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Thursday, January 7, 2016

A REAL-LIFE MYSTERY IN ANASTASIA'S REAL-LIFE HOMETOWN

The Watcher House in Westfield, NJ
Sometimes stuff happens and other stuff—like guest blogs—fall through the cracks. Such was the case with the author scheduled to blog today. So because I’m such a lady of leisure (this is sarcasm for any of you not familiar with the life author Lois Winston has created for me,) I’m stepping in to tell you about a real-life mystery in the real-life town where the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries take place.

Lois often gets many of her plot ideas from real-life events. My latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, A Stitch to Die For, is no exception. She’s woven several recent news stories into my latest foray as a reluctant amateur sleuth.

Shortly after the book was released our little suburban commuter town made national news. A short walk from my home is a house that is being stalked by someone calling himself The Watcher. Or so the owners claim. Here are the facts:

In June 2014 the house, built in 1905 and located on a street that has been designated historical, was sold for 1.35 million dollars. (a far cry from the value of the 1950’s tract rancher that’s home to me, my two sons, my communist mother-in-law, her devil dog, Ralph the Shakespeare-quoting parrot, and occasionally my DAR mother and her zaftig Persian cat.) The sellers had lived in the house since 1990. The new owners made extensive renovations to the house but never moved in. Last June they filed a lawsuit against the former owner for not disclosing that the house had been stalked for decades.

According to the new owners, the seller received a letter from The Watcher several days prior to settlement but failed to disclose it. Three days after settlement the new owners received the first of three letters from The Watcher. The Watcher claimed the house “has been the subject of my family for decades” and that he was put in charge of “watching and waiting for the second coming” after his father and grandfather before him. He went on to make threats against the new owners’ three children. No letters were ever received after mid-July of last year. Meanwhile the new owners went ahead with their renovations.

The new owners turned the three letters over to the police who investigated but found nothing. No letter addressed to the former owner has surfaced, and she hasn’t admitted ever having received any. Other former owners have stated there was never any problems regarding the house and all had happy memories of living there.

In February of last year the new owners put the house up for sale without ever having lived in it. The lawsuit claims they haven’t been able to sell the house, even after repeated price reductions, because of The Watcher. However, no one knew anything about The Watcher and the letters until this past June when the lawsuit was filed and became public record.

Home disclosure laws vary from state to state. In some states the seller would have had to disclose information about The Watcher prior to closing. Not in New Jersey. Here the seller only has to disclose prior physical problems such as a fire or flood. And who’s to say the seller had even heard of The Watcher, let alone ever received a letter from him? That’s only on the word of the new owners, and how do they know the seller received a letter?

I suspect Lois has her own theories about all this, and she’ll probably wind up plopping me right into the middle of it when she gets around to dumping me into a new mystery in Book 6. At least I know I’ll survive whatever she has in store for me. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a Book 7.

A Stitch to Die For
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 5

The adventures of reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack continue in A Stitch to Die For, the 5th book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series by USA Today bestselling author Lois Winston.

Ever since her husband died and left her in debt equal to the gross national product of Uzbekistan, magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack has stumbled across one dead body after another—but always in work-related settings. When a killer targets the elderly nasty neighbor who lives across the street from her, murder strikes too close to home. Couple that with a series of unsettling events days before Halloween, and Anastasia begins to wonder if someone is sending her a deadly message.

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14 comments:

Angela Adams said...

Fascinating! Always a pleasure to "chat" with Anastasia!!

Vamp Writer said...

I've been down with the flu so, since I can't sleep I do what I love best write and read what others have written (including blogs). I found the "Watcher" letters very interesting. Except for the timing of the letters it almost sounds like the current owners may have created the issue since they can't sell their renovated but never lived in house. It will be interesting to find out how they learned of the receipt of the previous owners letter from "the watcher" since their suite alleges that they received such a letter. Something smells fishy to me! Now that the "cat is out of the bag" through the suite being filed, perhaps a significantly lower price on the house might garner "interest." Perhaps interest from someone who has had a long term interest in the property, but not at the price previously purchased or which is now advertised (with improvements made)?

