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Probe of Hollywood arson suspect Harry Burkhart widens to Canada

Reporting from Vancouver, Canada, and Los Angeles -- The investigation of Hollywood arson suspect Harry Burkhart widened Thursday to include a probe by Canadian authorities into whether he was involved in a series of suspicious fires in Vancouver.

Burkhart, who has been charged with 37 felony counts related to the New Year’s weekend arson rampage, lived in Vancouver with his mother before moving to the Los Angeles area.

Vancouver Police Department spokesman Lindsey Houghton said officials “have begun to liaise with the LAPD” but stressed that detectives have not connected Burkhart to any specific fires in that city.

Several Canadian news outlets reported that police were looking into any possible connection between Burkhart and at least 12 suspicious property arsons last year in Vancouver that remain unsolved. It’s unclear, however, whether Burkhart was in the city at the times those fires occurred.

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News of the probe comes a day after German prosecutors confirmed Burkhart, 24, was under investigation on suspicion of arson and insurance fraud in an Oct. 14, 2011, fire that caused major damage to a half-timbered duplex in the mountainous region near Marburg in central Germany. U.S. immigration officials have confirmed that Burkhart flew from Frankfurt to Las Vegas six days after the fire.

L.A. arson investigators are trying to piece together the movements of Burkhart and his mother over the last few years. Authorities say Burkhart was “motivated by his rage against Americans” when he allegedly set the fires in Los Angeles. The fires began after Burkhart’s mother was detained by authorities on a German criminal warrant.

Dorothee Burkhart was due in federal court in Los Angeles on Friday, where she was expected to continue fighting an extradition effort by the German government to try her on multiple fraud allegations.

A 53-year-old Chechen native, who is thought to be of distant German ancestry, Dorothee Burkhart was arrested last week by federal agents acting on behalf of the German court from which she fled more than four years ago.

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The arson suspect’s mother escaped pretrial detention in September 2007 by slipping out a bathroom window of a Frankfurt hospital where she had been brought from jail after complaining of a heart ailment, according to the Canadian court file and her German public defender, Michael Koch.

On Dec. 29, Harry Burkhart erupted in anger at his mother’s first hearing on the extradition warrant. He hurled expletives at the court, U.S. authorities and American citizens, leading to his removal from the downtown federal courtroom by U.S. marshals.

When a grainy security video from the garage at the Hollywood & Highland Center was shown on local television on Sunday, Deputy U.S. Marshal Luis Flores recognized the unruly man who was ousted from the courtroom, he said in an interview Thursday.

“I called the LAPD hotline and my chain of command,” Flores said.

“When you watch the video surveillance that was released, it was unmistakable,” said Jonathan Lamb, a State Department special agent who with Flores helped find Burkhart’s mother last week.

The State Department dispatched Lamb, armed with intelligence on the Burkharts’ address, descriptions and vehicle, to work with the arson task force Sunday night to help locate Harry Burkhart.

Within five hours, a reserve Sheriff’s Department deputy detained him on the Sunset Strip based on a description of the Dodge Caravan provided by the two federal officials.

“We are just glad to help,” Flores said.

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kim.murphy@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

carol.williams@latimes.com

Los Angeles Times staff writers Victoria Kim and Joel Rubin also contributed to this report.


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