24 October 2017

Not Named

by Fran Rizer                                                                

"To Kill or Not to Kill" was the intended title of this column. The topic was how to end a series since I'd just launched the eighth Callie Parrish mystery. thinking it might be Callie's final adventure.

Ring Around the Rosie, A SKULL FULL
is the eighth Callie Parrish
mystery, and I planned it to be the last.
Guests each received a new bookmark,
modeled on the right by a reader at the
the book signing.

I took the long way home from the launch and something happened that changed my mind about what to write.  I passed a familiar house.

This house was flipped back in 2010, but it's changed hands frequently since then. How much do the current residents know about the place?  Property values are based on more than location and physical condition. Real estate can be stigmatized by such things as phenomena stigma, public stigma, and murder/suicide stigma. This house would be classified as stigmatized.

Phenomena stigma refers to property "known to be haunted."  One famous case about this is Stambovsky v. Ackley.  Stambovsky sued Ackley because he bought property without knowing it had been featured in magazines as haunted.  He claimed this decreased the value and made the sale fraudulent.  The final decision in that case didn't determine the validity of the haunting, but the court did void the contract and refund Stambovsky's down payment.

749 15th Street, Boulder, Colorado, was 755 until 2001 when
owners requested a change of address from how it was known
when Jon Bonet Ramsey died there in 1996. The house has
changed hands frequently since the six-year-old's murder.
Murder/suicide stigma refers to property with decreased value because a murder or suicide has occurred there.  Milliken v. Jacono dealt with Milliken paying full value to Jacono for a house Jacono had bought far below market value because it had been the scene of a gruesome murder/suicide.  Randall Bell, a consultant on this case, had been involved in marketing the condo where Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were killed as well as the Ramsey home where Jon Bonet died.

Jacono claimed Milliken should have researched the property before he bought it.  Milliken claimed he'd been cheated.  The court determined it would be impossible to determine the degree of loss of value from a murder or suicide in a home. Would it be greater based on the degree of violence of the murder? Would an ax killing decrease value more than a poisoning? They ruled in favor of Jacono. essentially "buyer beware." Perhaps prospective buyers should have structures inspected for termites and call Ghost Busters. Since then, many states now have laws requiring sellers to reveal murder/suicide property stigmas.

Known as the "Amityville Horror" house, the street number of
this house was also changed by new owners, but the place is
too well known for a different address to matter. It also goes
up for sale frequently.
To me, the house on Long Island where a man killed his parents and four siblings claiming "voices in the house" told him to do it, would be a case of both phenomena stigma and murder stigma, but when the situation is so well-known, there's a special name for it: public stigma.  Made famous as the Amityville Horror, this house is the perfect example of public stigmatized property in which the stigma is widely known. Another example is the home of the Menendez brothers.

In The Invention of Murder, Judith Flanders says, "Crime, especially murder, is very pleasant to think about in the abstract . . . to know that murder is possible, just not here." Flanders spends 555 pages telling how people in the 1800s satisfied their fascination with murder through serialized handbills, tours of murder sites (both real and simulated), and stage plays. That fascination remains.  It's evidenced in books, movies, and television shows from Murder She Wrote through How it Really Happened to Forensic Files (where insomniacs can watch murder after murder all night long.)

I've been reading murder mysteries since childhood, but in 2009 my lifelong best friend was brutally beaten to death during an in-home invasion.  Her death brought the harsh, painful realization that murder in reality is far different from fiction or even true crime books. I was asked after her death if I would write about her homicide. The answer was and remains an emphatic "NO!" When I discussed this SleuthSayers column with a friend, he asked, "Would you live in a stigmatized home?"

10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon near Beverly Hills,California, was so
stigmatized by the murders of Sharon Tate and four others by the Manson Family
in 1969 that it was completely demolished in 1994. Years later, David Oman
bought adjacent land and built a new house 150 feet from where this one had
been. He claimed the Manson victims haunted his new house and made a
movie about it in 2011.   
After my friend's death, I helped her daughter with the house.  That's when I learned that law enforcement officers don't tidy up after themselves.  I cleaned the black fingerprint powder off my friend's headboard and other furniture. Could I live in her house?  I wouldn't want to because it would be a constant reminder of the sadness of her loss.  Would I live in another stigmatized home?  I don't really know.

