I've seen the video on TV at least a dozen times. Roughly 40 minutes before fire broke out at a Victorian home at 17th and St. John streets, a tall, thin man with an untucked shirt and baggy pants strolls past a neighbor's security camera. He repeats the move three times.
He doesn't look like a street person. His hair is combed back neatly and his stride is purposeful but not fast. In his right hand he holds a dark object. Think an old-fashioned Miami Beach tourist. Though it's cold, the man wipes his forehead with his forearm, perhaps expecting hot work ahead.
You can puzzle over the motivation of a man that fire officials believe has lit a dozen fires in the neighborhoods just east and south of downtown San Jose. A feeling of persecution as a kid? A love to be in the limelight? A mental illness, a variety of schizophrenia?
What you can't question is the man's brazenness. If the video shot from neighbor Eric Kupferer's security camera really captures the arsonist, he seems to be a man who scouts his locations carefully. He's a tourist of disaster.
The authorities have put out a sketch of the arsonist man and a description: A thin guy, at least 6 feet, 160 to 180 pounds, age 25 to 40, white or Latino. Anyone who spots him is asked to call 911. But that doesn't tell you how he works.
On the ground
To get a sense of how he operates -- and how potential victims see him -- I spent a couple of hours Sunday walking the blocks near 20th and San Antonio streets. I went with volunteers who had responded to Councilman Sam Liccardo's call to distribute fliers about the arsonist.
At several households, people acknowledged they had heard of the arsons. Then they would add, "You mean in this neighborhood?'' as if doubting that it could ever affect them.
At Greater St. John Baptist Church on San Antonio Street, the pastor, Rev. Greg Nolan, took me to the modular structure in the rear, where the arsonist struck twice.
One attack came last week and left the classrooms, used for adult and teen classes, unusable. Then, early Sunday morning, after TV crews had come to the church on Saturday, the arsonist lit a second blaze on the back side.
"I think this guy is paying attention to the coverage,'' Nolan told me. And I think the pastor is right.
A confounding crime
More than any other crime, arson confounds us. The combustibility of a fire means it can claim undefined victims. It's unlike murder, where the victim is usually targeted. Did the arsonist know that two elderly people lived in the Victorian at 17th and St. John and had to be rescued? Did he care?
That threat, oddly, unites us. Outside fire station No. 8, mayoral hopeful Liccardo and the firefighters' union chief Robert Sapien, two men who fought on opposite sides of the city's great union-management battle not long ago, both handed out leaflets on the arson. The firefighters' union has put up a reward of $10,000.
You could only praise the efforts on both sides. Until he's caught, finding the Stroller, the Tourist, Mr. Baggy Pants -- whatever you call him -- looms bigger than anyone's pension or balanced budget.