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Your Home is your Castle…Or is it?

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Having recently ventured into real estate for the second time in my life after seeing the state of real estate in Los Suenos resort on my Costa Rica trip, it reminded me of a long ago crime seen on Nancy Grace years ago- It concerned the murder of a real estate agent during a showing in a posh neighborhood. Unlikely to happen?  Not any more!

Real estate is a very service- oriented profession They are supposed to be quick studies of your likes, dislikes, preferences , personal habits, your pocket-book, your expectations (often unrealistic) and be at your beck and call with a myriad of requests and have the ability to  negotiate all problems. And let us not forget the “Greek languages” spoken by financial counselors, lending institutions and insurance companies!  Surely we are talking about a miracle worker!  No, they are just average people looking to make a living and earn a well deserved commission “at the end of the road.”

However with the influx of our fast paced society, social media and ever creative criminals, real estate agents have never been so vulnerable. However, with common sensibilities for 2014 and some advanced preparation, the odds of trouble can be lowered.

According to a January 2014 article from HousingWire, the Most 10 Dangerous Cities for real estate agents include locations in Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Arkansas and Missouri. The data is based on location, and city population in relation to their crime rate per resident.

The Top Five Most Dangerous Locations:

#1 East St. Louis, Illinois

Reigning as the most dangerous city in America, East St. Louis also places the other half to number eight on the list. “St. Louis proper” has a population of over 318,000. East St. Louis has only 27,000 residents but struggles with a crime rate of over 117 offenses per 1,000 people;

#2 Camden, New Jersey

Camden is tucked next to Philadelphia, Pa. It has a population of almost 78,000, with 6,080 documented crimes in 2013;

#3 Flint, Michigan

Flint is located about halfway between Detroit and Saginaw. Flint ranks in at third with crime rate of 85 per 1,000 residents;

 #4 West Memphis, Arkansas

West Memphis is the furthest south city on the list and holds a crime rate of 117 per 1,000 residents;

#5. Saginaw, Michigan

North of Detroit, Saginaw has a much smaller population but still records a total of 2,976 violent and property crimes in 2013, with a population slightly over 51,000;

(Six-Detroit; Seven- Atlantic City, Eight-St. Louis; None- Newburg, New York; Ten – Inkster, Michigan)

What are some of the “New Issues” Encountered?

According to Tracey Hawkins, a former real Estate Agent and owner of a company called Safety and Security Source, she creates a variety of safety programs for agents and workers of other service related businesses.

With a distressed economy brings abandoned properties, squatters, aggressive pets, angry homeowners of foreclosed properties, meth labs and pot houses etc. Social media can also provide access and a tool for criminals with announcements of open houses.

General Considerations –

Meet clients at the office when others are present, obtain a copy of the prospective client’s driver’s license and always inform others of your whereabouts. In resorts and high tourist areas, such as cities in Florida, South Carolina, California, agents and law enforcement must be even more vigilant as criminals can easily hide “in plain sight.”  My personal experience was that it was like pulling teeth to find and capture a real estate agent’s attention in South Carolina.  Many of them… don’t call back, they miss appointments, they don’t take you seriously “as a Yankee” etc.  Yes, many people are “just lookers.” However, those from other geographic areas, perhaps with a little better paycheck than some  locals deserve respect and attention regardless.  FORTUNATELY, I finally located a gem of a person!

FOCUS ON TWO CASES THAT TOUCH THE HEART

Killed “On the Job” 

Can you imagine a lovely young realtor murdered in a model Home?   In April 2011, 27 year old Ashley Oakland was shot in the head and chest in a Des Moines Iowa at an open house. Initially, a male colleague was suspected.  Four and a half years have passed. Reward money has increased from an initial $10,000 to $150,000.  How does this happen to “a person with no enemies”?  Police reported as of 2013, nearly 800 leads were investigated with 380 people interviewed. A co-worker stated: “She could handle herself professionally and still bring a lot of fun and positive energy into any room she was in, and I always appreciated that,” the organization’s president, Jason Wells. Well’s had purchased his Stone Creek Village home with Oakland’s help.

Summary Timeline of the Case

On July 15, 2014, the Ashley Oakland Star Playground, designed especially for children with special needs was “open for business.”

2014 Case Update:  A Related Case?  An Oct. 1, 2014 KCRG-TV9 story said authorities in West Des Moines were planning to check with investigators in Arkansas to see if there was any connection between Okland’s murder and that of 49-year-old Beverly Carter, a Little Rock, Arkansas realtor who was killed after setting up an appointment to show an empty home.

