Mystery of 16 fires outside apartment complex is solved

Ned Zitting (Greene County jail)
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - Residents of Franciscan Villa apartments in central Springfield have endured 16 months of someone setting their vehicles on fire in the parking lot. Someone also set a trash Dumpster there on fire several times. Now investigators have pinned the fires on a Franciscan Villa resident who told a fire marshal that he can’t help himself and likely would set more fires.

Greene County prosecutors on Friday charged Ned Zitting, 56, with six counts of knowingly burning. Each charge is for a vehicle fire that occurred in the Franciscan Villa parking lot between Oct. 17, 2015, and Jan. 28, 2017. Two of the charges are for a fire in the same vehicle, one week apart.

Zitting has confessed to setting eight vehicles on fire plus setting afire the dumpster outside his apartment window eight times over four months last year, according to the probable cause statement used as the basis of the charges against him. Franciscan Villa is on Scott Street at Main Avenue, a few blocks north of Chestnut Expressway.

Each of the vehicle fires was started with toilet paper and trash that was lit on fire inside the vehicle or next to a tire. A Springfield fire marshal finally connected the fires to Zitting because of surveillance video at the apartment building’s entrances. On Jan. 28, the date of the most recent fire, the video showed Zitting walk out of the building with a box just before the fire and walk back in three minutes later without the box.

The fire marshal then went back and looked at a surveillance video from last Sept. 2, the date of another vehicle fire. That video also showed Zitting walk outside with a cardboard box just before the fire and walk back inside without the box a few minutes later.

The fire marshal interviewed Zitting at the Greene County jail on Thursday.

“Zitting stated he has a mental problem and that he cannot control himself. Zitting described in detail” how he set the vehicles on fire with boxes or bags of toilet paper, Styrofoam, leaves, and trash, according to the probable cause statement. If the vehicles were locked so he couldn’t start the fires inside, he would start the fire next to a front wheel, according to the probable cause statement.

The vehicle fires for which Zitting is charged were on Oct. 17, 2015; Dec. 23, 2015; Dec. 31, 2015; July 7, 2016; July 30, 2016; and Jan. 28, 2017. Zitting told the fire marshal that he would watch the fires, and the firefighters who put them out, from his apartment window.

Prosecutors asked a judge to set a $75,000 bond, high enough to keep Zitting in jail since he, by his own admission, “lacks the control to stop committing these offenses,” and likely would set more fires if he is released. If he’s convicted, he could face a prison sentence up to four years for each of the fires.