A series of crimes at the home of a Perry family, including a suspected case of arson, has the neighborhood nervous and the police seeking suspects and alert for further incidents.
The trouble began, according to James Dean Moffett of 2118 Estella St., on Tuesday, Nov. 5, when he told two young men to stop using his backyard as a shortcut and to use the sidewalk instead. The men replied with verbal abuse, Moffett said.
He thought the matter would end there, but on Nov. 6 Moffett had $200 worth of fishing gear stolen from one of the boats in his backyard. Then on Nov. 8, in what Perry Police are treating as a related incident, graffiti was spraypainted on a tool shed behind Moffett’s garage.
The graffiti appears to contain the word "fire," which maybe was meant as a warning to Moffett because on the night of Nov. 13 the two boats in his backyard were set on fire in what Perry Police are investigating as a case of arson.
The fire in Moffett’s pontoon boat did not completely catch, burning only a small section of carpeting, but a 12-foot fishing boat was wholly engulfed in flames and destroyed. The boat was owned by Moffett’s daughter and son-in-law.
Moffett reported the fire about 8:30 p.m., and by 9 p.m. the fire department had doused the flames.
"We did not detect any type of an accelerant used in the boat fire," said Perry Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chris Hinds, but his report classified the blaze as "possible arson."
On the night following the boat burning, Moffett again called Perry Police, this time to report initials were spraypainted on the rear door of his house.
Police Chief Dan Brickner said the department is viewing the series of crimes "as related incidents."
Arson of this kind is a class C felony, Brickner said, punishable in Iowa by a jail term of up to 10 years and a fine between $1,000 and $10,000.
Moffett, a 12-year veteran of the Perry Police Department, said he retired with disability pay after an accident on the job in 2001. He is in his mid-50s and has lived in the house on Estella for 13 years, he said.
Moffett described the men as in their late 20s or early 30s. One was African American and the other Hispanic, he said, and they wore hoodies.
A separate incident "most likely connected" to those at Moffett’s, according to Brickner, occurred on Nov. 11 when housebreakers attempted to force their way into a house next to Moffett’s, splitting the front door and prying open a rear window but without gaining entry at either point.
The rash of crimes in this quiet neighborhood on Perry’s east side has residents feeling vulnerable and using extra caution.
"This is upsetting," said Viivi Shirley, former Perry mayor and longtime resident of the neighborhood. "I’m not particularly scared but am apprehensive. Uneasy would be a good way to put it."
Shirley said the "boldness" of the crimes struck her. "I haven’t any idea who’s doing this or why, but it seems senseless. It isn’t kind. It’s mean spirited," she said.
Jack Butler, Perry Public Works director and a newcomer to the neighborhood, also said he was surprised by the apparent malice of the crimes.
"It seems pretty extreme to light someone’s boat on fire just because they told you not to cut through their yard," he said. "And it’s gutsy—crazy, really—to come back again the next day and do more damage."
Butler said his house has a security system inside and motion-detecting lights outside, so he feels pretty secure.
"Still," he said, "it makes you feel uneasy. Now I’m always looking out my windows. Hopefully (the criminals) will find something better to do."