Chicago Arson Arrest Shocks

Fans of 'Angels' Co-Author

The first Web message said, "I feel betrayed."

The second blared, "SICK!!!"

The third asked, "Is this really for real?"

The many who still remember the ghastly 1958 fire at Our Lady of the Angels school in Chicago scarcely believed the news last week that the author of a respected book on the blaze had just been arrested -- for arson. Police said David Cowan, 41, co-author of "To Sleep With the Angels: The Story of a Fire," was spotted running away from a fire in a storage shed at St. Benedict's Church.

Unlike the 1958 inferno that killed 92 children and three nuns, no one was hurt in the St. Benedict's fire. Cowan's wife, Ursula Bielski, called it a cry for help and asked for "at least pity" from regulars on the Internet message board established for the Our Lady of the Angels blaze.

Bielski wrote that her husband's actions were the work of a decent but "deeply troubled, isolated soul." She said perhaps Web site visitors who had been helped by Cowan's moving and revealing book would "understand best of all that tragedy is often baffling and bitter, but most of all, as in my husband's case, utterly heartbreaking."

Several contributors said, however, that they felt baffled and undone by Cowan, who also wrote "Great Chicago Fires: Historic Blazes That Shaped A City." A contributor writing under the pen name Traumadiva2002 wrote, "The man needs help. But, I have lost all respect for him."

-- Peter Slevin

Gambling Probe Nets Mob's Aged 'Mr. Fish' and Mature Associates

The Oldfellas apparently had a few moves left.

White-haired and round as a barrel, Anthony Rabito, 71, and nine of his fellow Mafia pensioners were hauled off by the police to an arraignment last week, charged with operating a $10 million illegal sport gambling ring. The Queens, N.Y., district attorney noted that Rabito's ring charged customers well-above-market interest rates of 156 percent and often threatened them with physical mayhem if payments were late.

Seven of the arrested Mafioso were more than 70 years old. "It was like the old folks chain gang," Rabito's attorney, Michael Postiglione, told the Daily News.

Rabito, the reputed "street boss" of the Bonanno crime family, is a Korean War veteran who lives on a quiet street in Brooklyn's working-class East Williamsburg. But Rabito, who goes by the nicknames "Fat Anthony" and "Mr. Fish," has an impressive resume.

As Jerry Capeci, a noted mob specialist, wrote recently: "Rabito has a drug rap, a few dead bodies, and a keen business sense . . . " Rabito, who collects Social Security, faces charges of enterprise corruption, promoting gambling and weapons possession, and could spend as much as 25 years in prison.

-- Michael Powell

Berries Are Not Only Hot Item

In Vicinity of Nuclear Facility

Fifteen years ago, a jar of radioactive mulberry jam made headlines when it was mailed to the governor of Washington state. The hot berries had been picked by an anti-nuclear activist along the west bank of the Columbia River, where it abuts the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the federal government's main Cold War production site for weapons-grade plutonium.

Last week, a watchdog group reported that Hanford mulberry bushes are hotter than ever, with "unacceptably high concentrations" of radiation that exceed previous studies.

"The mulberries themselves are of great concern," said a report by the Government Accountability Project, a group that has long criticized the Energy Department's management of Hanford for lack of vigilance in protecting workers and the public from radioactive and chemical waste.

The report found radiation in river mud, deer droppings and home attic dust in Richland, a city near Hanford. Contamination was also found 20 miles upstream from Hanford. None of the radiation was an immediate risk to human health, the report said, but it shows that radioactive materials are "much more geographically widespread than previously thought."

Officials at Hanford said they would review the report, but noted that its findings are not inconsistent with what on-site scientists have known for years.

-- Blaine Harden

In Switch, Florida Finds Pink Cell

Puts Inmates in a Happy Place

Pink.

Is it nice or is it mean?

Depends which jailer you're talking to.

In Lexington, N.C., the former tough-guy sheriff, Gerald Hege, painted his jail cells pink because he thought it would humiliate the inmates. But in Tampa, some new pink jail cells have a decidedly more gentle purpose.

The people who run the Hillsborough Regional Juvenile Detention Center West believe pink can soothe the savage kid. When juveniles get rowdy, they are sometimes taken to the special pink cell to cool off.

This is no haphazard project, either. The exact soothing tint was specified by criminal justice system researchers and the warden tries to get it just right. The jail even keeps a swatch of the color to take to the paint store.

The pink cell looks promising, detention center officials say. Shirley Jackson, a researcher at the center, said that some detainees are even requesting to hang out there.

-- Manuel Roig-Franzia