Arson suspect's mother allegedly fled out German hospital window
The mother of suspected serial arsonist Harry Burkhart became wanted by German authorities after she escaped through a hospital window following her arrest on fraud charges, according to her attorney in Frankfurt, Germany.
Michael Koch, who was appointed as Dorothee Burkhart’s public defender by a German court, said the woman disappeared four months after her arrest when she was taken to a Frankfurt hospital for cardiac problems.
Two prison guards accompanied her but removed her handcuffs to allow her to use the restroom, and when she did not emerge after several minutes, they realized she had escaped through a window into the hospital’s backyard, Koch said.
“She didn’t look like she would be able to climb through a small window,” Koch recalled in a phone interview.
Dorothee Burkhart was arrested by federal authorities in Los Angeles last week based on a provisional arrest warrant from Germany. Her son went into an anti-American tirade at her extradition proceeding Dec. 29 and allegedly began setting the string of arson fires that night.
An official recognized surveillance images of the suspected arsonist as Harry Burkhart from the hearing, leading to his arrest early Monday.
Koch, the attorney, said he was informed by the German court of the elder Burkhart’s arrest in Los Angeles and was preparing for her potential extradition, which would restart her case in Frankfurt. There, she faces 19 charges of fraud and embezzlement relating to payment for a breast augmentation procedure and failing to pay or return deposits on rental agreements, totaling around $45,000.
Koch said he briefly met with Harry Burkhart to discuss his mother’s case before her escape. At the time, the son was incoherent and acted strangely, and did not appear to realize what was going on, he said.
“He was looking to my face but his eyes were running from left to right,” Koch recalled. “His questions were not really connected with what I said before. His question was, ‘When will my mother come out?’”
He said the son appeared to be mentally ill. His client and her son appeared to be highly dependent on one another emotionally, Koch said.
“They were somehow like one, that one could not exist without the other,” he said. “All they had was the other one.”
If convicted of the charges in Germany, Dorothee Burkhart faces about two to three years in prison, Koch said.
-- Victoria Kim
Photo: A courtroom sketch of Dorothee Burkhart. Credit: Bill Robles / Associated Press