Fatal Transaction: Gruesome Tales of Real Estate Murders
Buyer's remorse, price drop requests, and overworked assistants are among the issues that have led to the untimely demise of Realtors. As the trial for the murder of a broker to the stars gets underway in New York, a spotlight is being cast on the dangers of the real estate profession.
HousingWatch dug up at least eight cases of homeowners killing real estate agents in recent years. Some were bludgeoned to death at open houses, others shot in the head in their offices, or snagged from the street on their way to appointments. Some poor souls have taken their own lives, as was the case the first week of January with the CEO of a Chicago real-estate firm.Soaring foreclosure rates and plunging home values have ratcheted up stress levels, and the specter of a real estate-related crime spurt (and no we don't mean crooked lenders) no doubt crossed the minds of many as jury selection began Tuesday for the murder trial involving the killing of Linda Stein, a high-powered Realtor and one-time manager of The Ramones.
In the early 1990s, there was an anecdotal increase in real estate-related murders, which generated a lot of media attention and eventually led to the creation of a safety program by the National Association of Realtors, NAR spokesperson Walt Molony told HousingWatch. The group's safety guidelines advise against meeting a stranger at a vacant open house or walking first into a room. They also suggest keeping a cell phone handy, informing others of appointments and having a partner at open houses. (The same safety rules could apply to potential buyers who might worry about death-by-deranged-agent).
We sincerely hope that the current real estate crisis does not bode ill for agents. But here's a look at some cases from the past decade where real estate-related stress led to murder. (Talk about an incentive to get the best deal for your client...)
California: Ricardo Contreras, July 14, 2009
The body of Ricardo Contreras, 45, a real estate agent and notary public was found around 7 p.m. on a Saturday inside a bank-owned 1,900-square foot foreclosed home listed by the Modern Realty Co. for more than a half-million dollars, reported KTLA news in Los Angeles. Contreras was stabbed multiple times. He had been missing since Tuesday evening when he didn't return home from work, according to his family, who put out fliers in an effort to find the father of five. Police at the scene said a real estate agent was preparing to show the three-bedroom, two-bath house when she discovered the key was missing from the lockbox.
Michigan: Troy VanderStelt, June, 1, 2008
When Muskegon, Mich. real estate agent Troy VanderStelt, 33, went into a conference room to meet with former client Robert Johnson, 73, on June 1, 2008, he had no way of knowing what was to come next. Johnson, allegedly angry over paying too much for his home, shot VanderStelt at point-blank range in the side of his head. Johnson had visited a second real estate agent after deciding to sell the home, but given the current dismal climate in the real estate market, he was told the home was not worth what he had paid for it. Johnson apparently placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of his agent, reported interactive magazine Zimbio.
Illinois: Ann Nelson, March 18, 2008
James Hole of Brookfield, Ill, snapped on a tour of a Jefferson County home for sale after 71-yr old Realtor Ann Nelson asked why he was looking at homes if he couldn't afford one. According to court records, Hole admitted to strangling her with her scarf and hitting her over the head with a fireplace poker at least nine times, reported the local ABC station WISN. The cause of death, however, said the district attorney, was smoke inhalation from the mattress the accused set on fire beside her. In January 2009 Hole was convicted of life in prison without parole, according to a report in the Watertown Daily Times.
New York: Linda Stein, Oct. 30, 2007
She was a petite (five-foot) woman who had undergone two radical mastectomies and had a benign brain tumor. The former manager of punk band The Ramones was also a vicious competitor, a heavy drinker and a heavy pot-smoker with a volcanic temper she'd unleash even on friends, reported New York magazine. Even so, that was no reason for Linda Stein's tragic death on Oct. 30, 2007. In an alleged confession to police, accused Natavia Lowery said she whacked Stein several times in the head with the broker's own four-pound strength-building yoga stick. Lowery explained she'd been oppressed by Stein physically, racially, and especially verbally. The last straw? Stein blew pot smoke in her face and cursed at her as Lowery worked on the computer -- all the while waving the yoga stick at Lowery, the magazine reported. Jury selection for the trial started this week.
Texas: Sarah Ann Walker, July 8, 2006
Sarah Ann Walker, 40, was hosting an open house on July 8, 2006 in a model home of a D.R. Horton community in McKinney, Texas, about 30 miles north of Dallas. Then Kosoul Chanthakoummane showed up unexpectedly and took her life, brutally biting, beating and stabbing the Realtor ferociously 27 times, reported Fox News. Chanthakoummane was later convicted.
New Mexico: Garland Taylor, Aug. 16, 2004
During a showing of a $900,000 listing, Albuquerque Realtor Garland Taylor, 74, was shot to death on August 16, 2004 by a "well-groomed and professionally dressed man who is believed to have called Taylor from a pay phone and arranged to see the luxury property," reported the NAR's Realty Times. Mario Lucas Chavez, 28, of Albuquerque was found guilty in 2006.
Georgia: Lori K. Brown and Cynthia Williams, Nov. 3, 2003
The bodies of Morris Homes' sales reps Lori Brown, 21, and Cynthia Williams, 33, were discovered in a model home sales office of the Oakwind subdivision in Powder Springs, Ga. outside Atlanta on November 3, 2003. Brown was shot once. Williams was shot twice and strangled. Prosecutors say the motive was robbery. Stacey Ian Humphreys, the convicted, used a 9mm semi-automatic handgun to force them to strip naked and give him the access codes to their bank cards before he shot them both in the back of the head, reported the NBC and ABC stations in Atlanta.
Washington: Michael Emert, Jan. 5, 2001
Seasoned 40-year-old Windermere agent Michael Emert was murdered January 5, 2001 in a Seattle-area home that was on the market. According to the King County medical examiner's office, Emert died of "sharp force injury." Detectives believe the killer attacked Emert in an upstairs bedroom, stabbing him 19 times. The killer then dragged Emert to the bathroom and lifted him into the shower, leaving the water running, reported the Seattle-Post Intelligencer. Emert's body was found by the seller, who was represented by another real estate firm, reported Realty Times. Emert's case was featured on "Unsolved Mysteries," and to this day the killer still has not been found, a detective for King County Sheriff's Major Crime Unit told HousingWatch. "The case is still open. In fact there are a few things we are actively working on," says Detective Jon Holland. There is a $50,000 reward for details that lead to an arrest.
Have any tales of real estate-related murders in your home town? Would you buy a house that someone was killed in? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.