Woman accuses ex of arson, takes to Facebook to prove it

GRAHAM, Wash. -- A South Sound woman turned detective after she became convinced her ex husband torched a friend's car.

Vera Merrill of Graham turned to social media and a fake Facebook account to help nab the suspected arsonist. Graham set out to snare her ex with some sweet talk and a profile picture of kittens.

"He put my family in danger. I had to catch him," Merrill said.

Scorned, terrified and determined to protect her family, Merrill reached her limit in the middle of the night on June 12.

"We woke up because we heard explosions," she said. "It was the tires exploding."

Her friend's Chevy Tahoe, which was parked in Merrill's driveway, was a ball of fire.

"Burned to a crisp," Merrill said.

The vehicle was totalled, and Merrill had an idea who was responsible for the arson.

"I knew it right away, there was not a doubt in my mind," she said.

She suspected that her ex husband, Brad Helvy, was behind the explosion, and she set out to prove it by setting up a fake Facebook account.

"I made sure I hit on everything I knew he would have in common with this person," she said.

Since Helvy is an animal lover, Merrill used kittens in her profile picture. Police say he soon took the bait.

"He was all happy to talk," Merrill said.

While bonding on Facebook over ex spouses, Helvy unknowingly bragged to his ex-wife that "I made thermite and put it in my ex's car," according to court documents. Thermite, which is a chemical mix, can burn at very high temperatures.

"I didn't expect him to (confess), and when he did I can't lie, I flipped out," Merrill said. "I was like, oh my God, he just admitted it."

It was all a sheriff's detective needed to investigate and eventually arrest Helvy.

"This is a good job in staying safe, becoming a good witness and bringing us info that will help get him charged," said Ed Troyer with the Pierce County Sheriff's Office.

Merrill was in court on Tuesday with her son to seek more protection orders from Helvy, who remains locked up on a second degree arson charge.

"It needed to be more than a slap on the hand, so I feel like justice is finally being served," Merrill said.

Merrill believes Helvy was angry over paying $10 for a ticket to son's graduation.

He pleaded not guilty and is currently being held on $150,000 bail. When questioned by police, he insisted he only confessed to the fire to play, or toy with his ex wife. He said he knew she was behind the Facebook page all along, but police don't buy it.