The Unusual Suspects

Did Austin anarchists torch the Governor’s Mansion?

Arson at the Governor's MansionTexas’s biggest whodunit began in the early-morning hours of Sunday, June 8, in downtown Austin, when several passersby noticed that the porch of the Governor’s Mansion was in flames. “The entire front of the mansion is on fire!” cried one woman in a panicked call to a 911 dispatcher. “It’s huge! It’s a huge fire!” When firefighters arrived, just before 2 a.m., flames were sweeping through the first and second stories and into the attic of the 152-year-old Greek Revival—style building, and soon the entire 8,920-square-foot structure—which had been home to forty governors, among them Sam Houston and the forty-third president—was ablaze. (Luckily the mansion, which had been undergoing a $10 million renovation that was to have included the installation of a sprinkler system, was uninhabited at the time; the governor and his family were living temporarily in West Austin.) More than one hundred firefighters fought the blaze, which took nearly five hours to contain, as smoke drifted through downtown. By dawn, the mansion’s graceful white Ionic columns were scorched and blackened, and the charred roof, which had buckled, appeared to be on the verge of collapse. Governor Rick Perry’s spokesperson, Robert Black, called the damage “extraordinary, bordering on catastrophic.”

Later that day, as the fire smoldered, state fire marshal Paul Maldonado made an unsettling declaration: The mansion had been the target of arson. To the embarrassment of the Department of Public Safety, only one state trooper had been guarding the building when it was torched, and just thirteen of the twenty security cameras on the mansion grounds had been operating that night. But a surveillance camera had captured the image of a man throwing a Molotov cocktail at 1:27 a.m. He appeared to be white and in his twenties, Maldonado would later tell reporters at a June 16 press conference. He was approximately five feet nine to six feet one and, Maldonado pointed out, physically fit, since he had managed to scale a barrier on the grounds and throw a Molotov cocktail “with enough force to cause it to create a fireball.” In other words, he looked like a lot of guys in town. The suspect had even been wearing Austin’s most ubiquitous item of clothing, a University of Texas ball cap.

The psychological profile that Maldonado provided hardly narrowed the field either. “He may be known to get angry and express strong opinions about the government, Governor Perry himself, the death penalty, the renovation of the mansion, or other political issues,” he said at the press conference. (“That doesn’t exactly thin the herd in this town of political know-it-alls,” wrote the Austin American-Statesman’s John

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