Thoughts of stigmatized property rose from passing my friend's house on the way home from my most recent launch.  Suddenly Callie popped into my mind with an idea for a ninth Callie Parrish mystery. It will involve stigmatized property but will not be about my friend or her home. I'll probably be back in a year or so to tell you about it.

How about you?  Would you live in a stigmatized house?

Until we meet again, please take care of … YOU!


  1. I once looked at buying an ancient house deep in a Minnesota woods. It was decrepit, the bricks needed pointing so badly, only bat guano glued them together. The claw marks on the attic doors were nicely painted over. The Edgar Allan Poe cellar was oddly half-walled with pits and spooky hollows extending under the rest of the house. Its ambience made the Oliver Reed’s and Karen Black’s Burnt Offerings house seem like a summer cottage.

    The real estate agent was all, “Classic house, huh? Little bit of a fixer-upper, but real history here, folks. That upstairs room would make a charming nursery if you remove the chains. Is that rust on them?”

    My girlfriend begged, “Please don’t make me live here.” That saved me have having to say the same thing.

    Fran, I well remember our talks after Linda died. Your last paragraphs made me tear up, but I’m so glad you continued writing. You’ve given a lot of people joy.

  2. Hurray!! Callie lives on! Can't wait!

  3. I wouldn't want to live in a well-known stigmatized house, mainly because I like my privacy and wouldn't want to deal with the Lookie-Lous. But when my wife and I were looking for our last/current house we did look at one where someone was killed. The reason we didn't get it is not because of the killing, but because the seller wouldn't come down enough considering how much work needed to be done. But we wanted it and I still think about it.

  4. Good to have you back! and to know Callie will get another outing.

    I've never that I know of been in a stigmatized house but when visiting in Europe I have often thought about the great age of some of the buildings and figured those stones had seen a bit of everything.

  5. Thanks to all who have commented.
    Leigh - Just goes to show that sometimes it pays to listen to our lady friends (or in my case, male friends). I rode by Linda's house yesterday, and it's empty again. I genuinely wonder if there's something about the house that makes people leave so quickly or if it's what they hear about it.
    Dixon - Callie does what you recommended in the Skull Full of Posies. I think you will enjoy this one.
    Janice - I agree about those places with so much history, both in Europe and here. My son and I have been considering a move. The houses that appeal to us are the old southern places over a hundred years old. I confess that one we visited gave me the absolute creeps every time I went into the front parlor.
    Paul - I agree with you that the condition of the place is more important to me for price than its history. Isn't it interesting how much some houses appeal? There's one we looked at that I would have moved into that day even though it needed a ton of work. I still check on that particular place periodically to see what's going on with it. The place was amazing in many ways (including the original claw-footed bathtub), but it needed not only a lot of decorative work but also to be completely rewired and replumbed.

  6. I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. That's horrible.

    I remember reading about a haunted house lawsuit in law school. Whether a seller has a duty to disclose a haunting or other stigmatizing event in the house varies by state. This article has interesting info about it, including the exact law applicable in my state of Virginia: https://nvar.com/realtors/laws-ethics/legal-blog/do-you-have-to-disclose-a-house-is-haunted. You'll see some advice to sellers on how to handle questions from perspective buyers about whether a house is haunted. The evasiveness of the suggested response shows why buyers should always have their own agent, who has a fiduciary duty to them. The seller's agent only has a duty to the seller.

  7. Barb, thanks for the info. I agree that it is definitely evasive. Interestingly, in North Carolina, disclosure isn't required UNLESS the buyer asks. In that case, the seller must answer "honestly." Personally, I've been considering whether the stigma is fear of ghosts of the deceased or remaining essence of evil from the perp. The deeper I delve into this, the more questions I have.

  8. First & foremost... my condolences on the loss of your dear friend. We have the Lizzie Borden house here where I live & according to professional ghostbusters... they found paranormal activity there. People from around the world come to spend the night there. There are some that steer clear from it.
    We have a lot of homes that have front parlors that were used to view deceased family members. Our second apartment that we lived in when we first married had a front parlor & our landlord told us it had been used as a viewing area for a family member. It did spook us out somewhat, but it didn’t deter us from moving in. It was a beautiful apartment. Nothing abnormal occurred there. We lived there long enough to have our two beautiful sons there before buying our own home.

