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Family loses everything because of recent bar arson

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – A St. Louis building owner is pleading for help after the release of stunning surveillance video of someone setting her building on fire. Her family is looking to boost the reward in the case.

The Vignali family has owned the building for more than 50 years.

Karin Vignali and her 95-year old mother, Jessie, lived upstairs and leased the ground level space to the operators of the Ole North Town Bar and Grill. The fire destroyed the business and also the upstairs apartments. Karin and her mother lived in one of the two units.

They were having wanted posters made Friday to help police catch the suspect.

The video shows him dousing the bar and grill with what appears to be gas around 3:00 in the morning on Tuesday, May 3. The surveillance camera catches a clear shot of his face before he walks out from behind the bar and sets the place on fire.

“It’s a pretty good picture,” said St. Louis Police Captain Mary Warnecke. “If you take the time to take a look at it and run it over, we think somebody will recognize this individual. It puts it into perspective how these crimes play out. It destroyed this business.”

In 1964, Jessie’s husband, Jack, bought the building at North Market and Blair. He started a bar he called the Ship Ahoy.

“We had a beautiful apartment up there. We lost everything we owned. We lost everything,” Karin said. “It’s just so sad. Our hearts are so broken that this arsonist came in.”

The Vignalis were not insured. There’s a GoFundMe account ( https://www.gofundme.com/karinphoenix ) to help them recover.

Police describe that arsonist as an African-American man with a large build. His goatee and sagging pants—even his walk—should be recognizable to someone. Though he does grab the cash register, investigators doubt this is a case of burglar starting a fire to cover his tracks. The true motive remains unknown.

“You have to remember. We had some folks living upstairs in the apartment. This could have really turned more tragic,” Capt. Warnecke said.

“They grabbed the cash register as another opportunity or just to make it look like a burglary. It’s obvious they wanted to torch the place and they were retaliating against something,” said Karin Vignali. “Take a look at this guy, if anybody can identify him, let’s catch him and find out why he would do something like this.”

If you recognized the suspect, you’re asked to call CrimeStoppers at 866-371-TIPS. You don't have to leave your name to get the reward.