Houses don’t have memories.
—-The Amityville Horror
Erika Smith was an exceptionally beautiful child,
crowned with flowing dark locks that framed a face graced with radiant honey-brown skin
and eyes of molten chocolate.
Described as a “girlie-girl [who] liked to think of herself as a sporty-girl,”
the soon-to-be third grader was such an avid ice-cream enthusiast
local ice-cream parlor employees recognized her on sight and dubbed her “Little Miss Peppermint.”
Erika’s parents never married,
and the sprightly nine-year old
split her time between her mother’s condominium and her father’s red-brick colonial
located at 9337 Columbia Boulevard in the Washington DC suburb of
Silver Springs, Maryland. Erika’s father Greg Russell, age 47, was a successful accountant
and real estate investor
who doted upon his only child, teaching the precocious tot the inner-workings of the stock market,
covering the 20K tuition bill at her posh private
school, and allowing her to bicycle through the spacious rooms of his tastefully-furnished abode.
Blessed with good looks, a keen intellect and attentive, financially-stable parents,
Erika had been given a life that most would envy;
there was, however, one gift the fates denied the much-loved child—Erika, tragically,
was not blessed with longevity.
On the evening of August 6th, 2002
Erika spent an uneventful evening at her father’s home, the last hours on earth the two would share;
at approximately 11pm Greg was on the phone with a business colleague when Erika was heard in the background screaming, “Daddy! Daddy!”
clad in an afro-wig and bushy false beard, recent parolee Anthony Quintin Kelly, age 37,
had randomly broken in through the home’s kitchen window.
When he spotted Erika in her bedroom, burglary plans knocked awry, Kelly began to viciously pummel
the terrified little girl with the butt of his handgun.
When the child’s cries brought her father rushing to her aid
Kelly shot Greg Russell eight times and fired a single, fatal bullet into Erika’s back.
Erika’s life was over,
ended on a whim by a would-be burglar whose big score netted him a well-worn Bible and the paltry sum
of three one-dollar bills.
The irony of a thief and murderer stealing a Bible, of all things, is surpassed only by the utter tragedy of two lives,
senselessly and capriciously destroyed.
Later that month Kelly fled on foot from police during a routine traffic stop;
a wealth of evidence linking him to Erika and Greg’s murders was found inside the stolen Chevy Tahoe he’d been driving,
the wig worn during the commission of the crime secreted
deep within the vehicle’s wheel-well. Kelly was apprehended two weeks later,
and although originally found incompetent to stand trial the twice-convicted rapist was eventually deemed sane
and is currently serving dual life sentences without parole for his crimes.
The dwelling at 9337 Columbia Boulevard stood empty for a time,
but the notoriety of the house’s grim history eventually faded,
and in August of 2003 the home was purchased by Brian Betts,
a middle-school principal known for his enthusiasm and innovative approach to education.
Mr. Betts was unaware of the carnage that had previously transpired in his new abode,
and when he learned it had been the site of a double murder he tried to rescind the sale.
In Maryland, however, realtors are not obligated to inform prospective buyers of a property’s homicidal history,
and thus Mr. Betts was financially shackled to the home
in which Erika and her father had perished in a hail of gunfire.
It was the last home he would ever own.
Determined to make the best of a bad situation,
Brian Betts extensively remodeled the house’s interior and hired not one but two ministers
to perform exorcisms on the residence.
These measures seemed to dispel any lingering negative energy,
and by all accounts Mr. Betts came to love his new home and was reportedly quite happy and content there until April 15th, 2010—the night he too was murdered within its walls.
That evening, after an impromptu barbecue and a smattering of cocktails Mr. Betts phoned Adam4Adam, a chat line which served as a meeting place for men hoping to arrange assignations of a more private nature.
There the 42-year old educator became acquainted with Alante Saunders, age 18, a career criminal whose first arrest,
for a first-degree sex offense,
occurred at the tender age of 11.
Saunders, as it turns out, was not trawling Adam4Adam for the love that dare not speak its name;
the teenager was hunting for robbery victims, and he knew gay men,
endowed with disposable income and skittish of law enforcement, made for easy pickings.
Although the details are murky,
at some point during the mutual pitching of woo Brian agreed to leave his front door unlocked while awaiting
his ostensible lover’s arrival.
Later that evening Saunders, accompanied by three friends, convicted felons all,
entered Mr. Betts’ home and shot the beloved principal to death; they then stole his wallet and electronics and drove off in his Nissan Xterra sports utility vehicle.
The murderous quartet may have been seasoned criminals, but criminal masterminds they were not—incriminating fingerprints bespeckled the crime scene,
and they appeared on a McDonald’s surveillance camera shortly after the murder,
buying snacks with their victim’s credit card before his blood had dried on the house’s newly-refinished floors.
Inevitably, the foursome was soon apprehended.
Saunders, the triggerman, was sentenced to 40 years, his cohorts garnering lesser sentences.
Three murders within 8 years—although realtors in Maryland
may not be required to inform purchasers of a property’s bloody history,
at some point the grim lineage of the house at 9337 Columbia Boulevard became infamous;
the address has since been changed to 9335 to bamboozle unwary potential buyers.
Although the price has recently been slashed by $20,000,
still the house sits empty; it’s a shame really—such a beautiful house,
forever marred by the blood spilled beneath its slate-shingled roof.
It is, after all, simply a house—a construction of bricks and mortar,
no more accursed than any inanimate object can be, regardless of the murderous acts that occurred therein.
And yet. And yet there is something unsettling
about living in rooms where three human beings gasped their last, agonized breaths
as their souls were wrenched from their bullet-riddled bodies.
Although I am not a huge believer in things supernatural there’s no question in my mind that if hauntings do in fact exist
the cavalcade of horrors that occurred within this house’s walls
would summon the restless dead—the spirit of a beloved principal
forever lingering in the bedroom waiting for a lover who will bring not kisses but death,
and a spectral little girl, forever 9 years old, bicycling through the shadowy rooms
calling for her daddy.
I’d rather live in Alaska, frankly.