Family Hopes Reward Will Solve Arson Fire

A year after fire, family still searches for answers

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Nearly a year after a midnight fire destroyed their dream home in Bonita Creek, a family is still searching for answers.

A $10,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) who started the blaze at 405 Big Al’s Run on Feb. 24 of 2011.

The intense fire ripped through the multi-million-dollar, two-story home destroying years of construction and a lifetime of memories.

After a three-month investigation last year, officials determined the blaze was arson and likely started in the homeowners’ bedroom while they were away for the weekend.

Who could have done this and why? These questions still haunt Gerald Graham, 73, who built the custom home and filled it with a million dollars worth of treasures he had collected from around the world, including rare art, musical instruments and big game trophies.

“I am sure somebody knows something,” Graham said Wednesday in a telephone interview from his Valley home, where he now lives.

Gila County Sheriff’s Office detectives and more than a dozen insurance fire investigators, including two K-9s, combed through every piece of cinder and even investigated Graham and his family for clues.

After months, investigators cleared the Grahams of any involvement and pinned arson as the cause.

K-9s detected accelerants in the rubble, but lab testing proved inconclusive, Graham said.

When firefighters arrived on the fiery scene just after midnight in February, they found the front door open and flames shooting from the home’s 28-foot high ceilings, lighting up the sky.

The home was destroyed, along with 21 big game stuffed animals inside that Graham had collected with his sons. The animals include a full-sized giraffe that visitors could stand “eyeball to eyeball” with from the top of a staircase.

There was also a collection of Graham’s award-winning underwater photography and paperwork and photographs detailing Graham’s travels and the development of the area.

Graham first discovered Bonita Creek years ago, while in his 30s, when he worked as a surveyor. He and a business partner bought 100 acres in the area from a developer.

Through the years, Graham sold off the land, except for four plots — three of which he gave his children and one two-acre plot he kept for himself.

Graham said some of the neighbors were not fond of him, but he never understood why.

Despite the less-than-warm welcome from some of the locals, Graham and his wife Velma, decided in 2002 to build on the property. Graham was involved in every aspect of construction of his dream home.

When it burned down, Graham was left with only a change of clothes and Velma, two outfits.

“We had absolutely nothing,” he said.

Their insurance company put them up in a rental home in Carefree during the investigation and after six months, Graham was finally able to buy a new home in the Valley.

Graham said he could not rebuild in Bonita Creek because the memories of the fire were too horrid.

“I just can’t go up there anymore,” he said.

The only thing left of Graham’s dream is a two-car garage with a guesthouse above it that was unscathed by the blaze.

Graham was going to sell the lot, but his son Tom decided to buy it from him.

Tom may eventually build a new home, Graham said. Just a month ago, he had the land cleared of the home’s remains.

Graham and his son decided a reward might persuade anyone with information to come forward.

Anyone with information is asked to call Det. George Ratliff at (928) 468-2825. Any information would be kept confidential.

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