The son of the owners of Mary Pang’s Food Products talked last year about arranging to have the company’s warehouse burned down, a former associate of his has told The Seattle Times and criminal investigators.
That information is among several factors that have made Martin Pang the prime suspect in the Jan. 5 arson fire that killed four Seattle firefighters.
Additionally, police records show, Pang was accused of threatening to burn down his ex-wife’s home in 1991, and of setting fire to landscaping around a businessman’s home in 1988.
Pang was not charged in either case.
Federal agents and Seattle police are investigating the warehouse arson fire as murder, and have focused on Pang, a 39-year-old California resident. But because Pang apparently was in Southern California at the time, police also are trying to gather evidence on who actually set the fire.
Pang’s attorney, John Henry Browne, says his client denies involvement in the arson. Although police will not comment on Pang’s whereabouts, Browne says he is in daily contact with him.
In mid-January, a Seattle Times reporter contacted an associate of Pang’s with questions about Pang. The associate had not heard about the fire at the Seattle warehouse.
On learning of the firefighters’ deaths, the source said, “Oh my God” and was clearly shaken.
The associate, who feared retribution by Pang and spoke to The Times only on condition of not being identified in the newspaper, said Pang had talked about burning his parents’ business for his own financial gain before the fatal fire.
The associate said Pang had complained that Mary Pang’s Food Products Inc., which sold frozen Chinese foods to supermarkets, was struggling financially and that he had other plans for the property. Pang intended to hire someone to set the fire rather than start it himself, the source said.
Pang had long depended on money from the company owned by his parents, Harry and Mary Pang of Mercer Island, an upscale Seattle suburb. During the 1980s, he had collected as much as $55,000 a year in salary from Mary Pang’s Food Products, plus as much as $57,000 in annual expenses.
In recent years, Martin Pang had filed for bankruptcy and was struggling to establish a career as an actor and screenwriter.
Although the warehouse and property were owned by his parents, Pang believed they would give him some of the money they would get from insurance payments or a sale of the property, or would give him outright control of the property, the associate said.
“You might want to have the police call me,” the associate added. “I know probably a lot of what led up to this arson.”
With the source’s agreement, The Times provided the information to Seattle Police. On receiving it, Assistant Chief Jim Deschane said, “This could be very helpful.”
Within hours, federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms investigators interviewed the source.
Although police will not say officially that Pang is a suspect, Deschane said Pang is a “person of interest,” and that the investigation is continuing.
“When we’ve accumulated the necessary evidence to prosecute successfully, we will make an arrest, whoever the suspect may be,” Deschane said Tuesday night.
Several of Pang’s friends and associates, including his four ex-wives, say investigators have questioned them about Pang. One of the people interviewed said police indicated during the questioning that they were still trying to figure out who actually lit the fire.
Another indicated that police may not even know where Pang is.
Some of those friends and associates say that in the months before the fire, Pang discussed plans for putting up another building on the site of the warehouse.
The warehouse arson, which was discovered about 7 p.m. Jan. 5, destroyed the 86-year-old Seattle building. Four Seattle Fire Department firefighters were killed after a floor collapsed, dropping them into a fiery area of the building.
Killed in the fire were Walter D. Kilgore, 45; Gregory A. Shoemaker, 43; James T. Brown, 25, and Randall R. Terlicker, 35. The fire was the worst tragedy in the history of the Seattle Fire Department.
Browne, Pang’s attorney, said Tuesday that his client denies “any involvement whatsoever” in the arson.