Buying a house at an extremely discounted rate because the previous occupants were murdered may not sound like a wise idea. Especially if the house still looks like the crime scene that was inspected just months earlier. But prime real-estate in the centre of London is worth its weight in gold. I suspected if the estate had bothered to clean, then there would have been more buyers and the price would have risen through the roof. However, blood stains and the smell of death put off even the most forgiving buyer.
So there I stood, in my own murder house. It didn’t look as bad as the brochure portrayed. The living room was barely touched, except the single line of bloody footprints that ruined the carpet and ran from the stairs to the front door. All the furniture was unscathed however.
The kitchen sink was stained brown with dried blood as the killer had tried to wash their clothes, the garments long since gone into evidence.
The footprints carried on up the stairs, they appeared hurried. Red handprints decorated the walls, like an over-active child had run rampant finger painting. I added this to my notepad for later.
The box room was particularly tragic, and I think it is why this place didn’t have more bidders. A single bed, sans mattress and sheets stood testament to the memory of the family’s only child. The nightstand left untouched. A single nightlight, a porcelain rendition of the crooked man’s house sat in darkness, waiting to be lit by someone who was no longer here. I checked the cupboard and chest of drawers, these were filled with children’s clothes. I made a note to give those to charity, it’s the least I could do for the family.
The bathroom was a mess of white arrowed labels, pointing to brown marks that speckled the tiled walls and shower curtain. Pulling it back, similarl streaks converge on the plug hole, a reminder of the last time this bathtub was emptied.
I saw the bloody footprints exit the master bedroom; this was what I’ve not been looking forward to. Just like the box room, the mattress was missing. Lots of stickers had been placed purposefully on the walls. But it doesn’t take a detective to understand someone was struck in this room. The headboard and wall behind were covered in blood spatter. It looked like a peacock’s plume in all its majesty. I envisioned the killer slamming a baseball bat onto the unsuspecting head of his victim. The husband didn’t sleep soundly that night, as it was him who was delivering the blows to his wife as she slept.
I tried to picture the room clean and in daylight, but all I could see was the angry man taking advantage of his sleeping wife. I left the room, closing the door behind me.
I made my way back downstairs and checked my notes. All in all, I would need to invest around £6,500 to get the place ready for selling, unfurnished. Furnished, could be double that. I’d not see a profit in that though, and an unfurnished house looks so much bigger to prospective buyers.
I returned to the kitchen and took a glass out of the cabinet, pouring myself a glass of water. I felt uncomfortable doing this, using the murdered family’s possessions. As I downed it, I mentally apologised to the deceased, before placing the glass upside down on the draining rack.
On the floor, I noticed something I’d not before. A hatch, I assumed it led to a cellar or basement. I pulled on the concealed handle, but it wouldn’t budge. It was as if it was nailed shut. Nonplussed, I made another note. No-one really bothers with the cellar when you are selling a house, unless it is very spacious, otherwise, it can be off putting. Getting rid of the damp odour that sometimes persists can be almost impossible, so when I can, I ignore it. Advertise it in the brochure, but then selectively forget to include it in the tour.
I left the house, a shiver tingled down my spine as I stepped over the threshold. I really didn’t want to go back in there before it was ready. This wasn’t the first house I needed to renovate before selling, and not the first someone had died in, but it was the most gruesome.
“It’s such a shame,” came a voice that I unsuccessfully tried to pin-point.
“Hello?” I returned.
I saw a small gentleman stand at the end of the front yard, his hands held into his pockets, trying to keep them warm.
“So, are you the new owner?” he asked.
“Yeah, for the time being.”
“Any chance I can see inside?”
“Who are you?”
“Local paper. You’d be doing me a huge favour letting me have a nose around.”
“No, thank you. I don’t think that would be appropriate, do you?”
I shook my head, closing the gate behind me.
“Can’t blame a man for trying, can you.”
He raised his camera and reeled off a couple of shots.
“Do you mind?” I said, pushing my way in front of him.
He trotted off down the street, chuckling to himself, “No matter, I’ll see you’s later. Cheerio.”
The next morning I phoned a company I’d used before. Flipped many houses with them, but not one so gruesome. I told them what needed to be done and they quoted me near double what I estimated. There’s a saying – if there is a job worth doing, it’s worth doing right. I have an addendum to that – as long as the price is right. This left me in a predicament. I had a house I was paying the mortgage for, and under no uncertain terms was I going to do the work.
