Wendell was not your ordinary escapee from the funny farm. He was never known to be evaluated for a mental or other character disorder. He was married to a local school teacher for some substantial period of time, but they had no children. He worked full time pumping gas, fixing flats, and washing windshields in a major oil company service station, a service station attendant. For this reason alone he would probably not have been eligible for rehabilitation services. As the Good Samaritan in Hays, Kansas, his story is worthy.
Hays was a primary refueling and overnight stop between Kansas City and the mountain resorts in Colorado. As a proud little city on the high plains its residents made every effort to maintain the city as an attractive tourist stop. Wendell believed that the attractiveness of the city was equally important to all the folks who lived in Hays every day. As a proud resident, and to enhance his value to the community, he also served on the city’s volunteer fire department when needed.
Two notable community eyesores emerged as Hays grew. One was a private residence which was grandfathered into a new residential development. The house itself was elevated six to eight feet above all the other new homes built in the area with its foundation several feet above the ground. With the new roads graded into the area, this home was also placed at least half a lane’s width into the middle of the new street, requiring that all traffic be diverted around the home’s foundation. The city fathers had received no taxes on the property for years, its owner of record was in prison and he refused to cooperate by signing any legal papers. For several years everybody in Hays was familiar with the house that sat near the middle of the street.
The second eyesore was an old, two-story farm home which was rescued from the farm and transported into another residential area on a well traveled city thoroughfare. When placed upon its new foundation, it stuck out like a sore thumb, and was decried by the local residents. As soon as the city fathers discovered the circumstance it was too late for a timely or efficient remedy. Such was the effectiveness of the city’s fathers. All residential zoning was in its infancy.
To compensate for the inadequacy of the city fathers, some strange events began to occur. Over several weeks the house in the middle of the road caught fire. It was reported quite early, and unfortunately the fire was extinguished before much visible damage happened. A few weeks later another fire was discovered in the old home moved into the city from the country. In this older structure the fire caused substantial damage before it was finally extinguished.
Somewhat suspicious circumstances were discovered at both residences, neither of which was occupied at the time. Both fires started in locations unlikely to be caused through naturally occurring hazards. During the reporting of both fires by local residents, Wendell was already at the volunteer fire station awaiting the alarm. Such anticipation aroused suspicion among the other volunteers, and Wendell became a prime suspect for setting the fires.
On confronting him with their evidence, his justification was the clear evidence that both houses were community eyesores, and their removal by fire should be considered a community service. This argument did not arouse much sympathy with the community fathers.
What remained was understanding how Wendell could set the fires and appear at the fire station almost simultaneously. His system was quite simple. With a small amount of flammable liquid, a cigarette, and a package of gopher matches, Wendell would pour the liquid on a flammable floor or wall, light the cigarette, and place it inside the folded match cover with the burning end outside of the cover. He placed this assembly upright in the middle of the liquid. After this was done, Wendell headed straight for the fire station to await the call. This system was virtually cost free.
When the burning tobacco reached the flammable match heads, the entire package of gopher matches erupted in a fierce blaze which ignited the flammable liquid and the surrounding material. The process required several minutes to complete, plus an unknown period of time for the flames to be spotted by citizens in the neighborhood and phoned into the volunteer fire department. Wendell’s only mistake was arriving at the fire house well before the calls were received.
In his defense he pleaded guilty to performing goodwill acts, a Good Samaritan, engaged in attempts to destroy community eyesores. Never was he known to destroy any property which conformed reasonably well to the community’s zoning standards.
While it may never have been determined what variety of character defect he suffered from, it is fascinating to speculate that being childless in his marriage together with the possible sexual thrill of pyromania, that this fundamental gratification became seriously displaced. Strange how hot licks may be transferred from one object to another.