When Dave Connell of Platte City unlocked his brand new, bright red GMC Sierra pickup early Friday and opened the door, smoke rolled out.
He leaned inside and saw what appeared to be where a small fire had burned in the cab’s back seat. Lightning from the storm?
Puzzled, the retired federal officer looked around and then noticed several police cars down the street. His truck was among a dozen vehicles in the neighborhood damaged by mysterious interior fires.
One owner found more than a charred seat. A man’s body was in his white GMC truck in the parking lot of a six-unit building in the 2100 block of Wilkerson Drive, a little more than a block from Connell’s house.
Police identified the dead man later in the day but did not release his name. They also think he was responsible for the fires.
The first call came in at 5:25 a.m. Others quickly followed.
“They were coming from people going out to go to work,” said Capt. Erik Holland of the Platte County Sheriff’s Office.
The man’s body was transported to the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office, where a cause of death will be determined next week.
Two other vehicles were entered but not set ablaze. It is unclear how the arsonist gained entrance to the vehicles, which appeared to show no outward signs of tampering.
Connell is confident he locked his truck Thursday night. After discovering the damage, he talked to another victim.
“My neighbor told me I was No. 9,” Connell said.
Three more were found later. Strange, yes, but Connell took it in stride.
“I worked in a federal penitentiary for a long time,” he said. “Not many things shock me.”
Assisting police in the investigation are the Platte County Sheriff’s Department; the Kansas City police bomb and arson unit; the Kansas City crime scene unit; the state fire marshal; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the Jackson County medical examiner and the Missouri Highway Patrol.