Serious thinking time today my nerds. Would you buy a house where there had been a murder?
I just read over at Apartment Therapy and it got me thinking about this topic again. Last year one of my editors asked me to review a luxury $6m penthouse in the city. I was just getting ready to head out when she sent me another email. “Hi Maya, that penthouse you are seeing today was the scene of a murder."
She attached an old story The West had run detailing the famous murder of Lenard’s chicken tycoon Frank Cianciosi by his long-term boyfriend and business partner, Gerardus Gerrit Heijne. Heijne, a 100kg bodybuilder, had attacked and strangled Ciancisosi in the penthouse. Their row began when Heijne got annoyed at Ciancisosi because he couldn’t remember how to print documents on the printer even though Heijne had showed him loads of times before. Heijne called Cianciosi a “dumb bodybuilder”. Your mum was right when she said you shouldn't call people names.
The real estate agent didn't say anything about the murder when he emailed my editor about doing a review on the penthouse. He and I were travelling up in the elevator to the top floor and I said, all classy, hard-hitting serious investigative reporter, as is my style, “So about that murder...” And then I giggled, because unfortunately I am a nervous laugher. Bad habit.
The agent asked that I keep the murder out of the article – understandably, because whether you believe in bad vibes, negative energy, superstition or ghosts or nothing at all, a murder can dramatically decrease a home’s resale value.
The agent was not happy that I knew about it. “People die all the time in houses and no-one says anything about it,” he said, annoyed. Yes, but they probably weren’t strangled to death. He said the penthouse had undergone a complete makeover and looked drastically different (no blood stains on the new carpet, I take it). By the way, of course I mentioned the murder in my review. And then I talked about the European kitchen appliances.
In certain parts of the U.S an ‘unnatural death’ must be disclosed before you sign on the dotted line. I asked a lawyer friend about this and she said we don’t have such a law here. If asked about it, an agent can't lie, but they are under no obligation to tell unless asked. I think we should have such a law. Let's just presume that most murder houses wouldn't have views quite as amazing as the one above. If I were looking at buying a house and someone had been murdered there, I would want to know.
While some people wouldn’t be bugged in the slightest about it, I would be. I know I sound like a total hippy, but I think when you walk into a house you can feel what kind of energy it has. Sometimes when I see houses for work, I think a house is going to be amazing and then I walk in and feel chills. And yes, maybe if horrible things happened in a house, sure, you can infuse it with love and make it feel good again. I’m sure many people have done so.
But if I were living in a house where I knew someone had been stabbed to death? I would think about it all the time. I would keep picturing a person so terrified, dragging themselves across the floor trying to flee their killer, realising they are going to die, taking their last ragged breaths, thinking about where they’d realised it was over. (And what about moving into a serial killer’s house? Even worse!) My overthinking mind thinking about it all the time, probably a bit like Mrs Maxim de Winter in Rebecca. I would probably become consumed by it. Maybe go a bit nuts.
Then there will be people who wouldn’t care at all if someone had been murdered in the home they live in. Some might even relish the fact. A gruesome murder hasn’t seemed to deter people from wanting THIS house at this home open – does it look familiar to you?
Yes, it's the infamous Amityville Horror house on Long Island, which quickly rose to fame from intense media attention and a spate of horror movies, none of which I have seen because I am too chicken to watch movies that make me too scared to go to the toilet in the middle of the night.
In 1973 a man called Ronald DeFeo, Jr, went nuts and killed six members of his family in this house. In December 1975, a couple called the Lutzs, together with Kathy’s three children, bought the house for what they thought was a bargain price and moved in.
The Lutz family fled in less than a month, claiming to have been terrorised by paranormal activity while living there. You Wikipedia what happened to them. I just did and I feel very uncomfortable now. I’m with Eddie Murphy on this one. Remember Delirious. “Why don’t white people just leave the house when there’s a ghost in the house?”
Those of you who grew up in Perth might be familiar with the murderers Catherine and David Birnie, who tortured and murdered four young women in their Willagee house in the 80s, their killing spree only coming to an end because their potential fifth victim escaped from the house through a window and ran naked into a supermarket down the road.
When I was a teenager there was a point where we had all started getting our licenses but couldn’t get into clubs yet so we'd just get icecream instead. Every so often we would drive out in the middle of the night to see the Moorhouse Street house where the Birnies lived, tortured and killed (hey. I did say we live in Perth. Aside from going to The Moon or the drive through of Leach Highway McDonald's, there was not a lot else to do). The little non-descript 1960s house never failed to give me a bad feeling when we drove up to look at it. Sometimes the lights were on. I never understood why anyone would want to live there. I got chills up my spine just looking at that house. And it wasn’t just me. The car would hush. “Let’s go,” someone would say suddenly and then we would drive away feeling spooked.
When I was in school, one of my teachers had a friend who moved to Perth. When she invited her round to see her new place, she drove up to the street, saw number three and realised her friend had unknowingly bought the infamous Birnie house.
I found it really interesting to read the forum comments in the article because most people were of the opinion that a house is just a house. Who cares if there’d been a murder? You get a great discount. Buy the house and burn some sage oil. Replace the carpet. This commenter’s message summed up the general gist of the group, in response to whether they’d buy a house where there’d been a murder:
I once went to review a beautiful hundred-year-old cottage, the kind renovators and fans of The Block dream about. It was in need of some love, but I got serious home envy the minute I saw it, tucked amidst old fruit trees and neglected rose gardens with a big wraparound veranda. Chatting to the lovely agent, I found out about the house’s history. The original owner had just had the home built for himself and his wife-to-be. They married at the church around the corner and walked home. He picked her up to carry her over the threshold into their new home and died on the spot with his new wife in his arms.
Would that be something you would always think about when you walked in the front door? (By the way the poor young wife moved in with the kindly next-door neighbours, who looked after her and eventually took the house on themselves in their family). It's not a grisly death, like a murder. I think I would still buy it.
But what if you found your dream house, perfect location, close to everything you need, dream garden, amazing price – but it was the place of a murder. Would you still buy it?