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8News Investigates: Murder Houses

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RICHMOND (WRIC)—When buying or renting a home, you may expect to find problems with insulation, mold or peeling paint. But what would you do if you learned your house was the scene of a gruesome murder?

If the walls of a particular Junaluska Drive home in Richmond could talk, they would tell the 1996 story of Cynthia Johnson and her young daughter, Heather. Both were brutally murdered inside and set on fire to cover up the crime.

Eli Driggers is currently renting the home and learned about this double homicide from 8News Anchor Kerri O'Brien.

"We'll probly be looking to move as soon as possible," Driggers said. "My fiancé and I had absolutely no idea that this had happened; it definitely woulda got nixed off the list of possible rentals, had we known."

What happened in Driggers' home is not all that unusual; landlords and realtors are not required to disclose a property's ghastly past.

"Under Virginia law, a realtor does not have to disclose if there's been a murder or suicide inside of a home, unless there's some kind of effect on the physical property," said Stacey Ricks, Director of Public Relations at the Virginia Association of Realtors.

"I think that's morally reprehensible," Driggers said. "I think that it's your right to know what you're getting into. It's no different than buying a car that was flooded."

Even if you ask, "Has there ever been a murder in this house?" Here in Virginia, the realtor can't tell you.

"They have got to have permission from the seller in order to do that," Ricks said.

Bennie Waller, a professor of finance and real estate at Longwood University in Farmville, understands why agents are reluctant to reveal a home's secrets. He has been researching the impact a murder can have on a property's value.

"Across the country, stigmatized properties sell for less," Waller said.

In 2009, not far from Longwood's campus, fellow professor Debra Kelly, her estranged husband, daughter and daughter's friend were bludgeoned to death in a First Avenue home. Search warrants show a trail of blood and horrors spread throughout the house.

Before the murders, Professor Kelly's home was tax assessed at $240,000. After the murders, it was sold to an investor, auctioned off at just $104,000. That investor tried to sell it; the home sat on the market for three years without a buyer.

An online description calls a house across from Longwood's campus a "history-filled home." It sure is—in 1991, Robert Bruce shot and killed his wife there.

"It's a very, very lovely home," Waller said.

Still, it sat on the market for about three years and sold for about $100,000 less than market rate.

"Anecdotal evidence tells me that properties where horrific crimes have occurred typically will stay on the market three, four or five times longer," Waller said.

So, buyer beware. If you're house hunting, you need to do your homework. Talk to neighbors or do a Google search of the address.

There's no push to change this law in Virginia, and 48 other states have similar laws.

If you're wondering about your home's history, a new website called DiedInHouse.com claims—for a small fee—to know if someone has died in your house.


Copyright 2013 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond

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