The suspected arsonist who authorities think is behind a string of fires in an affluent Queens neighborhood left a riddle to help investigators track down the suspect, but police say the cipher led them to a person not connected to the crimes.
The alleged firebug left the puzzle behind for police after setting a blaze at a home in Forest Hills on Nov. 25, according to police. Across the note, the suspect wrote, "Decode this message to find the person who caused the fire."
But according to NYPD chief of detectives Robert Boyce, the suspect they identified after decoding the message appears to have nothing to do with the fires.
“We were able to decipher the code and come up with a name. We have vetted that person, so that lead has now turned into a mislead. We don’t believe he was involved in the fire at all,” Boyce said.
Police are continuing to look for the suspect, who they think is responsible for at least six of the seven fires that have broken out in the neighborhood in the last month or so.
The same suspect who was caught on surveillance footage around the torched construction site on Nov. 25 was also spotted at arson scenes dating back to late October.
"This is a maniac and a psycho, and a mental and a killer and a houseburner," said neighbor Sam Joseph, whose home was affected in the Nov. 17 fire. "Destroys everything, families."
Joseph, who has lived in his home for 42 years, recalled the flames soaring 30 feet into the air and the heavy smoke when flames spread next door. He said the blaze ripped holes into his home's roof, and his bedroom is now unrecognizable under Sheetrock, so he's sleeping on a sofa in the middle of soot.
Police said after the Nov. 17 fire that they were putting additional officers on the streets as they looked for suspicious activity, and have teamed up with the FDNY's arson unit to investigate.
Even though no one has been injured in the fires, fire can be unpredictable, police say, and so authorities are asking for the public's help in tracking down the suspect.
A $12,500 is being offered for information. Anyone with information about the fires is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS.