I am a former realtor and staging specialist who currently lends my expertise to sellers who are attempting to navigate the housing market.
A Bit of Background
I grew up hearing stories that would have scarred most children for life. My father was devoted to law enforcement, having spent twenty years working for the West Virginia State Police. Upon his retirement, he immediately accepted the role of Deputy Sheriff in our little community. The law was in his blood and that would never change.
Unfortunately, my siblings and I were exposed to some of the more unsavory aspects of my father's job. I remember, as a child, viewing photographs that had been taken of high-speed collisions. Although the images were in black and white, the horrifying stories they told were something I would never forget.
My father would also stress to us, on a daily basis, that the world was a dangerous place. He would get annoyed if we dared to exclaim that we could take care of ourselves. He had seen things that we couldn't imagine and on these occasions, he would sit us down and acquaint us with his reality. Let me tell you, it wasn't pretty.
Sprinkled in with these true examples of times when individuals came face-to-face with peril while simply doing their jobs are a few tips that might prove useful to people who find themselves in similar situations.
There are many professions in which people are put in harm's way on a regular basis, whether they realize it or not. It was while working as a real estate agent in the late 1990s that I came to realize trust was something to be left at the doorstep when it came to dealing with potential clients.
As a young realtor, I was given a short list of the "dos and don'ts" of sales, including heading off trouble before it reared its ugly head. For instance, during the orientation process I had been cautioned by my broker that it was not a good idea to offer rides to prospective buyers. Accepted protocol was to meet anyone who was interested in viewing a property at the location. That being said, I knew many agents who would do anything to make their buyers happy, including acting as a taxi service.
The broker stressed that none of her realtors were permitted to show a property after 9pm. Again, I know of several times when fellow agents would ignore what was good for them and meet a total stranger, well past curfew, in an empty house and hope for the best. Fortunately, no one got hurt and all was well. That is not always the case.
One story that circulated throughout the real estate community at the time occurred in Washington state in the 1980s. In this cautionary tale, a female realtor agreed to meet a buyer at a vacant house in an upscale neighborhood. The agent was married to a police officer and considered herself relatively people savvy. Unfortunately, it only takes one event to prove that no one is infallible.
The agent later related that she noticed something strange about the man right off the bat, but had given him the benefit of the doubt. His odd behavior included excusing himself to go to the bathroom several times as she was showing him around the house.
Even though the potential buyer seemed to be mildly interested in the realtor's rundown of the features that this particular house boasted, she still sensed that something wasn't quite right.
As she was showing the man around one of the bedrooms, his demeanor suddenly turned violent and he pushed her to the floor. It was only then that the terrified woman saw that he had pulled out a weapon. What followed was a brutal sexual assault.
The realtor was certain that she would be murdered, but the man simply told her to get into the closet and stay there until he was gone. As horrifying as her ordeal had been, she had survived. In keeping with being the wife of a cop, she had the presence of mind to preserve evidence that would eventually lead to his capture. It turned out that the man was a serial rapist.
In my years as a realtor, there was one incident that I will never forget. It was on a Sunday evening following an open house that I received a call from a man who claimed that he had missed the showing, but desperately wanted to see the property.
Alarm bells went off almost immediately when I began to jot down his personal information. I had caller ID on my landline which revealed that the number he gave me was not the number he was calling from. It was worrying to see that the call was originating from a seedy motel.
Even though he seemed a bit sketchy, realtors can't afford to be too choosy. I offered to show him the house on Monday morning, but he wouldn't hear of it. He insisted on viewing the property immediately. Against my better judgment, I agreed to meet him there within the hour.
I might have been eager for a sale, but I wasn't stupid. I asked my husband to come with me and wait in the car while I showed this guy the house. When we pulled up in front of my listing, the man was waiting for us in a dented car that was covered in primer.
I told my husband that I was going to leave the front door open and that if it closed that meant that I was in trouble. I also asked him to call me every few minutes. If he didn't receive an answer right away, he was to come check on me. Looking back, I should have just had him come in with me from the start, but we were discouraged by our manager from having family members enter our listings.
The potential buyer looked to be around twenty years old. He had told me on the phone that he and his wife were in the market for a new home, but he came to the viewing alone. Normally, couples want to see a property together, so this was another red flag. I also took note of the fact that he wasn't wearing a wedding ring.
As I gave him a laundry list of all of the home's attributes, it was obvious that he couldn't care less. He didn't ask one question about financing or taxes. He didn't inquire about electrical updates or dimensions. When I handed him the sheet that had all of the details that a buyer would normally need, he didn't even glance at the paper.
One thing that he did do was continuously walk to the front door and glance outside to see if my husband was still keeping an eye on things. My husband was well-aware that the man was keeping tabs on him.
