The Plaza Hotel’s live-in caretaker is the prime suspect in the 2019 arson fire according to the Victoria Police Department.
Police named Michael Draeger, who has been missing since the fire, a suspect during a virtual press conference on April 30.
“We believe that everything points to Mr. Draeger as the suspect,” said VicPD Detective Const. Andre Almeida, the department’s primary arson investigator. “We do not believe, at any time, that the public was at risk, and that there was somebody else out there.”
Draeger has been missing since the fire and police believe he likely died in the blaze.
“None of our leads in the missing file have come up with any other place that he could be,” Almeida said. “So what we’re saying, until then, is he did perish in the fire.”
VicPD released a statement earlier that day saying the Major Crimes Unit had “exhausted” all investigative avenues in the Plaza Hotel fire, with no new leads to pursue.
According to that statement, the file remains open.
In the early morning of May 6, 2019, smoke, ash and flames filled the sky as the five-storey hotel at 603 Pandora Ave. was engulfed in fire. More than 30 firefighters began battling the blaze shortly after 4:30 a.m. and by 11:30 a.m. the fire was under control. Crews remained on scene throughout the day and overnight to monitor the site and douse hotspots.
The building was demolished later on by the Victoria Fire Department (VFD) to prevent it from collapsing.
On May 13, VicPD’s Major Crime Unit took control of the scene, after VFD told police the fire was suspicious. A search warrant execution took about 10 days to complete and required excavators working in a grid pattern to search for evidence. Detectives determined the fire was arson.
|Police say the images released were taken prior to the fire and accurately depict what Mike Draeger looks like. (Victoria Police)|
The hotel was unoccupied except for one person – the live-in caretaker, Draeger. Despite an “exhaustive” search, Draeger has never been found.
“We went through a systematic search of that building looking for remains,” Almeida said. “We searched through everything. You can imagine the extent of it.”
Almeida said police partnered with experts on human remains recovery and learned that, between the heat and length of time the fire burned, it was possible remains would not be recovered.
Police believe whoever started the blaze would likely have had “intimate knowledge of the building.”
Draeger’s missing person file will remain an open and active investigation, says VicPD. Investigators spoke to family and went through bank activity, emails and social media.
“Unfortunately we came up with nothing,” Almeida said. “We’ve gone through all those avenues and basically nothing has come up that’s pointed us anywhere else.”
Anyone with information about the fire, or the disappearance or whereabouts of Draeger, is asked to call VicPD’s non-emergency line at 250-995-7654 or to remain anonymous call Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.