M. Johnston said...

I agree with Vamp Writer . . . maybe this was a "flip" that turned into a "flop" since the current owners never moved in.

Nice job, Lois, letting Anastasia step in for your missing guest.

Ann Myers said...

Creepy! There's definitely a story in that, but, oh, I feel for the real-life buyers and sellers and that lovely house.

Melissa Keir said...

Or maybe a disgruntled former owner who now wants the house back at a deal price. There's a story there for sure. :)

ANASTASIA POLLACK said...

Thank you all!

Angela, always a pleasure to see you stop by for a chat.

Vamp Writer, feel better! You, M. Johnson, Ann, and Melissa are all in my camp--definitely something fishy going on and definitely story fodder!

Kathy McIntosh said...

Sounds like a very creative way to get out of a purchase you regret. Fascinating. Thanks, Anastasia, for sharing real life news. Ooh, I'm getting confused about that line between fiction and reality. It's wobbling.

ANASTASIA POLLACK said...

I'm not so sure, Kathy. I suspect they could be charged with fraud if that were the case and it could be proven.

LeaWait said...

I know Westfield! Fun to read about it. A few years back I was selling my New Jersey home and ran into a major problem: the guy who'd lived next door (but was currently in a rehab facility)was on the sex offender list. He was in his 60s and had had consensual sex with a local teenager. No one considered him a danger to anyone. But my house was next door, and some day he'd be coming home. Since he had not technically been convicted of a crime -- he was a lawyer who'd pled guilty to avoid the boy's having to testify in court -- if prospective owners of my house were told a sex offender owned the house next door I was told (by his lawyer) I'd be defaming his character. On the other hand ... that Jersey law that says new owners have to know about deaths, crimes, ghosts, etc in a house -- meant that if the prospective owners were NOT told -- the deal would not be valid. I actually talked to a dozen realtors before I found one who'd work with me. (Yes, the house eventually sold -- at about $100,000 less than appraised. Not fun!) Real estate laws are tricky ... Thanks for sharing this case!

ANASTASIA POLLACK said...

Wow, Lea! What a nightmare, not to mention a financial hit. I do wonder about the circumstances, though. If the guy is on the sex offenders list, anyone can check. I certainly would if I had young kids and was moving to a new location. The law states you have to tell people about problems with your own home, like prior floods and fires (I don't think ghosts are part of the NJ law,) but this wasn't your house. It was the house next door. Did you consult a lawyer or just realtors? Since all home sales in NJ have to go through that 3-day legal review period before closing, both the buyer and seller have to have attorneys anyway.

LeaWait said...

Oh, yes! Lawyers were involved. (And I was told a house that was haunted had to be identified as such.) The couple who did buy the house (a bargain!) had two children, a boy and a girl - and they did a lot of research on my neighbor and decided they were not worried. Truthfully -- I knew the man, and I didn't think he'd be any danger to anyone, for quite a few reasons. This was in 1998 -- I can't remember the name of the law that had just been passed re: notifying neighbors about sexual predators -- but it was what everyone was afraid of. In any case, I happily moved to Maine, and I haven't heard there were any problems in my old neighborhood!

ANASTASIA POLLACK said...

Glad to hear there have been no problems in your old neighborhood, Lea. I'm really surprised about the ghosts being part of that law, though, given that not everyone believes in ghosts, and there has never been any definitive proof of their existence. When I was researching the goings-on of the Watcher house, I came across information about how disclosure laws differ from state to state and that NJ's law deals entirely with physical problems that had occurred to the house. I think you also had to disclose if a murder had occurred on the property, but I can't be absolutely certain of that. I don't think I read the actual law, just an article about it.

Ava said...

I was thinking like Melissa, maybe someone is trying to manipulate the price down. Or maybe a disgruntled neighbor is just trying to make others miserable. Weirder things have happened.

ANASTASIA POLLACK said...

Definitely, Ave. Meanwhile, I've seen no follow-up to this story since the flurry of stories after the lawsuit was filed. It will be interesting to learn the outcome.