Little Falls man charged with setting house on fire
On Feb. 11, at 6:17 p.m., officers were dispatched to 1050 County Highway S for a residence on fire that was reported by a neighbor. The residence and property was owned by Brian T. Zillmer, 42, of Black River Falls.
Officers arrived on scene first at approximately 6:30 p.m. where they did not observe any vehicles or vehicle tracks in the driveway. They did however observe a fire in the kitchen and smoke throughout the rest of the house.
As the emergency personnel walked around the house, they yelled for any occupants but got no response. At that time, the house was filled with too much smoke to see inside anymore and shortly afterwards it was completely engulfed in flames.
The Sparta Area Fire District was paged at approximately 6:18 p.m., arrived on scene at 6:33 p.m. and did not clear the scene until 12:30 a.m.
Officers spoke with residents of a nearby home who stated they knew Zillmer and had reportedly seen him at the house shortly before the house had started on fire.
Officers knew Zillmer was on bond out of Monroe County for charges of burglary while armed, theft, possession of methamphetamine and delivery of illegal article to an inmate. Officers also knew there were numerous individuals that had a no contact with Zillmer.
Monroe County Bond Monitoring was contacted and informed officers that Zillmer had a GPS tracking bracelet and at 6:13 p.m., the GPS bracelet was located at the residence.
At 6:15 p.m., the bracelet reportedly sent an alert of possible tampering, leading authorities to believe Zillmer had either removed the bracelet or it had burned in the fire.
Zillmer’s parents arrived at the residence and told officers they did not know where he was and hadn’t seen him since earlier that morning. They stated Zillmer had been staying at their residence the past few nights because his water pipes had frozen and he couldn’t stay at his own residence.
They showed officers a note Zillmer had allegedly left in the mailbox that read, “Mom, Dad I’m sorry but I can’t live this way anymore.” Zillmer’s mother believed he was in the residence as it burned and stated his car was gone because Zillmer had told her that morning he had sold it.
Sparta Area Fire District Chief Mike Arnold informed officers that firefighters had searched the residence several times and did not locate Zillmer.
Authorities conducted an emergency ping on Zillmer’s cell phone. At 7:55 p.m., Zillmer’s phone reportedly pinged off of a tower located on County Hwy T near Melrose, which was not near Zillmer’s residence.
On Feb. 12, Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation agents arrived at the residence to begin a search of the scene. Sparta Area Fire District pumped three to four feet of water out of the basement to search the area for any evidence.
According to the complaint, the house was standing with the roof intact but the entire inside of the house had been severely burned. Investigators did not locate Zillmer in the house.
DCI agents allegedly located a gas container in the living room, which was melted and still contained liquid. Investigators could smell a strong odor of an accelerant emitting from the carpet and the liquid in the gas container.
Based on the investigation and the evidence recovered, DCI agents determined that the fire at Zillmer’s house was intentionally set.
Authorities informed Zillmer’s spouse, who resides in Battle Creek, MI that there had been a fire at Zillmer’s residence, his GPS bracelet had been cut off and authorities were not able to track him.
She told officers she had allegedly received a disturbing text message from Zillmer the night of the fire around 7:17 p.m., Wisconsin time. She reportedly tried to text him back and received no response.
Later in the evening on Feb. 12, the La Crosse Sheriff’s Office responded to a residence in Mindoro after receiving information that Zillmer’s vehicle was at the residence. Zillmer allegedly took off out the back door of the residence and officers were unable to apprehend him.
On Feb. 16, Monroe County investigators received a hit confirmation from Battle Creek Police Department after receiving a phone call for a welfare check at a residence in Battle Creek, MI. Officers responded to the address and located a male who identified himself as Zillmer.
The officers discovered Zillmer had a warrant for his arrest out of Wisconsin, had been making suicidal/homicidal statements and had recently been accused of burning his house down before fleeing the state.
Zillmer was taken into custody without incident.
During an interview, Zillmer allegedly told Battle Creek officers he did not start the fire at his house. He stated he was attempting to start a fire in his wood stove when he threw gasoline onto the wood and it exploded.
He reported to the officers there must have been a hole in the cup he used because a trail of fire started towards the gas cans through the living room and into the kitchen where the cans exploded and “everything went black” and he took off because he did not know what to do.
Zillmer also allegedly told officers that he sold his car because he had no money and hitchhiked his way to Michigan because he wanted to talk with his wife before he turned himself in to authorities.
Zillmer was charged in Monroe County Circuit Court with unsafe burning of own building, stalking as domestic abuse and three counts of felony bail jumping. A $20,000 cash bond was set.
As part of his bond conditions in Monroe County case number 18CF803, Zillmer read and initialed that he understood each of his bond conditions.
Within the rules of his bond monitoring program, he agreed not to tamper with, remove, damage or lose any equipment or he would be held financially liable for any lost or damaged equipment.
On Feb. 11, Zillmer reportedly violated the court ordered conditions by allegedly cutting his GPS bracelet off. Following the fire at his residence, the bracelet was found destroyed.
Monroe County Bond Monitoring is now requesting restitution in the amount of $1,800 for the destroyed equipment. Zillmer was additionally charged with felony bail jumping and criminal damage to property and a $10,000 signature bond was set.
Zillmer will make an initial appearance in Monroe County Circuit Court on April 1 at 9 a.m. in front of Judge Richard Radcliffe.