Thursday, February 17, 2011

Loyal arsonist dies in house explosion

imageJoe Nesheiwat thought the world of James Kurtenbach, who owned the gas station where Nesheiwat had worked for years.

Kurtenbach had hired him right out of high school, and lent him money several times. But the seeming kindness soon turned deadly. Kurtenbach sent his longtime employee to a fiery death in an insurance-driven arson that went desperately wrong when the gas-soaked house exploded.

Kurtenbach was stuck with an expensive home he couldn’t sell. He also owed more than $55,000 in property taxes, and had just settled a $200,000 lawsuit. Kurtenbach also owed $3.1 million in back sales taxes on his company, Starts Petroleum.

He figured his only way out was a dangerous financial shortcut: Burn down the place for a $915,000 insurance payday.

Spread gasoline inside house

So Kurtenbach increased his insurance coverage, then asked Nesheiwat to light the fire. Nesheiwat was a loyal employee, and Kurtenbach was a father figure. Nesheiwat often called him “Pops” and “Dad.” He was glad to do Kurtenbach’s larcenous bidding. The promised payback: some money and a motorcycle.

“Joe was blown out of the building. He lay in the backyard, with burns covering 85 percent of his body. Most of his clothes were seared off. ”They spread gasoline around the house’s interior. Nesheiwat returned to light the fire several days later.

It seemed like an easy job with little downside. Nesheiwat would simply toss some burning papers onto the floor and then head on out. Nesheiwat’s brother John dropped him off that Halloween night in 2008. John waited a short distance away in his Nissan sedan, expecting they’d make a quick getaway.

But the gasoline was a combustable time bomb. The napalm-like brew exploded. Debris shot into the street, and a neighbor’s house was badly damaged. John’s car shook from the blast’s force.

Joe was blown out of the building. He lay in the backyard, with burns covering 85 percent of his body. Most of his clothes were seared off. Only the remnants of a shirt collar, sock and shoe remained.

Never checked if brother ok

Joe was supposed to text his brother “good night” to signal the job was done. The message didn’t come.

John was terrified that his brother had died in the fire. But he sped off without even checking to see if Joe was ok. He got home and sat inside his car in the driveway, holding his rosary beads, hoping against faint hope that Joe had survived the inferno.

But Joe died from his burns.

Kurtenbach handed John $2,000 two days after the fire. He later paid John $20,000 for burial expenses, and told him to shut up about the fire.

But investigators slowly closed in.

The strong odor of gasoline wafted from the carpet padding and elsewhere in the charred debris. Kurtenbach’s finances were in a mess, thus giving him a strong financial motive.

Witnesses also saw Kurtenbach filling five-gallon containers with gas. He was preparing his home to be rented, he told them.

Clues encircled arsonist

A search of Kurtenbach’s cell-phone records revealed another clue: He’d texted Joe later that night after the fire: “R U There.”

John, meanwhile, lied that he was home asleep when the fire started. But he’d called Joe that night, cell records showed. John finally broke down, saying he was sick of lying about the plot. He turned on Kurtenbach in court, and confessed all in exchange for immunity.

Kurtenbach was hopelessly encircled by evidence. He received 15 years in prison.

“I’m a multimillionaire,” he said before sentencing. “My life prior to October 31, 2008 was really, really cool.”

1 comment:

  1. Well I guess it's okay because hes a “I’m a multimillionaire.” LOL

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