A woman charged with setting fire to a stolen minivan in the driveway of a Cape Elizabeth home this month is a former Dartmouth College soccer player who is now homeless and was arrested in June for stealing a dog from a Vermont animal shelter on her way to a national hippie festival.

It’s unclear why Melanie Vangel, 20, formerly of Camden, allegedly drove to the end of Two Lights Terrace on July 16 and set fire to a 2014 Chrysler Town & Country minivan that she stole in Rockport, investigators say. It appears that she wound up in the exclusive seaside neighborhood by accident and had no connection to the owners of the home, which was damaged by the fire.

Vangel is familiar with the Greater Portland area, however. She attended and played soccer for Cape Elizabeth High School for some period of time, and had been camping out in Portland in recent weeks with a group of homeless people.

Vangel told investigators she initially intended to drive the minivan to Vermont, where she was staying a couple of months ago, said Mary-Ann MacMaster, an investigator with the Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office.

“She did get to New Hampshire,” MacMaster said. “Then she came back to Maine to meet her boyfriend.”

What transpired between the theft of the minivan in Rockport and Vangel’s arrest in Cape Elizabeth is still under investigation, MacMaster said.


Vangel is charged with two counts of arson and one count of unauthorized use of property. She was still being held Wednesday in the Cumberland County Jail on $5,000 bail pending completion of the investigation and further action by the District Attorney’s Office, MacMaster said.

Arson is a Class A felony, which carries a maximum 30-year prison sentence and/or a $50,000 fine. The unauthorized use charge is a Class D crime, punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $2,000 fine.

Vangel declined to be interviewed for this article and no attorney appears on court records related to her July 18 initial appearance in Cumberland County Superior Court. Court records indicate that Vangel is estranged from her parents, David and Leslie Vangel of Lincolnville. They couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.


Vangel was arrested near the scene of the fire on July 16. According to neighbors, a woman fitting Vangel’s description had been seen walking away from 15 Two Lights Terrace, where the minivan had been parked near an attached garage and set on fire earlier that afternoon. Neither the homeowner nor neighbors knew Vangel, MacMaster said. The fire destroyed the vehicle and part of a garage.

As smoke filled the neighborhood and Vangel walked down the street, she chatted with several residents, saying to one man, “Hey, bro, that house is on fire,” according to a court affidavit filed by MacMaster. Police later found Vangel – with what looked like soot on her hands and smelling of smoke – riding a mountain bike that they say had been taken from outside another house in the neighborhood.


Vangel was carrying a knapsack that contained the keys to the minivan and the owner’s driver’s license and credit cards, police said.

Vangel initially identified herself using a different name and denied being in the Camden area when the minivan was stolen late July 15 or early July 16. She told investigators that she woke up in Portland and acquired a bicycle from a fellow homeless person. She then rode the bike to Cape Elizabeth looking for Crescent Beach but got lost, the affidavit says. She also said that she went to “the Residence Inn in New Hampshire and used the phone.”

Vangel later admitted her true identity and confessed to taking the minivan in Rockport, according to the affidavit. She said she took the vehicle and drove to Portland, where she had a disagreement with her boyfriend, whose identity and involvement are unclear, MacMaster said. Later, Vangel was driving the minivan to Vermont when she stopped at the hotel in New Hampshire and called her boyfriend, she told investigators.

“(Her boyfriend) told her to burn the vehicle,” the affidavit says. “She stated that she also spoke to a homeless man and he confirmed that she should burn the vehicle. She stated that she drove (the minivan) into a random neighborhood and set it on fire.”


It’s unclear whether Vangel is still a student at Darmouth, an Ivy League college in Hanover, New Hampshire. College officials didn’t respond to an inquiry about her current enrollment status. “It is my understanding that she is no longer a student there,” MacMaster said.


Vangel’s recent social media posts and reports in The Dartmouth student newspaper indicate that she is at least taking some time off from school and is no longer a member of the women’s soccer team there. Her biography on the team’s website names the Loomis Chaffee School, an exclusive prep school in Windsor, Connecticut, as her high school alma mater.

On her Instagram account, Vangel has posted photos in recent weeks of herself and friends in locations around New England. She also posted rambling journal entries that refer to her “emancipation” from the soccer team and the benefits of dating “a hippy friend” with dreadlocks. And she notes that “old friends have been inquiring about my recent liberation of the noble Fred.”

Vangel was arrested June 16 after she stole a dog named Fred from an animal shelter in Pittsford, Vermont, where the Rainbow Family of Living Light was gathering for a celebration in the Green Mountain National Forest, police told the Valley News of West Lebanon, New Hampshire.

The Rainbow Family is a loose, international affiliation of people who share goals of peace, love and illumination. Since the 1970s, they’ve held an annual Rainbow Gathering, a Woodstock-inspired event that attracts as many as 10,000 followers to a different national park or forest each year. In recent years, communities near the gatherings have reported increasing problems with illicit drugs, violence, thefts, property damage and other bad behavior.

Vangel is accused of taking the 1-year-old terrier mix from the Rutland County Humane Society on June 16. A shelter staff member said a group of people entered the humane society around midday and asked to use the bathroom. Instead, the visitors entered the kennel, grabbed the dog and ran to their car before anyone could stop them, the Valley News reported.

Police tracked Vangel to a campsite in the national forest, where she told them that she wanted the dog but couldn’t meet the adoption requirements. The incident drew widespread news coverage, fueled by the fact that Fred was in the process of being adopted when he was taken from the shelter.

Police cited Vangel for petty larceny, a misdemeanor, and returned the dog to the shelter. She was scheduled to appear in Rutland County Superior Court on Monday, a hearing she missed because she was in jail in Portland.

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