After a few hours going through the Yellow Pages, I found a company willing to do the work for less than my estimate. I was skeptical at first, but after checking their website, they appeared the real deal; however, it’s hard to tell just from that. After a long conversation with the MD, and the fact he offered me 25% off if they didn’t finish the work in a week, I almost bit off his hand.
I spent the coming days in a hotel. Usually when I did this sort of thing, I’d stay in a room of the house until the workmen needed to go in there. But this place, I was not going to spend any longer than was needed, in what was still technically a crime scene.
Room service brought me a beer, the fifth of the night. Bored and curious, I searched for news reports as to what happened in the house. It was covered at a national level, but each story I read was the same as the last. An overview I was familiar with. Father with growing debts, kills his family, still on the run.
A quote from his brother saying, *”I cannot believe Adam would do something like this, it’s not like him at all. He provided for his family. I knew he liked to gamble, but I didn’t think it was a problem.”*
I found an article from the local newspaper, which read very similar to the others. They had interviewed the neighbours, however their sound bites were as uninteresting for the larger papers.
“I would never have expected this, he was so quiet; they never argued, not that we heard anyway,” Mrs Hampton at no. 62.
“Just the night before he had helped me start my car by running jump leads, he was a life-saver. Sorry, that was inappropriate,” the neighbour on the other side, a Mr Garret.
The articles didn’t go into much detail of the event itself, other than Adam Crossman killed his wife with a baseball bat, and his son via strangulation and a knife through the heart.
I searched for his name via Google, and turned up more carbon copies of the articles I had already read. I also found a page on Companies House, listing him as a director of a local IT firm. His company had seen year on year profits, on the surface it didn’t appear as if he had money issues.
I fell asleep that night thinking about the Crossman family. My dreams punctuated with screams of a woman and a boy as their father rampaged through the house in his attempt to free them from the financial prison they were unaware of.
I was awoken at 7:30am by a phone call from an unknown number. My head thumped as a hangover took residence. I let it ring out before I made my way over to the house.
The plesant smell was surprising as I entered the building.
“Wow,” I stated, seeing white-clothed painters and decorators doing their work.
“Do you like what you see?” the foreman asked.
“I do; how did you get rid of that smell?”
“Old company secret,” he responded grinning.
The living-room had been gutted, the floor now naked, only the floorboards visible. A man plugged in a sander and got to work buffing the barely visible footprints from the wood.
“How does the upstairs look?” I shouted over the noise.
“Good, the walls have been stripped. We are going to paint them this afternoon. One other thing, a man came to visit, said he tried to phone you, that he’d be back later.”
“Thank you, did you get his name?”
“Sorry, boss, no. He seemed in a hurry.”
I asked if there was anything I could get the guys for lunch. The foreman passed me a scrap of paper that listed their orders.
“If you can get that, then I can get started in the kitchen.”
“No problem, keep up the good work,” I said, looking at the paper.
I returned with their food around 1:30pm. The reporter stood in the garden.
“Oh it’s you.”
“Beautiful,” the foreman said, taking delivery of the brown sacks.
“You didn’t let this man in, did you?”
The foreman looked away, “Was I not supposed to? He said he was a friend of yours.”
I shook my head.
“Don’t let me cause a problem, I’ll just get going,” the reporter said turning to leave.
“I’m sorry, boss,” the foreman said behind me.
At this point I almost wished I spent the extra money and got the regular guys in, this would never have happened with them.
“Get your pictures did you?” I asked.
“Just a couple.”
“People like you make me sick,” I replied.
“People like me? Not people like you, who get a house at a knock down rate because the whole family was murdered, yeah you guys are fine.”
“Fuck off!” I shouted.
“What are you going to do with all those children’s clothes? Use them to clean the walls. It’s a shit-hole in there.”
He picked up his camera and took a photo of me, the large flash temporarily blinding me.
“Don’t be a stranger,” he said, leaving the premises.
The foreman stared at me, like he’d just seen his parents arguing.
“It’s my fault, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Don’t worry about it, just don’t let that little shit in again.”
“Promise, hand on heart.”
