Crime & Courts

Man charged with murder, arson in Midtown Anchorage fire

Anchorage police say an arrest has been made in a Midtown arson fire that killed Peijun Li, 57, in January.

Jimmy Dale Cates, 51, has been charged with first- and second-degree murder, arson and tampering with evidence. He turned himself in to police around 2 p.m. on Tuesday.

Fifteen fire units responded and quickly extinguished the fire at a fourplex on the 900 block of West 23rd Avenue, near Arctic Boulevard and Fireweed Lane, shortly after 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 24, police and fire officials said.

After extinguishing the blaze, firefighters found Li's body inside the building, Anchorage Police Department spokesperson Renee Oistad said in a statement. Li had suffered smoke inhalation and "asphyxia by strangulation," Oistad said.

Investigators determined the fire had two origins: one fire was set inside an apartment at the fourplex, and another was started just outside the building.

A day after the fire, police said the fire was being investigated as arson and a homicide. APD said an occupied vehicle was seen in the area around the time of fire and provided surveillance footage of it.

[Midtown Anchorage fire being investigated as an arson and homicide]


Police said the vehicle, a Nissan Rogue, is associated with Cates.

"Also seen on video surveillance was a man in a nearby gas station, just two hours prior to the fire, which looked just like the man seen at the fire," Oistad said.

During an interview with detectives in early March, Cates told police it was him on the gas station footage, but denied being present at the crime scene.

The connection between Cates and his alleged victim, and the motive behind the killing are still being investigated, Oistad said.

Police obtained an arrest warrant listing Cates' alleged crimes on Tuesday. The warrant sets Cates' bail at a total of $550,000.

Jerzy Shedlock

Jerzy Shedlock is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News. He left the ADN in 2017.