Vandalism victims offer cash reward

Tuesday, May 3, 2011 ~ Updated 4:30 PM

BERRYVILLE -- Owners of an old farmstead north of Berryville who had their house burned to the ground and their property vandalized have offered a cash reward in the hopes of resolving the problem so they can move forward.

Cesar and Marie Ruiz say they will give $200 to anyone who comes forward with information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the acts.

On Feb. 28 the old farmhouse they were refurbishing was burned to the ground by arsonists who had reportedly tried before.

The couple said they purchased the property, located off of County Road 411, from Mac Chapin the previous August. They had attempted to purchase fire insurance but were denied.

According to Carroll County Investigator J.J. Reddick, Cesar and Maria had diligently cleaned up the property, were rebuilding the house and were set to move in when the fire took place.

He said they filed several police reports previous to the fire to document the acts of vandalism they experienced and the rag-stuffed bottles filled with accelerants they found.

The couple say they don't know why they have been targeted, except for the fact that they unknowingly purchased land with a checkered past.

Reddick said the property is known as the "old Frank Wheeler" place. Wheeler, he explained, was married to Chapin's daughter and Wheeler was reportedly purchasing the place from his father-in-law.

Wheeler was arrested in 2009 on numerous charges and the meth lab that was found in the house was seized, Reddick said.

Since that time, Wheeler has been in and out of jail nine times, he said, and is currently being held while awaiting a bed in a state prison.

Reddick said there may be an ongoing ownership dispute between Chapin and Wheeler that has come into play and caught Maria and Cesar in the middle.

The couple say they want this resolved, they are going to rebuild, and they want peace of mind.

"I'm a Christian guy," said Cesar. "I know forgiveness. I have no hard feelings. I'm not that kind of person. It's what they have put the kids through -- that's what hurts me more."

"This is a part of my life I want to get past," said a teary-eyed Maria. "We want to move on and someone has to know something. There is more than one person involved."

She said after the house was burned to the ground the vandalism at the property continued.

"They returned and knocked over the well house and busted every window we had stored there. They tore up the pump, threw the pressure tank, cut valves and ripped the breaker box to shreds.

"All along, any work we did -- they destroyed."

The blaze, Reddick said, was reported at 7:45 p.m. Monday night on the last day of February by a neighbor living near the property.

He said the couple was devastated.

"They lost their tools and all that hard work -- and their blood, sweat and tears."

Anyone with information is asked to contact Reddick at (870) 423-2901.

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