Is This Austin’s Serial Arsonist?

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Seems out of character for a 75-year-old Austin car dealership owner to be accused of setting an intentional fire, but we’re learning from fire investigators that Bryan Hardeman is now suspected of being a SERIAL ARSONIST who used a gas can to pay back people who wouldn’t do what he said.

Come on. No one on Santa’s naughty list really got a Mercedes last Christmas.

But while you were opening your gifts, guess what the guy who founded Mercedes Benz of Austin was supposedly doing. He was torching the business next door to the dealership.

“It sure looks like you got your man. I mean it was on video, you can’t deny that,” said Dolcefino Reporter Brian Collister.

“It certainly appears so,” said Arson Investigator Jeffrey Deane.

The damage at 500 Pampa on Austin’s northside was contained inside the place.

Investigators knew it was arson, but who was the firebug? On March 8th, they got ahold of the surveillance video.

And they saw a white Mercedes parked outside.

“You see his vehicle parked, you see him get out of the vehicle and go inside because he actually started the fire inside the building. So, we do not have video from inside of that building. The video we have for Pampa Drive is from the exterior,” Deane said.

We didn’t know about this fire when we first brought you the story of Austin’s alleged arsonist, Bryan Hardeman, the 75-year-old auto dealer and real estate developer who is now being called a serial arsonist.

Because he’s been busted again, now out of jail on more than $160,000 in bonds, accused now of setting at least four fires in the Austin area.

Fire Captain Jeff Deane has seen his share of fire bugs.

“A lot of our serial arsonists, or people who light multiple fires, they seem to be sort of a random pattern,” Deane said.

But not in the case of Bryan Hardeman. Investigators say he had a plan.

“In this case, you know, these did not appear to be random. There’s a lot of commonalities in these fires and the events that led up to them,” Deane said.

This was Hardeman’s mugshot after his first arrest in February, charged then with burglary and arson for the fire at this old bike shop downtown.

“Earlier in the year, he had attempted to purchase that property. The sale did not go through for whatever reason. Potentially there could have been some sort of motivation there,” Deane said.

They had security camera footage the fire department won’t let us show you. But when they saw the video from Pampa Drive, well they knew who it was.

“Those were those were common circumstances in both of those properties, the 400 Nueces and the Pampa Drive. He had previously attempted to purchase those properties and was unsuccessful,” Deane said.

Hardeman was also supposedly unsuccessful at getting the last two remaining tenants to leave this trailer park that he owned at 4811 South Congress.

So, what he did he do? The fire folks say he tried to torch the place too. Not once, but twice.

“This had been this kind of an ongoing long-term dispute, between the few residents who remained on that property and refused to leave,” Deane said.

On February 20th, Hardeman had actually been caught in the act by someone who lived there, we now learned.

“One of the victims walked around the trailer park, the trailer home and saw Mr. Hardeman standing there with the gas can in his hand,” Deane said. “He had his cell phone, and he was video recording Hardeman standing there with the gas can.”

The property is owned by an entity called 4811 SoCo LP, and managed by a guy named Justin Bayne who ignored our calls for comment. But what did he know about all this?

“So, he was trying to burn them out?” Collister asked.

“Essentially. That’s definitely a possibility as far as his motive was to, to do that,” Deane said.

And the criminal charges? They could continue to mount.

Folks in Austin remember the fire that shut down Congress Avenue just a block away from the trailer park.

It went up in smoke about three hours earlier than that fire, and about an hour and a half after the bike shop fire.

There was a million dollars in damage in that place. Hardeman has not been charged, but don’t be surprised if it’s declared arson too.

“That is an ongoing investigation,” Deane said.

“Is Hardeman a prime suspect in this case.?” Collister asked.

“We haven’t ruled him out at this point,” Deane said.

“I don’t give a shit,” Hardeman said on camera at an auction two years ago.

That was Bryan Hardeman talking tough back in May 2022, video captured during that ongoing fight over some of the Capitol city’s biggest real estate developments.

“We’ve tendered the amount due,” said developer Nate Paul, “You have to accept payment by law.  

Companies linked to Hardeman stand accused in multiple lawsuits of illegally seizing up to eight properties owned by another Austin real estate developer, Nate Paul.

“I’ve never personally encountered any situation like that,” Paul said.

But Hardeman is faring a lot better in Austin’s civil courthouse than he seems to be with the fire department arson division. In fact, he seemed to suggest back then that he had buddies in the courthouse.

“Go around and go find you a court in this building to come and stop this. Why don’t you try that?” Hardeman said.

Democratic judges in both Houston and Austin have simply refused to make rulings that will help Paul expose his allegations of major real estate fraud. This was a rare interview with Nate Paul in Austin.

“If you’re operating in a society where the rule of law is not being followed, that’s a scary place to be,” Paul said.

How much are these court rulings political? Paul, you remember, was at the center of that failed impeachment of Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton.

“Can I ask you some questions about your client Bryan Hardeman?” Collister asked.

“No, thank you. I’m not commenting on Bryan Hardeman’s case. Thank you,” Attorney Samuel Bassett said.

“Has he told you why he set those fires?” Collister asked.

Only his attorney showed up for a court date this week, but Mr. Hardeman is getting a pretty good deal, if you ask us, for a guy accused of already setting at least four fires over two months.

He is no longer required to have a mental health evaluation or to have GPS monitoring, even pretrial supervision.

But he still could face a long prison term if convicted, and arson investigators aren’t done yet.

“These are still ongoing investigations and there still is potential for additional charges,” Deane said.

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