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[00:00:00]

Hi, it's Phoebe. Before we start, I have a quick favor to ask. We're conducting our annual listener survey and we'd be grateful if you would take just a moment to answer some questions about how we're doing. Visit, survey, PUREX dog slash criminal. You can also answer questions about the other radio topia podcasts you listen to and your input will really help us out. Visit Servais Pierogi Criminal. Thanks very much. Here's the show. I was sleeping in the bedroom.

[00:00:34]

My wife was next to me and it was it was dark and I heard creaking coming up the steps, but it's an old house, so I didn't really think anything of it. But then it sound like the door was opening, but I was facing towards the window, so I didn't really turn over to see what's going on.

[00:00:51]

And then I felt like something sat on the bed right next to me and the bed actually felt like a pushed down and I felt like someone's leaning against me in the corner of my eyes through the window, I could see a silhouette of a of a female figure, but the person really wasn't there. But if but I felt like it was there then the person ghost, I guess, got up and I could hear the door and creaking and the stairs creaking going down.

[00:01:22]

And then I was I freaked out and woke up my wife and I could hardly talk and say, I think I saw a ghost. And what did your wife say? Well, she asked me, well, was it male or female? I said, female. And she says, oh, yes, she she's been around before. So. So your wife didn't just say you're having a bad dream.

[00:01:45]

She said, oh, yeah, I know. I know her. I've seen her. Yeah. She's one of the regulars. Yes, she's one of the regulars. Yes. This is Mark Kavanagh. His wife, Cynthia Kavanagh, grew up in a house at one Lavetta place in Nyack, New York. Her mother and father, Helen and George, actually bought the house in the late 60s. Here's Cynthia.

[00:02:10]

Well, when we moved in, it had been vacant for seven years. Absolutely nobody was supposed to live in there. My mom was outside doing something and two of the neighborhood kids came. Short cut from school across the property, and she waved at them and said, hi, you live around here? And they go, Oh yeah, over there. And she goes, oh, that's nice. I need to introduce myself to your folks. And the older of the girls said, you know, lady, you bought a haunted house, don't you?

[00:02:43]

And she said, No, I didn't know. I bought a haunted house for younger brother said, oh, yes, we see them in the windows all the time. The ghosts, the ghosts. The house was right on the Hudson River, a huge old Victorian. Three stories, almost 5000 square feet. It was in bad shape and needed a lot of repairs.

[00:03:08]

But Cynthia's mother said that as soon as she stepped into the front hall, she knew she was home.

[00:03:14]

My mother at one point in time when she was doing some painting work in the downstairs living room area, she was in the house by herself. My brothers and my sister and I were at school. My dad was at work and she was up on a stepladder painting the second room, this particular color. And you sometimes got the feeling that somebody was watching you as she did, and she turned around real quick and there was nothing there. So she went back to painting.

[00:03:49]

And when the feeling came over her again, she made a concerted effort to turn very slowly and make sure she didn't blink and kept her eyes open. And as she turned, she saw this gentleman sitting about six or eight inches off the floor with his legs crossed.

[00:04:12]

And she described his clothes quite he was in quite unique clothing, more along the lines of colonial times.

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And she just made a point, like I said, not to blink, not to close your eyes. And she looked at him and said, I hope you like the color. And he nodded once and then disappeared. Cynthia's mother, Helen, wrote that he was solid booking with apple cheeks. She wrote, No, I wasn't drinking that day. No, the paint fumes hadn't got to me. No, I don't know why I saw him then and I've never seen him since.

[00:04:50]

But I do know that he seemed happy to be there. Cynthia remembers that her mother wasn't afraid and didn't want her four kids to be either. She wrote, I never got anything but good vibes.

[00:05:05]

We started the school year about a month into regular classes, all four of us. My brother was in junior high. I was in high school, I was a freshman in high school, and then my younger brother and sister were in elementary school. And about the third week the bed would start shaking about ten or fifteen minutes before I needed to get up, like, you know, maybe you should eat breakfast before you go.