Carter was reported missing Sept. 25, 2014, and the Pulaski (Ark.) County Sheriff’s Office said her body was found Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014 in a shallow grave.

A Des Moines Register article by Christopher Pratt republished at USAToday.com on Oct. 1, 2014, said of Carter’s murder:

Authorities in Arkansas have arrested parolee Arron Michael Lewis, 33, of Jacksonville, Ark., and charged him with capital murder in connection with the case. Police accuse Lewis of setting up an appointment with Carter to view a vacant house in a rural area near Little Rock then killing her a burying her body on the grounds of a concrete company where he once worked.

Officials had not yet stated how Carter died or what they had linking Lewis to the crime.

West Des Moines police spokesman Sgt. Ken O’Brien said police want to know where Lewis was in April 2011 when Ashley Okland was killed.

Police are asking anyone with information about Okland’s murder to contact the West Des Moines Police Department at 515-222-3344 or Polk County Crime Stoppers at 515-223-1400. You may also text “PCCS plus your message” to CRIMES (274637) or provide a tip online.

Ladyjustice  Comments/Questions:

Was this killing committed by “an admirer” who may have been rejected? Did Ashley know her assailant”? It seems that it was a personal crime or someone absolutely wanted no possibility of survival with shots to the head and chest.  By appearances, Ashley had the perfect life but was there another love interest? Was there a real estate transaction that  went terribly wrong?  Did she see something or become aware of a business deal that was shady and she was “silenced forever?”

Cold Case- Former Real Estate Agent- Donna Kuzmaak- Portland Oregon

On March 27, 1979, a husband finds his wife dead when he arrives home. “I remember her dragging me around to people’s homes she was selling. Cleaning places up to sell,” said Steve Mitchell, Kuzmaak’s husband.

Donna Kuzmaak was an outgoing 26 year old white female, athletic and played soccer and softball.  She had attended the University of Oregon, studying biology and liberal arts.  She worked in real estate for E.G. Stassens and Company, located at 49th and SE Powell.  On the day of the murder,

On the day Donna was killed, her husband, Mitchell arrived home from work at 4:30 p.m. Donna left work 90 minutes earlier. She was located in the basement.

Mitchell noticed the couple’s dogs were acting strangely and a dish of leftover manicotti sat out.” Whoever was there may have got it out to distract the dogs. That’s the only thing I could think of,” he said. She was beaten, strangled, stabbed and sexually assaulted. Mitchell later noticed one of the dogs was stabbed as well, likely trying to protect her.

“She fought very hard,” said Mike Stahlman, a retired detective now volunteering the Portland Police Bureau’s Cold Case unit. “There was evidence that she did fight but was just overcome at some point.”

Witnesses may contact Cold Case Homicide Unit investigators directly at (503) 823-0400. To remain anonymous, witnesses may provide information through Crime Stoppers of Oregon.

Crime Stoppers is offering a cash reward of up to $1,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Tipsters can remain anonymous. Leave a Crime Stoppers tip online or text CRIMES (274637) and in the subject line put 823HELP, followed by the tip, or call (503) 823-HELP (4357) and leave the tip information.

 Ladyjustice Comments/Questions

Donna arrived home and was beaten, strangled, stabbed and sexually assaulted.  This appears to be “overkill.’ She was married just two years… Who else was in her past?  As a realtor, did she make it a habit to lock the doors when home alone?  It appears that the dogs were distracted by the killer and it was done prior to the husband’s arrival, such that one could assume her routines were monitored by her attacker.  As she made it a practice to “clean places up” in order to flip houses, this could mean depressed neighborhoods with shady characters. Were her comings and goings of older homes tracked and the neighbors interviewed and investigated?  Did Donna perhaps get into a dispute with any contactors or “would be helpers” looking for extra money?

SAFETY FIRST!

We do not have the answers for Ashley or Donna. However, here’s some valuable advice from realtors concerning methods to stay safe. 

Although the Oakland and Kuzmaak families this far have been denied the opportunity to present a victim impact statement, if you have an impending judicial proceeding, perhaps a trial sentencing or a board of pardons and parole hearing, I may be able to assist through my unique Victim Impact Statement Assistance service.

Related links:

http://www.housingwire.com/blogs/1-rewired/post/28640-most-dangerous-cities-for-real-estate-agents

http://www.kptv.com/story/24999578/cold-case-young-real-estate-agent-found-dead-in-basement#ixzz3HBXJJsiz

http://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/article/458187

http://iowacoldcases.org/case-summaries/ashley-okland/

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