Crime scenes on the market: Only one bid made for home where triple slaying occurred

By Jim Suhr
Associated Press Writer

WATERLOO, Ill. (AP) — The white, three-bedroom, lakeside home with blue shutters in the well-manicured subdivision might have drawn more bidders to a foreclosure auction if not for the triple slaying that took place there last year.
Police have said former bodyguard Christopher Coleman spray-painted graffiti on a living room wall to make it look like an intruder had entered the home before he strangled his wife and two young sons in the upstairs bedrooms.
Because Illinois law requires foreclosures to be sold “as is,” the graffiti is still there.
Only one bid was entered recently when the house in Columbia went up for auction. Wells Fargo, which already held the mortgage on the home, put in a $256,420 offer, snapping up the place some neighbors weary of gawkers had hoped to see reduced to rubble.
Many had wondered who would buy it — often the million-dollar question with dwellings that have become crime scenes.
The auction’s only bystander was a trustee for the subdivision’s homeowner’s group, watching          the proceedings out of curiosity.
Susan Walla suspected the lack of bidders might reflect that “no one really wanted to buy it” — or maybe that folks just found it “creepy.”
But although local residents may be well aware of such properties’ history, not all buyers are warned.
Two states — Alaska and South Dakota — require sellers to disclose whether there was a murder or suicide on the property in the previous year.
At least six other states — Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Oklahoma — require such information be revealed if the buyer directly asks, according to the National Association of Realtors.
But in most states, there are no laws compelling sellers to volunteer the information, forcing buyers worried about such things to quiz police and neighbors before they sign. Or they can ask the seller and see what happens.
Pam Westhoff wishes she had done that.
When she and her husband, John, bought a ranch home in 2000 in the Kansas City area community of Leawood, Kan., they didn’t know a man had been bludgeoned to death and his wife badly beaten there with a baseball bat the previous year.
It was a crime so gruesome the prosecutor told jurors blood covered “every inch” of the place.
Pam Westhoff, 63, heard about it later — weeks after they’d already taken out a $209,000 mortgage — from a contractor installing a garage door opener.
“I almost went to my knees. It was a shock,” Westhoff said Monday by telephone from the home she says still gives her unease, partly because the murder victim was similar in age to her late father. When asked if she would have bought the place knowing its violent history, she didn’t hesitate: “Absolutely not.”
The Westhoffs sued, arguing they were victims of misrepresentation and a violation of Kansas’ consumer protection laws.
But no Kansas law requires real-estate professionals to disclose that a home or apartment was where anyone came to a violent demise, and the Westhoffs dropped their $5.7 million lawsuit in 2004, realizing it was futile and expensive.
When and if the couple sells the house, Pam Westhoff said she will be upfront about its history.
“I don’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t tell prospective buyers that someone was murdered here,” she said. “You don’t want your little children going to school and hearing it from a classmate.”
Walla also said she’d never feel comfortable living in a crime scene, but she believes any prospective buyer should be told about the killings in her neighborhood.
She pledged to do her best to welcome any new occupant of the house the Colemans bought in 2005 for $212,000, well less than the $230,000 plus interest Wells Fargo said lately that Coleman owes.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Coleman, who is in jail awaiting trial.
A St. Louis-area spokesman for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Tom Goyda, said he could not talk specifically about Tuesday’s bid, but usually foreclosed properties get put back on the market once any fixups are done.