muckraker report

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.

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  • cojo

    Learn the laws.
    He’s carrying concealed and trespassing laws require him to be asked to leave before any legal action can be taken against him.
    If he was to refuse to leave atthat point, then he could be subject to legal action.
    Carry on, Scott Miller.

  • cojo

    “…in my own little way, push Detroit toward becoming just as safe as it is amazing.”

    Detroit will never be safe. It can get only less safe. It is what Hell on Earth looks like.

  • bebow

    Why would the DPD be searching the Packard Plant for thugs and thieves when there are plenty of thugs and thieves openly running wild in the neighborhoods, victimizing residents who are not engaged in trespassing?

  • Kristea123

    It’s estimated that Detroit has as many as 25 active serial killers who are responsible for 40% of unsolved homicides. Some food for thought when strolling these places. I reason that you can either kill or be kill ;)

    • Mike McLelland

      please name the source of your claims.

  • Kingbuffetlover

    To put it nicely, whoever wrote that article doesn’t know what they are talking about.   There have only been a select few occasions when that many cars have been parked out there over the past few years.
    1) The couple weekends following the article written that claimed demolition was soon approaching.
    2)  Movie production/set or large scale model shoot.

    It is unusual to see that many cars out there.  You go there on any given weekend and chances are you will not see any cars parked in that lot.  Most people who visit the plant know parking there is a bad idea.  

    “Emily Johnson and her friends” are obviously very stupid people who didn’t do their homework before visiting this place.  The fact that they even had shit in their car worth stealing says they didn’t know what they were doing.  How dumb are you to leave valuable things in your car in that neighborhood?  

  • cavemonkey

    The Packard is a dangerous place?  Never would have guessed that considering it is an ABANDONED DECAYING FACTORY IN A BAD NEIGHBORHOOD!  No shit the locals have figured out there are walking dollar signs in their neighborhood sporting $10k in camera gear, $500 I phones, and god knows what else of value.  Pretty easy to recognize that a mile away in that neighborhood.  Left ANYTHING valuable in your car in Detroit and are surprised in the least bit that it was stolen?  Really?  This is shocking in some way?

  • Kingbuffetlover

    Tim, that photo was NOT taken last week.  Look at the trees.  The leaves haven’t budded yet before this was taken in the early Spring.  You Fail. 

  • Tim

    many suburbanite kids and folks from out of town who visit my studio on heidelberg street have asked me about going to the Packard i tell them dont go. i have friends who have been shot at, and i avoided some trouble myself and i know of a group of visitor’s from holland that got all there camera gear taken at the end of a the Packard. i have been exploring many sites in the city for the last twenty five years. and i have salvaged many treasures from them. it has been part of my own personal jurney piecing myself back together. i have a couple of collage boxes in the gift shop at the Detroit Institute of Arts. a bench at the new Bole Family Y downtown made with recoverd pewabic tile. i have pieces of about 15 historic buildings some of wich my great grandfather worked on as a master plasterer the Eastown Theatre. i dont do this because it’s Cool i do this because im driven to do so. to Kingbuffetloverwho wrote a reply here the photo was taken a week ago you dont know what your talking about i drove by the Packard when this was taking place

  • turn_coat

    “Lawless wasteland” c’mon.  Talk to Allan Hill and see how terrifying it is. 
    Cars get broken into anywhere in the city. 
    Holy crap everyone, a shell of an abandoned buildin is being vandalized.

  • Kingbuffetlover

    Whoever wrote this article is a moron.  The photo caption “It’s not unusual to see dozens of cars parked around the mammoth plant as people explore the ruins.” is also false.  That photo was taken last spring when that article came out claiming the owner was tearing the place down.  It’s very unusual to see that many cars parked there. 

    • Tim Burke

      i drove by there the day this happen’d and the cars and cops were there. my name is TIM BURKE. there are cars there allot.

    • Tim Burke

      o.k so maybe the photo is not the one taken that day i have no reason to lie i saw a whole lot of cars and some cops the day the guys got beat up and the girl got here shit stolen. i kept on going . i dont want to play tit for tat.

  • Scott Miller

    This is why when we go down there to photo the art I carry my 10mm and a .45 as a backup.

    • cavemonkey

       Trespassing while armed?  Seems like a brilliant idea to me…

  • Eric Douglas

    Seems like the urban explorers are getting a genuine experience.