By Joe Eskenazi
First there were the Zebra Murders
. Then Zodiac
. And now -- the serial porta-john arsonist
. As the 13th smoldering outhouse since November was doused early this morning, the realization was unavoidable: The city is, once again, host to a disturbed individual terrorizing our denizens with bursts of random crime ... except now he (or she) is not killing people but immolating outhouses on Russian Hill. Certainly our city government will tell us that this is progress.
Is this toilet-torching spree some kind of Freudian backlash
? A bizarre, violent strain of city beautification? Or does someone simply enjoy watching portable restrooms burst into flames? So far, your guess is as good as the cops'.
"There is no consistent pattern of accelerant used, and, as of yet, there is no suspect information coming in. Nobody has been seen. So it's quite frustrating," admitted Sgt. Lyn Tomioka, a police spokesperson.
Now, you probably can't read the words "serial outhouse arsonist" without smiling -- but, according to the companies that have been victimized, this shit ain't funny. Each of those charred johns cost its renters roughly $750 in replacement fees. Tomioka claims the most recently burned toilet ran $2,500 -- though she is unsure why the police estimate for the johns' value is four times higher than the value given by the companies that actually lost them.
Tinisha Redmond of National Construction Rentals confirms that her company has lost "quite a few" johns in the current spree; replacing them costs the renters $750. Even with a bevy of $750 replacement fees coming her way of late, she claims that the arson is bad for business. By the time National has taken the gas, time and labor to replace a burned john, it's lost money on the deal.
For Bay Area toilet vendors, this is uncharted territory. "Normally around the Fourth of July we have lots of kids put fireworks in them and that kind of shenanigans," but nothing like this says Redmond.
In the meantime, local outhouse suppliers can only s
hit and wait for the inevitable.