After several minutes, I came to my senses and told the man that it was time to close up the house for the evening. He said that he would discuss things with his wife and get back to me. Needless to say, I never heard from him again.
It is always possible that this guy was exactly what he said he was: a buyer looking for a house. Every instinct in my body, however, told me otherwise. My husband also got a creepy vibe just from the man's demeanor. To be in the room with him, for me, was akin to nails on a chalkboard. Sometimes you can just tell when someone is a bad seed and this was one of those times.
There are not many occasions when someone will agree to spend time alone in an empty house with a complete stranger. That is, unless you're a realtor. I believe that most agencies now require that prospective buyers come by the office and leave a copy of their driver's license before they can be shown a house. I hope that this is true. It isn't a total failsafe, but it's better than nothing.
The Last Stop
One story that has haunted me for years is that of flight attendant Nancy Ludwig. Her terrifying tale is a perfect example of a completely innocent victim whose occupation placed them in the wrong place at the wrong time. In 1991, Nancy had a layover in Romulus, Michigan before she was to continue on to Florida the following morning. Tragically, she would never make that flight.
Arriving late in the evening, Nancy had a room at the Hilton Airport Inn waiting for her. Several members of the flight crew would also be staying at the hotel, which was located close to the airport from which they would be departing early the next morning.
A co-worker of Nancy's, who had ridden on the airport shuttle bus with her, would later tell authorities that there had been a man who had accompanied them on their short jaunt to the hotel. What had made him stand out in her memory was the fact that he had not taken his eyes off of Nancy for the entire ride.
Nancy had departed the bus and bid her friend goodnight before retiring to her room. She checked in around nine o'clock and got on the elevator. What happened after that is the stuff of nightmares.
The next morning, the reliable flight attendant missed her morning wake-up call. No alarm bells immediately went off since Nancy had not been a scheduled member of the crew for this particular flight. As an add-on, her presence had not been essential. Hours would go by before the reality of what happened to Nancy would be discovered.
At one o'clock in the afternoon, Nancy's brutalized body was found bound and gagged on the floor of her room by hotel housekeeping. She had been raped and stabbed before having her throat cut from ear to ear.
One telling aspect of this crime was apparent to detectives right away: Nancy had let her killer into her room on the night she was killed. This led those close to the case to believe that someone had posed as a hotel worker in order to gain her trust, thus persuading her that it was safe to open the door.
This theory was bolstered by the fact that another flight attendant who had stayed on the same floor of the hotel as Nancy came forward to say that someone claiming to be hotel security had knocked on her door on the night that Nancy was killed.
Normally, the woman said that she would have let the man in without a second thought, but for some reason on that particular night she refused to open the door. She said that man argued for a brief period before giving up and heading down the hall. If this scenario was true, his next stop could have been Nancy's room.
It was also speculated that perhaps Nancy's killer had stepped out of the shadows and grabbed her before she had even entered her room. If someone had been following her that night, he could have seen his opportunity and taken it just as she was unlocking the door. Whatever the circumstances, Nancy had not seen the danger that was upon her until it was too late.
The murder of Nancy Ludwig remained unsolved until 2002 when a man named Jeffrey Gorton was arrested in Michigan. He had been apprehended when fingerprint evidence linked him to the 1986 rape and murder of a University of Michigan professor named Margarette Eby.
In the course of the Eby investigation, DNA evidence was used to match Gorton to another murder victim: Nancy Ludwig. Gorton is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the rapes and murders of the two women.
The circumstances of Nancy's murder are still a bit murky since Gorton refused to reveal the details of why he targeted her. It is speculated that he could have been the man on the bus who had been so taken with the beautiful flight attendant. Whatever the case, he committed unspeakable acts that he is now paying for with his freedom.
*Sources: "Reward" Paulette Cooper and Paul Noble; Wikipedia
A Few Tips
We all like to get away from it all from time to time. Even so, there are a few things to remember while staying away from home.
One is to never let anyone into your hotel room unless you are expecting them. If someone knocks on your door claiming to be maintenance or security, even if they have phoned ahead of time, check with the front desk before allowing them entry.
It is rare for hotel employees to ask to gain access to rooms while they are occupied. Remember that you have the right to tell them to come back later. It's always better to be safe than sorry.
Another precaution that we all need to take is to be aware of our surroundings. If someone makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end, trust your intuition. If, for instance, you feel apprehensive about getting on an elevator with a stranger then wait for the next one. It won't make you a bad person.
As humans, we sometimes worry too much about hurting the feelings of a total stranger whose presence makes us uneasy. Remember, our instincts are nature's way of protecting us from dangers that we might otherwise ignore. After all, the gazelle doesn't stop and worry that it might hurt the lion's feelings if it runs away. Be a gazelle; the lion will get over it.