The Park Cities, that citadel of Dallas’s grandest wealth, has produced its share of oddball crime: long ago, a rich woman got mad at her gardener and locked him in the attic, and more recently, a rich woman, angry at the teenagers driving by her house, fired her pistol at them, wounding one. But this summer, the Park Cities set a new standard for oddball crimes. Someone tried to burn up the town’s Cadillacs.
"I don’t know why someone would do something like this," says University Park Fire Marshall Bill Davis. "Could it be the work of a kid whose daddy made him go out and polish the family Cadillac every Saturday? Your guess is as good as mine.1’
There are no witnesses, few clues, and little evidence. ("My whole car burned up like a piece of toast," says one owner.) And investigators have little to go on beyond a few speculative theories regarding wealth and society, and one absolutely extraordinary rumor that the Cadillac fires were the act of a Satanic teenage cult haunting the Park Cities.
First, the facts. Early on the morning of June 22, James Muncey of Highland Park was sound asleep when a neighbor began banging on his door at about 2 a.m., shouting that his Cadillac was on fire. Muncey, a local architect, went out to his garage to find his 1982 Cadillac Cimarron engulfed in flames.
Just thirteen minutes later, Mr. and Mrs. Terrins Casey of University Park hopped out of their bed to watch their Cadillac burn. Less than an hour later, the 1983 El Dorado belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Richard Bartholow was discovered on fire.
The Park Cities were filled with the sound of sirens as firemen raced from one Cadillac burning to another. Was there someone out there with a vengeance against Cadillacs? Did he or she think the proper Park Cities car was a BMW or a Suburban? The police were confused, and they were also getting frustrated. The next night, another University Park Cadillac went up in smoke. Three other cars were damaged, in that fire.
"It was kind of an odd rash of events," C.A. Rohre, Highland Park’s former director of public safety, says in one of me greatest understatements in Park Cities history.
But not as odd as the devil-worship rumor that quickly developed. The story making the rounds is that the fires were the act of a group of teenagers who burn candles at night under a bridge in a local park, chant eerie incantations, and try to look ominous instead of preppy. Earlier this summer, one of the boys, a mainstay in the alleged cult, was hit by a Cadillac in a traffic accident. The Satan lovers, the gossip goes, decided to retaliate by burning some Cadillacs in the neighborhood.
Investigators think the burnings more likely are pranks pulled by very misguided and destructive youngsters. But why would someone develop a hatred for Cadillacs?
"Maybe they couldn’t afford one themselves," says one owner whose car was burned, "and they just decided they didn’t want anyone else driving them either. Now isn’t that a nice way to make things equal?"