Alleged 'Backdraft' arsonist dies

March 26, 2013 at 1:44 PM
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CHICAGO, March 26 (UPI) -- An infamous alleged serial arsonist in Chicago on which the 1991 movie "Backdraft" was based has died, Chicago fire officials said. He was 67.

Albert Zenner, known widely to fire investigators as "Fat Albert," was suspected in hundreds of fires in the 1970s and was arrested multiple times for starting fires. Many of the charges he did face were reduced from felony arson to lesser charges like criminal damage to property, the Chicago Sun-Times said Monday.

Zenner died last week of natural causes. The funeral was Friday.

Written as the villain out to burn down Chicago, Donald Sutherland played the character based on Zenner in the blockbuster film, along with Alec and William Baldwin and Robert DeNiro as firefighters battling the fires Sutherland's character, Ronald Bartel, set.

In real life, Chicago firefighters said Zenner would frequently set multiple fires in succession, causing chaos for firefighters, then stand nearby, watching, obsessed with the flames.

"He'd set a Dumpster on fire, then he'd set a fire at a warehouse next to the [empty] fire house to create chaos. He'd have 250 firefighters out on the job," said Bill Cosgrove, a retired fire investigator.

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