Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Haunted Crime Scenes

Property Crimes

Recently a pair of restaurant owners seeking a larger space for their business reneged on a contract to rent some property in Orlando, Florida, at Church Street Station because, they claimed, the building is haunted. It posed a real problem for the landowner, strange as it sounded, and ended up in the news.

Church Street Station
Church Street Station

It's a fact that several states have laws that allow potential buyers to back out for such reasons. Sellers or renters have a duty to disclose physical defects, but there's also such a thing as an "emotional defect," which may label a place a "stigmatized property." In other words, if the property has been "impacted" by a traumatic event, such as a murder or suicide, even if the event caused no physical destruction, it might have other negative repercussions. In Reed v. King, a California court allowed a purchaser to rescind a contract on a home when she discovered that a woman and her four children were murdered there.

A few years later in 1991, a New York appellate court allowed a buyer to do the same when he learned that the house was reputed to be possessed by poltergeists. (One of the parties in the dispute even had psychics and ghost hunters come in to affirm it.) The decision was written in Stambovsky v. Ackley, in effect, saying: "While I agree with the Supreme Court that the real estate broker, as agent for the seller, is under no duty to disclose to a potential buyer the phantasmal reputation of the premises and that, in his pursuit of a legal remedy for fraudulent misrepresentation against the seller, plaintiff hasn't a ghost of a chance, I am nevertheless moved by the spirit of equity to allow the buyer to seek rescission of the contract of sale and recovery of his down payment."

The potential Florida location in question is at Church Street Station, according to the New York Times. The area was originally a train depot that had become derelict and was taken over, renovated, and transformed into a premiere shopping and entertainment complex. Allegedly, the ghosts of murder children haunt the place. As the legend states, they were born to prostitutes over a century ago and were killed on the property. Still, what tourists may believe and what's practical for landowners are quite different issues.

Book cover: Ghosts Among Us
Book cover: Ghosts Among Us

The building's landlord filed a lawsuit against Christopher and Yoko Chung, the parties who'd reneged on the contract after extensive renovations had been done. The landlord even offered to have an exorcism performed, but apparently that was not enough. The Chungs' attorney claimed that they'd said they'd heard construction workers performing renovations report that they'd seen the ghosts. It was their contention that the landlord had not disclosed this, and the Chungs had religious beliefs that forbid them from having any association with spirits of the dead. The case is currently in litigation, and Florida may be pressed, as New York and California were, to make a ruling about ghost disclosure.

Besides the sightings of apparitions in that building, people have reportedly heard a piano playing. A ghost tour actually starts at that location to tell stories about the hauntings.

As Leslie Rule says in Ghosts Among Us, "Murder seems to be the ultimate ghost maker." Let's have a look at some tales from around the country about both victims and murderers who seem still to be hanging around.

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