The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

March 20, 2008

Letter says activists caused blaze

By Patricia Breakey

DELHI _ A letter has claimed animal-rights activists are responsible for the fire that destroyed Perkins Taxidermy on Jan. 25.

The blaze at the Arbor Hill Road taxidermist shop in Delhi was reported at about 11:20 p.m., and the 911 call was believed to have come from a motorist on state Route 10, Delhi Fire Chief Dan Brandenburg Sr. said at the time.

Two to three weeks after the fire, owner David Shaw said, he found a letter that had been dropped off in the mailbox at the shop.

"Greetings Human," was the salutation on the typed letter that bore no postmark, Delaware County Undersheriff Doug Vredenburgh said Wednesday.

"The letter took credit for the fire in the name of animal rights," Vredenburgh said. "It talked about humans overpopulating the earth and indicated that the fire was just a warning.'"

The letter, which has been turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for examination and testing, was signed ARF, which may be the acronym for the Animal Rights Front Inc., a group based in New Haven, Conn.

Vredenburgh said it has not been determined whether the letter is "legitimate or not or if it has any connection with the fire.

"The letter was vague, and we have not determined whether or not the ARF is a legitimate organization or even what the initials actually stand for," Vredenburgh said. "Anybody can write a letter claiming anything, and at this time, there is no way to verify it."

Shaw said he considered the contents of the letter threatening.

"Let me just say I took it serious enough that when I leave the driveway in my truck, I have a friend with me," Shaw said. "There are a lot of lunatics running around out there that no one can stop."

Vredenburgh said that based on the rhetoric in the letter, he believes it was written by an animal activist. However, because of the lapse of time between the fire and the delivery of the letter, he questions whether the person who wrote the letter was actually connected with the fire.

Rich Bell, Delaware County Emergency Services director, said the fire has been listed as an incendiary blaze, and the investigation has been turned over the sheriff's department.

Vredenburgh said the determination that the fire may have been arson was based on ruling out all other usual causes, including electrical causes and malfunctioning stoves. He added that testing was done to determine if there was an accelerant, but none was found.

"It would be very difficult to prove that the fire was arson because there is no physical evidence and no accelerant," Vredenburgh said.

The one-story building housing the shop was a "total loss," Brandenburg said previously.

Shaw said it was "more of a setback than a big monetary loss because he salvages a lot of the stuff." He added that he intends to re-establish the business at his home.

Shaw said he purchased the taxidermy business 11/2 years ago from Bill Perkins, but he had been working for Perkins for more than 24 years. Shaw said he leased the building.

He said he wouldn't let the threat stop him from reopening his business.

"Why should I give up 26 years of my life?" he asked.

There are several references to ARF on the Internet. In New York Times articles from 1987 and 1988, Bill Manetti, of New Haven, Conn., is listed as both the president and the spokesman for the nonprofit animal rights organization, but there is currently no phone listing for a Bill or William Manetti or any group using the organization's name nationwide.

Vredenburgh said the FBI has not been able to locate anyone connected with any group using the acronym ARF.

The investigation is ongoing, and anyone with information about the fire, letters of a similar nature or the person who left the letter in the mailbox is asked to call the Delaware County Sheriff's Department at 746-2336.

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Patricia Breakey can be reached at 746-2894 or at stardelhi@stny.rr.com.