I returned to the house three days later. I was shocked. The whole placed looked brand new. The foreman showed me round. The new bathroom was incredible, the bath was now replaced with a shower unit, which allowed for a larger toilet, that meant its occupant no longer had to sit with their leg against the radiator.
“I’m impressed,” I said.
“Wait until you see the master bedroom.”
We entered and he nodded knowingly.
“You cannot tell someone was bludgeoned to death in here, can you?” he said proud.
“I cannot knock you there,” I said, smelling the fresh paint.
“It was easy really, just sand back the blood, and paint over, nothing more complicated.”
We returned to the kitchen, he filled the kettle and turned it on.
“What about the cellar?” I asked.
“Damn thing won’t open, like someone nailed it shut. What do you want us to do? We can run the flooring over it?”
“No, buyers like to think there is a cellar, even if they cannot open it.”
“You’re the boss. We’ll have a look in the morning and pry it up if we need to.”
“Thanks,” I said, watching him take his teabag out of cup and throw it in the sink.
“I think I’m going to stay here tonight, save a bit of money.”
“That’s fine, we should be finished by tomorrow, depending on how much work we have to do down there,” he said, “And about that – we didn’t budget any money for down there. Your discount won’t apply if we overrun because of that.”
“Understand, just don’t do anything without consulting me first.”
“I’ll see you later,” I said, planning to check out of the hotel and buy a cheap air mattress for the night.
I returned late, the sun had already set, the air had turned cold and unforgiving. The house was freezing, the central heating was not running due to the fact the gas hd been turned off for the renovation.
The house took on a different atmosphere than in the daytime. The cold air gave it an almost haunted feel. I contemplated setting up camp in the living room, but just thinking about the bloody footprints put me off. I imagined the killer stomping through here, on the way to the kitchen to get cleaned up; the thought chilled me.
I walked up the stairs, the new white paint was pristine, and didn’t give away the sinister markings that were there only days before.
I approached the master bedroom, looking in it could have been any two bed London house. But knowing what went on in there, the space only lit from the small LED bulb hanging in the hallway, turned me away. I decided to bed down in the box room. The furniture was now removed, which left only a beige carpet and lilac walls. It didn’t look how I had seen it before. The smaller space was much more inviting.
I rolled out the inch thick camping mat, annoyed that I couldn’t get hold of an airbed earlier that evening.
I tossed and turned, finding it very difficult to rest on the paper thin mattress. Sleep did finally find me as the exhaustion from the week took over.
I wake to the sound of whispering. I sit up, expecting to be in my hotel room. The icy air makes me shiver, and I watch my breath billow out in front of me, lit by the moon through the uncurtained windows.
Daddy, I can’t sleep.
I hear a boy’s voice from down the hallway. I make my way over to the door, covering my near naked body in the duvet.
I look down the empty hallway, finding it hard to focus in the dark.
It’s just your uncle, go back to bed.
A man’s voice this time.
I shuffle along the landing and peer into the master bedroom. It’s different. The bed is there, I could swear it was empty the night before. A nightlight gives off an orange glow. Under the sheets it appears a woman sleeps.
I hear quiet footsteps behind me. I look down the stairs.
Go back to bed son.
The man’s voice again, from the bottom of the stairs.
I hear a creak as the front door opens.
What are you doing here?
No, I’m not going to give you any money.
I creep down, carefully trying not to make any noise.
No, you are not coming in. You’ve already woken Josh. Get out, and don’t come back.
The front door slams.
Disorientated, I am back in my bed. The icy air made me shiver, and I watched my breath billow out in front of me, lit by the moon through the uncurtained windows.
My heart was racing. I checked my phone – 3:30am. I led back down, the details of my dream still vivid in my mind. I closed my eyes and tried to fall back to sleep. But there was a thumping. I wondered if it was people on their way back from a night on the town. I got up and opened the window. The still night air was vastly quiet, except for the sound of the nearest road.
I heard it again, the vibrations through my feet. I closed the window and approached the hallway, covering my near naked body in the duvet.
In the dark, I squinted. I saw something on the carpet exit the master bedroom and head for the stairs – the bloody footprints. I swore to myself. Annoyed I used those cowboys. Just sanded them down and laid the carpet on top, they said.
If a job’s worth doing, I thought to myself and then wished I spent the extra money.
