Making room after stigma of killings - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Making room after stigma of killings

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Posted: Tuesday, January 16, 2007 4:54 am | Updated: 7:19 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

It wasn’t hard for Ali Smith to fall in love with her east Mesa home. The three-bedroom house was new, spacious and came with really cheap rent. But 2208 S. Barrington also came with a bloody past.

Inside its re-painted walls was a crime so heinous, it traumatized investigators and kept prospective renters away. The Feb. 22 quintuple homicide — now remembered by many as the Barrington Estates massacre — left five people dead on the upstairs floor and landed Scottsdale resident William Miller in jail on five counts of fi rst-degree murder.

For four months, the $281,000 house sat empty.

A for-sale sign dangled in the front yard. And neighborhood children whispered about “that house,” where “those people” were killed, Smith said.

But two and a half months ago, a single mother and her three children moved into the house and turned it into their home.

“I just went on my instincts,” Smith said. “I’ve never had an eerie, freaked-out feeling.”

The house, where nearly a year ago, gunshots rang out and families screamed for their lives, is now filled with children’s laughter.

Smith, who moved from Tucson, said she found the home in the Mesa gated community while searching the Internet with her sister-in-law one day. “We wondered, why is this place so cheap?” she said.

The two-story home near Ellsworth and Baseline roads was renting for only $950 per month.

“So I came here with the Realtor,” Smith said. “And it didn’t freak me out because I’m a spiritual person, and I got a calm feeling.”

Smith, a slender, upbeat woman, showed the Tribune around her neatly decorated, child-friendly home on Jan. 7. Smith said she intends to buy the home, but nothing has been finalized.

Five artistic crosses hung beneath her stairway, and smiling family portraits were displayed nearby.

She smiled while making a milkshake for her children as they eagerly jumped onto the counter.

“Not yet,” Smith told her 7-year-old daughter, Lauren, who reached her fingers into the mint ice cream.

“They know what happened,” she said while looking at the children. “But it’s peaceful here.”

According to search warrants, Steven Duffy, 30, was found dead on the floor of the upstairs hallway. His girlfriend, Tammy Lovell, 32, was killed in the entrance to the bedroom of her 10-year-old son, Jacob, who was found dead on the floor.

In another bedroom, police found Steven’s 18-year-old brother, Shane, shot to death on the bed. Lovell’s 15-yearold daughter, Cassandra, was found lying dead on the floor.

But the many bullet holes, bloodstains and evidence of the slayings are all gone now.

“I had to re-carpet and paint the whole house,” said owner Paul Jones. “The Sheetrock needed to be redone, and I replaced some flooring to make sure there was no evidence of this ever happening.”

He added, “I would hate it for someone to buy it and say, ‘What are these bleach stains?’ ”

Jones bought the $281,000 house as an investment property about six months before the homicides. Shortly after his purchase, he received an offer for $300,000 but decided he would rent it out for a while before selling.

After the deaths, it became difficult for Jones to find anyone to live there — a problem he blames mostly on the housing market. And where he originally charged $1,400 per month for rent, he was forced to drop the price down to $950.

What once had promise as an investment is now selling for $8,000 less than Jones paid for it.

“It would’ve been good to take the three hundred a while ago, I guess,” Jones said with disappointment in his voice.

Still, Jones said he is happy that Smith wants to buy the house and that the stigma didn’t affect his ability to sell it as much as it affected his ability to rent it.

The house has been taken off the market while Jones negotiates with Smith.

Before Smith moved into the Barrington home, another family had lived there briefly, Jones said. But when they heard about the house’s history, the woman in the home was “grossed out” and the tenants moved.

“Apparently, my Realtor had not told them, and when they found out, they wanted out,” he said. “So I let them out of their lease. You know, they are going to find out, and I don’t want to be sneaky.”

Arizona law does not require owners or real estate agents to disclose death, suicide or homicide.

It also does not require disclosure of a former resident with HIV and other diseases, or if a sex offender lives nearby.

But some owners prefer to disclose homicides anyway — especially if the cases are high profile.

Julian Juergensmeyer, a law professor at Georgia State University, who has researched issues surrounding stigmatized homes, said houses with stigmas are common.

“Unfortunately, there are so many things that go on in housing units that it’s not uncommon to find one whose rentability and salability are affected,” Juergensmeyer said. “Oftentimes, you just can’t find a buyer.”

Because of the problem, a handful of states have created laws requiring owners to disclose deaths.

Juergensmeyer said such laws benefit consumers who may be “sensitive” to death in their home, or who are concerned the stigma could affect the property value.

But that’s not something Smith said she is worried about.

In fact, the new resident said she is happy to make the house her home, and she is glad that her neighbors can feel a sense of normalcy again.

“That’s really what the neighborhood needed ... to move on,” Jones said. “We’ve been doing a lot of praying, but God has been good.”

And Smith has also been doing some praying.

Before moving into her new house, she went “in each room when it was empty and kind of said a prayer for the family.”

“They’ve passed on, but if they’re here, they’re happy,” Jones said. “I got this house for a reason, and we’re happy here.”

Case update

William Miller is charged with five counts of first-degree murder in connection with the Barrington Estates slayings. He is also charged with four counts of attempted first-degree murder stemming from alleged attempts to hire a hit man to kill Steven Duffy, 30, and his girlfriend Tammy Lovell, 33. The couple was going to testify against Miller in a separate case. Authorities believe Miller likely had an accomplice but have not identified a suspect. Miller’s trial date has not been set, and his next court appearance is Feb. 2.

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