimes a third, because they move things around to put the fire out, do their job, and what you’re left with is trying to put the pieces back together,” said Starke County Prosecutor Nick Bourff.

“The public looks at it as this fire was set, why wasn’t there any arrest being made, and they’re looking at us, thinking we’re not doing anything, but it’s very difficult at times,”  said Chief Pfost.

Knox Fire Chief Kenny Pfost said in his fourteen years working for the sheriff’s and fire departments, he’s seen a couple hundred ‘set fires.’

Only one went to trial—in 2015.

“We had received information that the place was going to burn, that the owner was going to burn the place down, so we had that, and the fire actually did occur in March, and we had video placing him at the scene like 57 seconds before you start seeing smoke on the cameras,” he said.

“It ended in a hung jury, so we convinced some, but not all of them, though,” said Prosecutor Bourff.

Starke County Prosecutor Nick Bourff believes that’s at least in part because TV shows and movies have groomed jurors to expect DNA evidence.

“We always talk to jurors after the trial, and I don’t know how many times I’ve heard whether it’s a conviction or not, the jurors want to see fingerprints, they want to see evidence of DNA being found at the scene, and often times, we don’t have that,” he said.

He says often the best they can do is find a motive and go for the common sense argument.

“To get a unanimous jury to vote on a conviction based on that, beyond a reasonable doubt, is unrealistic,” said Prosecutor Bourff.

That means whoever demolished the duplex on Spruce Drive will likely never have to pay.

Chief Pfost says it will be difficult for the case to proceed unless people come forward with information.

To submit tips, please call the Knox Police Department at (574) 772-4122.

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