There it was again, the thunking sound. I followed the footprints down the stairs. Those bloody handprints on the walls were there too, they bled, as if they were fresh wounds in the walls themselves.
In the living-room, I saw light coming from the kitchen. I searched quickly for anything. I picked up a poker, from the wrought iron holder, that sat next to the fireplace.
I tried to steady my breathing as I made my way to the kitchen.
The sound was much more audible here. I stopped in front of the doorframe and slowly looked in. It was the reporter. He was on the floor in front of the cellar hatch trying to pry it up with a crowbar.
I watched as he swore to himself, digging the tool into the hole he made. The hatch gave way and opened with force. He sat back, catching his breath, before retching.
As the stench hit me, I coughed. The reporter turned around; his face in shock. He studied my makeshift weapon.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“What the *fuck* am *I* doing here? What the fuck are you doing here?”
He stood up, holding his hands over his head.
“Just trying to dig up a story,” he said with a wry smile.
“No-one’s been down there, have they?”
“No, it wouldn’t open.”
“So, anything could be down there.”
I coughed again, as the horrible smell became overpowering.
He used this as an opportunity to run at me. It wasn’t reflexes, I wish I could say it was. But it was just pure damn luck. Before I knew what happened, the reporter was on the floor. The poker sticking out of his chest.
I ran upstairs to get my phone and when I returned, he was gone. Just another blood soaked trail through my living-room and out the front door.
When the police arrived, they recognised the smell, and within forty-five minutes the forensic team were there as well.
I waited outside in the garden. Even though it was almost freezing, I was not going to set a foot back inside that house.
“Do you recognise this man?” an officer asked me, as he left the house, holding up a small passport sized photo.
“Yeah, that’s the reporter. He’s the one I stabbed. It was a complete accident, I promise.”
He returned to the building without saying another word.
“Excuse me, what’s going on?” I asked, following the officer back into the house.
The stench was now unbearable. I held my sleeve to my mouth. I moved out of the way as the forensic team carried out a bodybag on a stretcher.
“Are you sure that is the person you saw?” the officer asked again, holding up the photo.
“The same,” I said.
It was a week later when the police allowed me back in the house. I’d checked myself back into the hotel, not wanting to go back in. My phone rang, I saw it was the foreman.
“We can’t find the blood you mentioned. I told you my guys do a good job,” he said, somewhat annoyed.
“The stairs, the living room and the landing, it’s *fucking* obvious,” I shouted at him.
“Sir, there is nothing there, it looks just as we left it.”
“Bullshit,” I said.
“I’ll send you some photos, see for yourself.”
I hung up, a few minutes later my phone vibrated. It was the images the foreman said he would send.
Just as he said, the stairs and the carpets were fine.
I held my hand to my face, confused. There was a knock at the door. I opened it. The officer I saw before stood there.
“Would you come down to the station with us? We have some questions for you.”
“I didn’t stab him on purpose.”
In the station, I waited in an interview room for what seemed like hours. When the officer entered, I stood up.
“Please sit down.”
I did what I was told. The policeman sat opposite and pushed a file in front of me. I opened it, to see the reporter on a hospital bed. The poker had been removed, and replaced with a large white patch.
“That’s the man who was in your house?”
“Yes, he was trying to pry up the cellar door.”
He produced another file.
I opened it and gasped. It was the reporter again. But he was dead. Decomposition disfigured his face.
“I don’t understand?”
The officer shook his head, “That’s Adam. this is Lance, his brother, they’re twins. He’s also not a reporter.”
I sat back in the chair, shocked.
“He thought he was in the will, and when he didn’t get the money, he planned on killing his brother and his family.”
“How do you know?”
“He told us everything when he thought he was going to die. We will need to take a statement from you.”
That was six months ago now. The house sat on the market for all that time.
I got a call today from my real estate agent, saying I had an offer. It barely covered the costs I’d put into renovating the place, but I accepted it anyway. The sooner I was rid of the place the better.
I was ready for bed when the phone rang, it was a private number.
All I heard was heavy breathing.
I heard a chuckle, “Hehe, you did a really good job with the place. You cannot even tell anything happened here.”
“Who are you?”
“Looks like they did leave me some money after all.”
“Lance, is that you?”
“Sleep well, don’t be a stranger.”