If these walls could talk you wouldn’t want to listen
Once seemingly happy homes, they since have become scenes of brutal homicides.
To real estate professionals, they are known as “psychologically impacted” homes. Some remain vacant, becoming sores in their neighborhoods, while others are sold or rented quickly.
“Some people, I’m sure it would not bother, and some people it would bother quite a bit,” said Brett Brown, president of the Naples Area Board of Realtors.
The Daily News revisited a dozen Southwest Florida homes that were the scenes of homicides during the past decade to see what has become of them, and how the crimes affected neighbors and the people who now reside within.
Most current residents know what happened in their homes, though some don’t. And in Florida, Realtors aren’t obliged to tell.
687 Clifton Road, Immokalee
On a recent afternoon, Eugenio Arevalo watched his grandkids play outside their gray house at the corner of Lake Trafford Road.
The peaceful setting is in stark contrast to the scene two years ago, when Arevalo’s daughter, Sandra Nicholson, was murdered inside by her husband, Donald Nicholson. He dumped her body in a canal, where it was eaten by alligators.
Arevalo and his wife, Lydia, soon moved into the home with their five grandkids.
“They wanted to come home,” Arevalo said of the kids.
The Arevalos painted inside, changed the curtains, and moved the furniture to give the home a different feel. But it was initially a hard place to live, Arevalo said, especially for his wife, who only slept a few hours a night at first.
“It took her awhile to get settled down,” he said.
Things are slowly becoming normal for the Arevalos. On Monday they went to court, and officially adopted their grandchildren.
3351 Bolero Way, Poinciana Village
It’s a beige, stucco house with a flat, blank lawn.
“It’s always been a bleak-looking house,” said Colin Dewey, 40, who rents a home across the street with his fiancée. “And now, every time I look at that house, it’s kinda creepy.”
In June, Edward Lee Starcher confessed to killing his girlfriend’s mother, Veronica Moran, inside, stabbing her with a kitchen knife and a pen and hitting her with a frying pan.
The brutality shocked Dewey, because it’s usually a quiet neighborhood, he said. He and his fiancée looked into buying the house, but thought its $200,000 price tag was too high.
“I’m kind of on the fence about whether I could have lived there,” he said. “I think sometimes when horrible things like that happen something is left behind, and if that was going to happen, it would happen there. That was a horrible situation.”
According to the MLS, the property has been a pending sale since Sept. 30. The Realtor declined to comment for this story. The “For Sale” sign was removed from the house’s yard last week.
James Larsen, a professor at Wright State University in Ohio, published a study on psychologically impacted homes in 2001. He found that, on average, psychologically impacted homes sell for about 3 percent less than non-impacted houses, and take about 45 percent longer to sell.
It all depends on finding a buyer who doesn’t care, said Larsen, adding the stigma fades over time.
“If that kind of thing doesn’t bother you, you may as well shop for them,” Larsen said.
6641 Sandalwood Lane, North Naples
It’s the difference between Heaven and Hell.
That is how neighbor Margaret Lee Ann Hildahl described living next to the former home of Rick and Sherri Bell before and after their deaths in a highly publicized murder-suicide in December 2007.
Authorities say Rick Bell strangled his wife in the kitchen. He then killed himself in the garage after lighting a trail of hay on fire in an attempt to burn down the house and barn.
Nearly two years later, the home remains empty. The bushes out front have grown so high they obscure the house itself.
“I think it would be nice to see some life over in that house from some nice people, whether they buy it or rent it,” Hildahl said. “I would like to have a neighbor over there again.”
12221 Eagle Pointe Circle, Gateway
Four years after it was the scene of one of Southwest Florida’s most highly publicized murders — the 2005 killings of Steven and Michelle Andrews at the hands of Fred Cooper — this home in the Cypress Pointe community has become just another house to neighbors, said Sean Torgerson, who lives next door.
Two families have rented the home since the murders, Torgerson said, adding that the last family didn’t know about the home’s history until he told them.
Since the killings, the home has been painted and blessed by a priest, Torgerson said.
The house is now empty, but Torgerson said the owner, Bernarda Isabel Rodriguez, who bought the house in 2006, is moving in in a couple of weeks.
“We live here every day,” Torgerson said. “We don’t want to make a big deal of it.”
5241 Hunter Blvd., Golden Gate Estates
Every Christmas, Joe Elsaesser prays for the murder victim’s family, especially her son. The boy was 6 years old when he found his mother Alberta Walsh’s beaten body in her bedroom on Dec. 24, 1999. He picked up his 2-year-old sister and went by bicycle to get help.
Elsaesser, 37, and his wife knew what had happened in the house when they bought it in 2001. They hesitated when they found out, but decided to buy it anyway because they have six kids and needed a big home.
“We talk about it from time to time, mostly around Christmas,” Elsaesser said. “We have six kids, all told, and thinking about that little boy, we try to keep him in our prayers. ... We hope that the memories he has of his mom are of good times, not just that day.”
When they moved in, Elsaesser found comic books in the attic and a bedroom door, broken in half. It had three locks on it and he thinks it’s the door that was broken down the night Walsh was killed.
Living in the house has helped his family understand that you can respect the past while living in the present.
“We don’t actually discuss the details of the brutality, we talk about the after-effect,” he said. “You can’t dwell on the past and how she was killed. You have to be in the here and now and thinking of others. That’s why we keep her family in our prayers.”