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Two arsons within two days investigated on former Central State Hospital grounds

Indianapolis, Ind - The Indianapolis Arson Investigations unit is looking for leads in two fires in the same building on the grounds of the former Central State Hospital.

Indianapolis Fire Department officials say somebody broke into an old storage building on the grounds Saturday afternoon and used materials inside to start a fire.  Then, the same thing happened in a different part of the same building late Sunday night.  IFD Battalion Chief Rita Reith said the two fires were definitely separate and were each intentionally set.

“These buildings are wide open with a lot of dangerous spots inside them, there’s a lot of opportunities for somebody to get hurt,” Reith said.  “So we don’t want anybody going in and out of here for any reason.”

The storage building where the fires were started is the same building where human brain samples were stolen nearly four years ago.  David Charles was eventually arrested and accused of stealing 80 jars of human brain tissue samples with the intention of selling them on eBay.  Charles later pleaded guilty in the case and was sentenced to four years, with three years suspended, in the Marion County jail.

The storage building is located only about 50 feed from the 120-year-old Indiana Medical History Museum.  Since the brain tissue burglary, the museum’s executive director, Sarah Halter, says things have been mostly quiet.  But two arsons within two days so close to the old museum have her nervous.

“The building is also full of wooden furniture and woodwork,” Halter said.  “We have a large collection of historic books and then we also have a chemical collection.  All of those things are extremely flammable.”

The storage building was originally built as a bomb shelter, so it can survive a fire.  But more recently, it’s been used for storage by the museum, IMPD and Red Cross, Halter said.

“When somebody is setting fires out there, it runs the risk of getting a firefighter hurt, of getting that person or persons injured,” Reith said.  “And that’s what we’re most concerned about.”

The arsons come as the former Central State grounds are undergoing massive redevelopment to turn the 150-acre property into an urban-rural attraction.  Development plans around the site include new housing, retail and recreation for the community on the west side of Indianapolis.  Holladay Properties was hired by the city to oversee the development.

Derek Naber, Developer with Holladay Properties, says the arsons are not something he wants to see on the grounds while efforts are being made to transform the area.  But they are not expected to hinder the overall development.  Naber says the storage building is currently under contract to be sold to a private buyer.  He believes the damage from the fire can be cleaned up and the building will stand as it is.

“Then we’re working with a couple private groups to secure the site,” Naber said.  “Put fencing, cameras, security to secure the building.”

Reith says it’s not known if the same person or group set both fires on Saturday and Sunday.  It’s also not known if they could be related to several other small fires in the area in recent weeks.

“Arson is a crime of opportunity,” Reith said.  “And it’s typically the crime of someone who has basically nothing better to do.”

Anyone with information about the fires should contact the Indianapolis Fire Department, or call Crime Stoppers at (317) 262-TIPS.