Centennial ‘murder house’ burns

See what’s left of a house that’s been occupied by squatters for years – one where a man was murdered last spring …

When a man was murdered in this Centennial neighborhood house in April last year, this “vacant” house clearly appeared occupied. East Portland News archive photo

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

After a man was found stabbed to death in a house located at 14630 SE Caruthers Street on April 6, 2015, neighbors told East Portland News they referred it to the “Horror House” on the block.

> Read the story of the accused murder’s arrest, with a link our story about the troubled background of the house: CLICK HERE.

The rear yard of this outer East Portland house in the Centennial neighborhood – it backs up to a parking lot between Duke’s Country Bar & Grill and the Key Bank, on SE Division Street – has had a long and appalling history since the original owner, now living in Oregon City, sold the property several years ago.

City of Portland Bureau of Developmental Services (BDS) Enforcement Program Manager Ed Marihart reviewed the history of this house with East Portland News, and updated what has happened to the house.

BDS is the agency charged with being the “housing inspectors” for the city, Marihart reminded. Their section of BDS responds to police, fire, and neighbor complaints about houses that appear to be “distressed”.

With no electric meter in place, it is clear that this house remains without electrical service.

“There has been a Housing Violation case on this property since November of 2010,” Marihart said.

“Shortly after the BDS ‘Extremely Distressed Property Program’ (EDPP) began, this property was entered into the program in February, 2012,” reported Marihart.

As an EDPP house, BDS inspectors have kept a more careful eye on the property than on others, given the Bureau’s limited budget. Response included sending letters to the owner demanding it be cleaned up and nuisances abated.

The law requires BDS inspectors to file paperwork, send notices, and work with property owners to clean up distressed properties.

BDS records show that a Code Hearing Officer heard a case for taking more aggressive abatement action on the house last August 29th.

On the morning of February 10, a firefighter worked to pry wood off a boarded-up window. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

On December 17, 2014, an “Order to Vacate” – that is, to remove the squatters who continued to occupy the house, living there illegally without water or electricity – was served.

“Under law, we must obtain a Search Warrant, signed by a judge, when occupants are removed,” Marihart explained. “Portland Police Bureau officers served the Search Warrant, and vacated the property.

“At the same time, the [exterior] property was cleaned up, and the house was boarded up,” Marihart said. “And, the Order to Vacate’ and a copy of the Search Warrant were posted.”

January 15, with the December Search Warrant still valid, BDS conducted another inspection. “The house was found broken into and reoccupied by a man and two pit bulls. BDS vacated the property again, and re-secured it – this time using higher-security measures, including thicker wood, cut to form-fit into windows and doors, and using longer, more closely-spaced screws.”

Fire crews tear open the roof to provide “vertical ventilation”, allowing hot toxic gasses to escape the burning house. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

Fire rips through “vacant” house
On February 10, Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) crews were called to the house at 7:00 a.m. after it was reportedly set ablaze.

“Fire crews found heavy fire burning in the house and in a portion of the attic,” Lt. Damon Simmons said. The squatters apparently fled, after setting the house on fire. “Crews searched the house, but didn’t find anyone inside,” Simmons reported.

Thanks to their training and equipment, it didn’t take long for firefighters to bring the blaze under control.

“But, the ‘overhaul process’ – removing burning material and searching for hidden fire – was difficult,” Simmons said. “Crews had to dig through a large amount of debris in the structure.”

Inside the house, firefighters work around piles of refuse and debris, making sure all embers have been extinguished. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

PF&R Investigators haven’t released an official statement regarding the fire’s cause, but neighbors had their suspicions.

“They were building ‘campfires’ inside the house,” neighbor Ernie Marshall told East Portland News two days later. “I hate to see any one’s house burn up like this. But, in this case, for the benefit of our neighborhood, this was a ‘good fire’ if there ever was one.”

Two days after the fire, this house is again about to be boarded up.

BDS Enforcement Program Manager Marihart said their inspectors were out at the property again, the day after the fire, on February 11.

“The last Search Warrant has expired,” Marihart said. “When the judge signs and approves it, the City contractor will do another security board-up.”

And, because the burned shell of a house is now considered to be an “attractive nuisance”, BDS will request bids from contractors for demolishing the building.

Officials are seeking to have this house demolished, now that it has been seriously damaged by a squatter’s indoor campfire.

If there is a “distressed or nuisance property” on your street, don’t just grouse about it to your neighbors. BDS action is “complaint driven” – meaning it’s up to you to contact them and get the process started. CLICK HERE to open their official “Neighborhood Inspections Program” page.

Because there are far more abandoned and distressed houses than ever, they can’t provide immediate service. But, the more complaints, from different people, that BDS receives, the more attention that property will receive.

© 2015 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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