Susan Massini might as well have torched Fort Bragg herself that September night in 1987 for all she did about it. In two hours the town's library, Ten Mile Justice Court and the old Piedmont Hotel went up in flames. Lots of people were questioned, even more people talked, but nobody was ever arrested for destroying Fort Bragg's very heart.
Massini was Mendocino County's District Attorney at the time, but she seemed more intent upon firing the seethingly unhappy prosecutors in her office than taking on the star members of Fort Bragg's brazenly criminal business class who did the arsons.
But then Massini always was soft on Dominic Affinito, a Sacramento transplant who had very quickly become a major property owner in the Fort Bragg area, so major he now owns the County structures housing the Mendocino Coast branches of County government.
Before Affinito began collecting big rents on Mendocino County's extensive complex of Fort Bragg offices, he'd "loaned" the needier members of the Fort Bragg City Council attractive sums of money to ensure their support for such Affinito projects as the Glass Beach housing development at the north end of town and his later triumph, a garish one-story-too-tall motel called the North Cliff overlooking the Pacific at the north end of the Noyo Bridge. The present site of the North Cliff was conveniently cleansed by arson fires of the structure previously located there. The North Cliff exists not only in violation of Fort Bragg's unenforced building codes, but managed to rise with an entire extra floor in flagrant violation of the otherwise rigidly enforced state Coastal Act.
Although the Fort Bragg police knew within a month who'd burned the library, the Ten Mile Court and the Piedmont Hotel — young Fort Bragg men addicted to cocaine and a not-so-young proprietor of a late night janitorial service, all of them funded by a pair of Italian-surnamed Fort Bragg businessmen — and even though the FBI and the ATF dispatched small armies of agents to Fort Bragg to assist in the investigation, nobody was ever arrested for burning the town's heart in that grand fall night of spectacularly devastating arsons.
The old Fort Bragg library and the even older Ten Mile Court were burned as a diversion for the fire that finished off the Piedmont Hotel, the Piedmont being the evening's primary target. Diversions? Diversions. And how much more contempt could the arsonists have had for Fort Bragg than to have destroyed its very soul simply to get at a rival restaurant, and it too housed in a structure central to the town's history?
Recently, I went looking for the police files on the Fort Bragg Fires. I asked the ATF where their reports on the arsons were. "Oh, we sent them all to Mendocino County years ago," I was told. "Surely, you can find them there."
I surely couldn't.
District Attorney Susan Massini either took the files with her when she left office or she shredded them to permanent oblivion before she left office. The Fort Bragg Fire files are not where they belong — the Mendocino County Courthouse.
What other incriminating public records departed the County Courthouse with the former District Attorney?
When Dominic Affinito slugged Fort Bragg Councilman-elect Dan Gjerde in the lobby of Fort Bragg City Hall, DA Massini treated the assault as if it were a kind of "boys will be boys" affair. She wasn't even going to pursue it as a misdemeanor battery, and if she hadn't been un-elected, Affinito, who was prosecuted by Massini's successor, Norm Vroman, and subsequently sentenced to felony probation and community service he never served, would obviously have not only gone unsanctioned, he wouldn't even have been inconvenienced by court appearances.
Susan Massini's reign as Mendocino County's lead law enforcement official was class warfare in action. The well-to-do went unprosecuted, hell, unindicted, the usual shlebs got packed off to the state pen.
The arsons-for-profit boys weren't the only people to elude Massini's benignly distracted gaze. The Orsi brothers of Fort Bragg literally got away with killing an old friend of theirs, Dan Murray, 27 when he breathed his last, but try to find a public file on that one. The cops didn't even bother to take a report after the Orsi Brothers went out to Murray's house on Airport Road, challenged him to a fight during which Murray was shot in the upper arm with his own handgun. A few months later Murray, complaining of pain in his shoulder from the bullet wound, went to Coast Community Hospital to see if the wound had properly healed. It hadn't, and Danny Murray died of an embolism that raced from the bullet the doctors had left in his arm straight to his heart and killed him.
And who remembers the Orr Sisters? Accused of child molests in the context of the non-existent phenomena called Satanism, a hysteria that swept through the more primitive segments of the Fort Bragg population as intensely as it did through other areas of the country, reminding us that America is never far from the rattling of chicken bones as an explanation for the prevailing unreal reality, the Orr Sisters lost their property, one sister lost custody of her daughter to CPS and Trinity School, Ukiah, where the child was repeatedly raped by older residents of that hellish institution, and nearly their lives.
The Orr Sisters, you see, were witches who rented the children in their daycare home to Satanists. The little ones were ferried up the Coast — get this — in the Georgia-Pacific helicopter for unwholesome ceremonies, but were always back in time for mommy and daddy to pick them up after work. The proof? The kids said so.
One day I went looking for the police files on Beezlebub's rampage through Fort Bragg. Gary Hudson, presently a candidate for Sheriff, told me I couldn't have them because "a murder may have been committed, and because a murder may have been committed the files are not public record."
Hudson was dispatched at public expense to attend Satanist seminars. Lots of police departments sent representatives to these idiot affairs.
But the only murders committed were those of the Orr Sisters whose lives were ruined by the cretins in County government and the sub-cretins of CPS who not only succumbed to the hysteria, kept it alive.
The Fort Bragg Fires, though, topped anything the Orsi Brothers and the foul incompetents of Mendocino County Social Services could bring off together. The Fires were Fort Bragg's biggest crime ever, and all of official Mendocino County aided and abetted them.
