Federal and local investigators believe they are closer to identifying the person or people responsible for burning down six art-festooned houses at the Heidelberg Project since October.
Although organizers of the nonprofit said their lone camera was destroyed in the latest arson on March 7, ATF investigators already had hidden surveillance set up at the outdoor art project and are talking with neighbors about the images they’ve captured.
Authorities also are searching for a mysterious man who knocked on the door of Mildred Head, whose home caught fire when someone doused the Party Animal House with a flammable liquid on March 7.
“A man came and beat on the door,” Mildred Head, 67, said. “When we got up and got to the door, no one was there. I don’t know where the man went to.”
And neither do investigators.
Janae, who asked that her last name not be used, called 911 when she spotted the blaze. She saw what looked like a darker gray Mercury Sable speed off.
Investigators have expressed frustration with Heidelberg artist Tyree Guyton and the nonprofit staff for not fully cooperating. Guyton, who is a former firefighter, couldn’t be reached for comment for this story. And his wife, the project’s executive director, Jenenne Whitfield, didn’t respond to requests for an interview.
The Heidelberg Project, which has nine employees and a large headquarters in Brush Park near downtown, was very public at first, launching a $50,000 fundraiser on Nov. 29 to provide security for the two-block area. At the time, two of the project’s eight house installations had been damaged by arson.
By the time the fundraiser ended on Dec. 20, three more homes were intentionally burned down, leaving the project with three houses – none of which legally belong to the Heidelberg Project, property records show.
Mayor Mike Duggan’s office said there are no plans yet for the city-owned property.
What the Heidelberg staff did with the $54,280 it raised has been a point of controversy. The nonprofit said it spent more than $18,000 on a security guard whose hours were severely cut because the job “quickly became cost-prohibitive.”
It wasn’t until mid-March that the Heidelberg Project was finally equipped with cameras.
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.