  9. Mattie, I thought about your living near the Lizzie Borden house when I wrote the blog. Her story fascinated me even as a young child. (I was constantly into books "above my age.") I had not thought about the front parlor being the viewing room in the old days. The funeral home that handled a close family death when I was eighteen was converted to a beauty parlor in later years. If places where dead ones were viewed were all haunted, there wouldn't be room to walk into hospitals and funeral homes, yet the thought of having my hair cut in the exact same spot his body had been wasn't something I could do. As I said in the blog, I couldn't live in my friend's house because it would bring such sadness at her loss, but I'd never have any reason to fear her spirit. In fact, I'd love to spend time with it. (Your book finally got in the mail)

  10. For those who haven’t read the Callie books, in the days before corporate funeral homes, morticians commonly resided above or behind their place of business. My friend Carol was raised in a mini-mansion in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. Her neighbors were a pair of brothers who ran the neighborhood funeral parlor. As a little girl, Carol was in and out of their house. She sat on the cellar steps eating cookies as they cheerfully embalmed their clients on slate tables, fluids running down the concrete drain.

    When she grew older, Carol wanted to become a mortician herself, but her mother refused to hear of it. After her family sold their home, it was for a while turned into a mortuary. No doubt visitors found the large stained-glass rose window that dominated the second floor comforting.

    And Carol, she became an elementary teacher and wound up working many years for Disney.

  11. New York State law does not require disclosure of a property's criminal history. However, if a prospective buyer asks a direct question about that history, the seller and the seller's agent need to answer truthfully. Also in New Jersey, you don't legally have to disclose that a violent death has occurred in a home.

    I lived in a house that was haunted by a friendly ghost. I never saw him, but I heard him plenty of times, going up & down the stairs & banging around in the closets. My boyfriend's family had lived in two haunted houses in New Jersey.

    Glad to hear you're writing another Callie Parrish book!

  12. I suppose it would depend on the stigma attached to the house. A few ghosts wouldn’t bother me, but nothing evil or demonic. A very interesting post and fun question to ponder. I look forward to hearing more about this stigmatized property Callie gets involved with.

  13. Leigh, unfortunately, mortician was one of those occupations females were not welcomed to do except as a receptionist both secretarial and to greet mourners for visitations. For a really "fun" look at funerals, check out "Ask a Mortician" on Youtube.

    Elizabeth, my sons and I also lived in a house with a ghost. I saw her frequently out the corner of my eye. After we moved, both sons mentioned seeing her. The description was the same, but I thought it interesting that my thirteen-year-old and eighteen-year-old didn't mention it until after we moved. At the same house, I heard footsteps in the attic above the master bedroom. When I looked in the attic, it was only about four feet high.

    Rick, I'm positive a few ghosts wouldn't bother you since you go ghost-hunting and are my reference for all those E readings. Callie is not giving me any peace and I've begun this next story.

  14. I just realized I should have given credit for the first two photos in this blog. They were taken by Deanna Anderson, an author from Sumter, SC. Check her out on Amazon for her many non-fiction books as well as Twisted Worlds, a collection of short stories that are definitely weird (I love 'em!)

    1. Thanks Fran!I loved visiting with you at the book launch and can't wait to read my Callie Parrish books!

  15. My niece was convinced my condo was haunted, even though the previous owner had died in a motorcycle accident, not at home. I never saw evidence of any haunting, despite the 666 address, and from neighbor's memories of the young man, he was very nice in life, so why should he be different after death? Students at Lindenwood U. report hearing (footsteps, piano playing) and feeling (a supportive hand preventing a fall on the stairs) the school's founder, Mary Sibley . . . looking out for "her girls."
    We have as a culture become disconnected from the natural ending of life, which in earlier times would have been at home.

  16. StorytellerMary, I agree with you that we've culturally become disconnected from the natural ending of life. In earlier times, individuals usually died at home and were prepared for burial and sat with by family in the home. I live in SC, and there are many buildings on the campus of the University of South Carolina that are "known" to be haunted also.

  17. I'm with you, Fran, I'm not going to live where a murder(s) have taken place, if I have a choice. I love horror and crime fiction stories...stories; that's it.

    Glad to hear Callie will be returning, and I love the idea behind the story you'll be concocting.

  18. Thanks, David,
    THE THIRTEENTH CHILD proves your love of the horror genre, and your mysteries and crime stories are awesome.
    This story is writing itself (or Callie is writing it. Who knows?)


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