A fellow by the name of Durigan was logistics man for the Fort Bragg Fires of 1987. He's the late husband of Barbara Durigan, present day helping professional ubiquitous in Fort Bragg wherever there's a buck to be made off the halt and the lame. Or the unwary.
Mr. Durigan, prior to the arrival of the Durigans in Fort Bragg, was employed by the San Mateo County Coroner's Office where he was a body hauler. It was Durigan's job to carry off the remains of the freshly dead. He and a couple of his fellow body baggers were caught stealing stuff from the deceased; a gold watch here, a nice hunk of cash there. Durigan eluded a jail term in San Mateo County by giving up the names of his crime partners. He and Mrs. Durigan found their way north to Mendocino County, America's largest open air witness protection program, and the only place in the world where history starts all over again every morning, no questions asked.
Established in Fort Bragg around the time Satan was active in local daycare centers and Dominic Affinito was buying up some 50 Coast properties including the thriving Tradewinds motel and restaurant and bar complex, Mr. Durigan, who often weighed within ounces of 600 pounds, started up a late-night janitorial service he mostly supervised from the seated side of the mop. Durigan, who almost immediately began delivering cocaine for his sponsors, hired young people to do the janitorial work and the other late night chores of the off-the-books type he specialized in. Among Durigan's clients was the phone company building in downtown Fort Bragg and both branches of the Savings Bank of Mendocino, whose manager was heavily addicted to white powder and sex with whomever, whenever.
While Fort Bragg slept, Durigan drove around town in his spiffy red janitorial van delivering cocaine to the fast set and arson instructions to a couple of the people who couldn't keep up with their drug bills. In between these errands, Durigan's janitorial crews mopped up, so to speak.
The early morning of the most famously infamous fires — the big blazes had been preceded by several attempts and faux attempts to burn other restaurants — about 5am on September 20th, 1987, Durigan loaded up his gas cans at Fast Gas on the north side of town and delivered them a few blocks south to young men waiting at the corner of Highway One and Laurel, Fort Bragg's very soul. The town's entire history, its 150-year-old social-political archive, its heart and soul, was contained in the adjoining library and court buildings on the southwest corner of Main and Laurel.
The young men went quickly to work. Gasoline soon seeped into the old library and the even older Ten Mile Court, and both went up in flames.
Down the street to the south, and visible from Laurel and Main, sat the Piedmont Hotel where another young man waited for Durigan. As Fort Bragg's unique volunteer fire department, Fort Bragg being the only town its size in all of America to rely on a non-professional firefighting capacity, fought to save the library and the court house, up went the Piedmont. The firefighters were overwhelmed, and all three buildings were lost.
The library and the court house were torched as diversions; the Piedmont was the evening's target. And what kind of neo-barbarian would destroy the whole history of a town as a secondary target just to destroy a rival restaurant? The crumb bums who did it, that's who. The same low-down crooks who bribed the Fort Bragg City Council, and the same low-down crooks who dominate the economic life of Fort Bragg today, Fort Bragg's idiot-child of a supervisor, Ms. Campbell, enabler and errand girl for these fine fellows, notwithstanding.
A young man named Ken Rick was lead torch. Rick occasionally worked for Durigan's multi-tasked janitorial service. The day before Rick was scheduled to tell a federal grand jury in San Francisco the names of the persons above Durigan who'd hired him to set the fires of September 20th 1987 and the fires preceding them, Ken Rick committed convenient suicide. The cops said he'd placed a shotgun between his knees and pulled the trigger with his toe. Ken Rick owned handguns but chose an acrobatic exit instead. Probable suicide, the cops said.
There's fear and then there's terror. I've never encountered people more afraid to talk than the people we encountered during the investigation and writing of our five-part Fort Bragg Fire saga. One woman begged me not to even mention her in connection with anything related to the Fort Bragg Fires. "They'll kill me," she said, "and I have a family and a whole new life now."
Fine thing, isn't it, in the land of the free and the home of the brave that a citizen can know in her bones that she can be murdered any old time as if the police and the rest of the justice system apparatus don't exist? All the material witnesses to this particular crime, and we talked to about 20 of them, said things like, "They'll kill me. Go away and never bother me again. They'll kill me. Don't tell anybody where I live. They'll kill me. How did you find me? They'll kill me. Who gave you my number? They'll kill me. I wasn't involved. They'll kill me."
The statute of limitations ran on the Fort Bragg Fire case. Susan Massini just couldn't seem to bring a case. Couldn't quite get it up and into court although the names of the arsonists were known and the late Durigan's role limned so vividly the whole mob amounted to a prosecutorial slam dunk. Faced with long jail terms, the whole mob probably would have come up with plenty on Mr. Big, too, despite his advising them that he'd wipe out them and their whole family trees down to the tenth generation if any of them ratted him out.
The FBI, incidentally, and true to incompetent form, hired Mr. Big's girl friend to function as stenographer for the FBI's Fort Bragg interviews with material witnesses. Every day after her stenography work for the G-Men this cocaine-addled floozy ran straight back to fully inform Mr. B as to whom said what.
And the one guy who was going to tell a federal grand jury everything about the fires turns up dead the day before he's supposed to testify in San Francisco.
Nobody can be prosecuted now for killing Fort Bragg's history unless someone pops up to say Ken Rick was murdered, and given the cast of characters it's unlikely anybody will suddenly appear who'll say that.
So, Sue Massini, where are the files? What did the FBI and the ATF find? Where's your investigation, Sue? Where are the reports the Fort Bragg Police wrote up?
The files, Sue. Where are the files?