Suspect charged for allegedly starting multiple fires in Royal Oak

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published June 7, 2019




ROYAL OAK — On June 7, 44th District Court Magistrate Donald Chisolm arraigned 33-year-old Thomas Elliott Manes, formerly of Royal Oak, on 14 felonious charges related to suspicious fires in the northeastern section of the city dating back to 2015.

Manes lived in the area during the time of the majority of the fires, and he confessed to investigators that he started “quite a few of them,” said Lt. Keith Spencer, of the Royal Oak Police Department.

Since November 2015, there have been 13 reported fires, mostly car fires, that investigators believe were set intentionally, and Spencer said that police suspect Manes in all cases. Spencer added that most of the fires occurred during the late night or early morning.

Three suspicious vehicle fires took place in November 2015, followed by two others in December 2015. During that time, a fire severely damaged InStyle Cabinets, 4300 Rochester Road, and investigators linked the fire to an early morning break-in where a gun and electronics were stolen, according to a police press release.

A family who was sleeping in a business attached to InStyle Cabinets escaped the fire without injury, according to the release.

In the summer of 2018, three more suspicious vehicle fires occurred in the same area, and Spencer said police identified Manes as a person of interest, but investigators could not bring charges due to a lack of sufficient evidence.

Spencer said some vehicle fires took place on the street and in driveways and that Manes said in his confession that they were random; however, the most recent fire took place at the former residence of his grandmother.

The most recent incident took place at approximately 4:46 a.m. June 2. Police and fire personnel responded to a 911 call about a small shed and garage on fire behind a home in the 700 block of Whitcomb Avenue, near South Rochester and 14 Mile roads.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze, which police called suspicious in nature. The shed was destroyed and the garage sustained significant damage, but no injuries were reported.

“Without getting into many details of the investigation — as these incidents continued to occur and our officers and detectives continued to investigate, (Manes’) name popped up as somebody that we wanted to look into,” Spencer said.

On June 4, members of the Royal Oak Criminal Investigation Division and Special Investigation Unit tracked Manes to his apartment in Troy and arrested him, according to the press release.

“We are extremely pleased to finally bring this crime spree to an end. The midnight shift officers and investigators put countless hours into finding the person responsible,” Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue said in a prepared statement. “The Police Department utilized cutting edge technology to investigate this case, but in the end, it was solved with good old fashioned police work. I can’t speak highly enough of the efforts of our officers and detectives.”

Manes is charged with two counts of second-degree arson (dwelling), a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison; six counts of third-degree arson (personal property over $20,000), a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison; three counts of fourth-degree arson (personal property $1,000-$20,000), a felony punishable by up to five years in prison; breaking and entering a building with intent, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison; larceny of a firearm, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison; and felony firearm, a felony punishable by up to two years in prison.

Manes’ criminal history includes convictions for uttering and publishing, unlawfully driving away an automobile and disorderly conduct, according to police.

Chisholm set Manes’ bond at $250,000, no 10%, and he is set to appear for a probable cause conference at 10 a.m. June 18 before 44th District Court Judge Derek Meinecke. Manes requested a court-appointed attorney, but one had not yet been appointed as of press time.

Police ask anyone with information regarding the case to contact Lt. Keith Spencer at (248) 246-3456.