Part 1: Packard Plant becomes lawless wasteland; police hunt for thugs, thieves


It’s not unusual to see dozens of cars parked around the mammoth plant as people explore the ruins.

Thugs and thieves are preying on photographers, teenagers and others who are increasingly exploring the sprawling, crumbling and abandoned Packard Plant in Detroit.

Thieves looking for a place to hide and ambush strangers have perfect cover in the 40-acre, concrete ruins surrounded by a decaying neighborhood.

A group of thugs pummeled and robbed two explorers who were traversing the plant to admire art on the factory walls.

“I am lucky to be here and haven’t stopped thinking about what could have happened,” said one of the assault victims, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. “Despite that fear, I am thankful that I can help keep others safe from harm and, in my own little way, push Detroit toward becoming just as safe as it is amazing.”

The Packard has become a popular destination for graffiti artists, explorers and photographers since March, when the owner, Dominic Cristini, pledged to soon demolish the building. But there’s no evidence – demolition permits, asbestos remediation or on-site workers – that suggests Cristini is making good on his promise.

Earlier this month, Emily Johnson and her friends drove from Troy to the Packard Plant, curious to see the cavernous ruins that everyone has been talking about. After an hour-long tour, Johnson and her friends returned to their car.

“One of the windows was smashed in,” the 22-year-old said. “Everything we hid in the trunk was stolen. I won’t be going back there again.”

And that’s the message that police hope to get out: Don’t come to the Packard. It’s dangerous.

In a city shedding cops to combat unprecedented budget cuts, the Packard is a lawless wasteland. Arsonists slip in and out of the building, setting fires that sometimes smolder for days. Scrappers with loud machinery pick apart the building for metal to salvage, causing floors and walls to cave in. And graffiti artists and vandals roam the plant without a worry.

Part 2: City, owner neglect Packard

Related story: Packard Plant fires become big problem


Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.