Haus Schwatz: Cati's DC Real Estate


Mansion Murder Mystery

My jaw dropped when I started reading. This was not what I had in mind when I was looking for some cool old stories or trivia around the house.

I had just come back from a listing appointment with smart and pleasant sellers. The “subject” was an old house, and--as always—it tickled my curiosity. DC is an old town with lots of history, and many of the homes have seen fascinating events and/or have had fascinating owners. As buyers and sellers alike love to learn about the history of their houses, I often go through a variety of sources—picture archives, newspaper databases, building permits, public records—to see what I can dig up. Sometimes I use historic facts or pictures for marketing materials.

This time, it started quite interesting as well. A well known local doctor who integrated principles of homeopathy in his practice even in the first half of the 20th century had his home and offices in the house for several decades. The practice rooms on the lower level later became a separate apartment—a typical Washington arrangement.

But then, in the summer of 1974, the house was featured in the Washington Post—not in the real estate section but rather in the news. The basement tenant at the time, a 22-year-old government employee who had recently moved to the capital from Florida, was found in his bed one Sunday evening, stabbed to death. The Medical Examiner was quoted with a gruesome description.

Of course, this is not one for the marketing materials. (Actually, I believe even if it was a recent murder, it could be a violation of your duties toward the seller to disclose it to buyers.) Neither is this information in any way material to the sale of the house. But I’m fascinated nevertheless and can’t quite shake it. It’s been with me for a few days now.

I don’t think the sellers would like to know.   Then again, it’s just a piece of history.  Or they might not care, anyway.

(P.S.: The picture has little to do with the home mentioned in this blog.  I took it in the creepy basement of another house--in the suburbs--a couple of years ago.)

© 2012, Catarina Bannier


Comment balloon 9 commentsCatarina Bannier • August 30 2010 11:29AM


I'm wondering if something that happened over 26 years ago is really a material thing?

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) almost 9 years ago

Oh, no, Pat--of course it's not a material fact (I actually meant to say that).  It's more, well, interesting.  Not in terms of marketing the house, but rather in a curious/journalistic/historic way.  Maybe it's just the old reporter in me that can't help obsessing about stuff like that.  I'd go through that basement apartment thinking about exactly how and in which corner of the bedroom this might have happened just the same way I'd go through a famous palace/museum where once a king had been assassinated or such.  You get the idea.




Posted by Catarina Bannier, DC Real Estate The Smart And Fun Way (Compass) almost 9 years ago

I don't think you need to bring it up, either.  I wouldn't. I imagine just about every old house out there has a bit of sad history associated with it... just not all of them make it into the papers.  

Posted by Marcie Sandalow, Bethesda Chevy Chase DC real estate (Marcie Sandalow, Compass 301.758.4894 ) almost 9 years ago

Catarina-I guess this just goes to show, that for those who are bothered by something like this, they need to do their due diligence and research as far back as possible----on their own.  You never know what you will find in someone's (some house's) closet!

Posted by Pat Haddad, ABR, CRS, ePRO, GRI, Carmel, Fishers, Westfield IN Real Estate Expert (Keller Williams Indianapolis Metro NE) almost 9 years ago

I don't think that the incident is relevant any longer, but don't let a lawyer get his hands on it!

Posted by Michael Bergin, Northern Virginia Real Estate (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - ABR - SRES ) almost 9 years ago

It will be interesting to see if any "sensitive" buyers pick up on any negative energy still lingering in the house... some just might.

Posted by Marte Cliff, Your real estate writer (Marte Cliff Copywriting) almost 9 years ago

Marcie -- I'm sure you're right about the sad parts, and of course we really don't actually want to know them, right?  What I'm really looking for when I dig through the archives is the positive stuff, the glorious moments--if there are any--that you can tell the new owners about.  This makes them feel special as well.

Pat -- yes, exactly!  Or maybe, if they are bothered by things like this, they should just avoid looking too closely!  As Marcie said, there's always something that could ruin the house for the very sensitive.

Michael -- LOL every other person in this town is a lawyer ... they're so hard to dogde!  But I know what you mean.  They can always find an angle for trouble.

Marte -- thank you, I think this is a really interesting thought.  Even if the actual knowledge of certain events has been lost, there's often a certain air that keeps clinging to the place.   I'll pay attention to that.

Posted by Catarina Bannier, DC Real Estate The Smart And Fun Way (Compass) almost 9 years ago

I believe you are right. I have a listing where there is a sad story involving it. I would never want it known if I bought it or to unveil it to the buyer.

Posted by Ellen Caruso (Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty) almost 9 years ago

Ellen -- Good luck with the listing!  I think there's a good chance the negative energy of such a place can't sustain itself (if that makes sense), so if the new occupants aren't aware of the sad story they will probably never pick up on it.   Let us know how it ends up!

Posted by Catarina Bannier, DC Real Estate The Smart And Fun Way (Compass) almost 9 years ago