[00:05:33]

But did come December when Christmas break rolled around, my mom goes, well, why are you up so early? And I said, Because my bed won't stop shaking and there's no reason to stay in bed if it keeps shaking every two or three minutes. And she goes, What do you mean your bed shaking? I go, my bed keeps shaking. So she goes, Oh, OK. This is what your dad had laid out for us to do today.

[00:05:58]

Let's get working and we can talk anything about the rest of the day about it until it was time for us to go to bed that night. And my mom said, Cindy, when you go to bed tonight, tell the ghost it's a holiday school holiday. You don't have to get up so early. Let's see what happens in the morning. And my brother, who was standing there with me said, oh, I'll try it, too. And we both kind of looked at each other like you got the same thing going on.

[00:06:29]

And sure enough, I went to bed that night, got ready, got in bed just before I turn on the light going. Just so you know, I don't have to go to school in the morning. It's Christmas holiday and I got to sleep in about an hour, an hour and a half.

[00:06:44]

Tell me about some of the other things that you and your family experienced. Well, I was staying up late, like most high schoolers do. And everybody else had gone to bed, and as I'm getting ready to go into my bedroom. I look at. Into my room and there's a woman in a white dress sitting on the bed looking towards where my mirror for my dresser was and she was brushing her hair, she had long blond hair, kind of wavy, very slender looking.

[00:07:21]

And, you know, she she looked very solid at the time. And when she turned to looked at me, she had a very pleasant face and didn't seem at all upset that I had caught her sitting there on my bed, brushing her hair. And she looked at me and I said, excuse me, and went back into the TV room for another 10 or 15 minutes before I could go back in to go to bed. Did you think that she could see you, was it was it clear that she was gone?

[00:07:51]

Yes, because when I stood there in the doorway and said, excuse me, she kind of nodded her head a little bit, then turned back to the mirror and I left.

[00:08:01]

So so was the sense kind of that you were saying, excuse me, you're in my room? And she was saying, well, actually, you know, this is my room. I'll be done when I'm done. Basically, yes, would you all talk about this at breakfast in the morning with the whole family in on this, that things were happening and would you all sit around and tell a lie? Well, I saw that lady last night or I saw that.

[00:08:27]

Would you talk about it sometimes? Sometimes we did. And my dad was always very interested when people would come over to visit out of towners and family. That would stay for two or three days. He at breakfast time, he'd go, well, did anything interesting happened last night? And sometimes there were worse stories. Some of them were like, oh yeah, I was going to go to bed and I heard talking down in the TV room.

[00:08:58]

So I went down to to see if the kids were still up and there was nobody there or one of my other cousins grown cousins. She was saying that one night she went to bed and she said, I close my eyes, pulled the covers up, said good night, and the next thing I know, somebody's sitting on my feet. So I just kept my eyes closed and said, good night. Cynthia's mother started collecting the stories they told at the breakfast table.

[00:09:34]

Cynthia said her mother would write down little notes when her mother heard that Reader's Digest was looking for unusual human interest stories, Helen Akeley decided to submit. Her essay was published in May of 1977 with the headline, Our Haunted House on the Hudson. Helen Akeley wrote, There are always little incidents to mull over in a house like ours. She wrote about footsteps, doors opening for no reason and the sudden disappearance of a ham sandwich. She wrote, We've come to savor these happenings.

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Now we wonder if the time comes for us to move again. Is there any way we can take our other worldly friends with us? More than a decade later, Helen actually did decide to move and to sell one Lavetta place. It didn't go as planned. The house became the center of a case that's still widely taught in law schools today. It's referred to as the Ghostbusters ruling, the judicial opinion read as a matter of law. The House is haunted.

[00:10:47]

I'm Phoebe Judge. This is criminal. By the late 80s, Cynthia and her siblings had grown up and were starting their own lives. Cynthia's father had died and her mother, Helen, was worried about keeping up such a big house by herself.

[00:11:13]

The property taxes were getting too high and she was ready to move somewhere warm.

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So she put one Lavetta place on the market.

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My name is Richard Ellis. I'm the broker owner of Ellis Celebes International Realty. I've been a real estate broker for thirty five years and I was the listing agent for one live at a place in Nyack.

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And what did you know about the house?

[00:11:38]

So we knew that the owner, Mrs. Akeley, was a lovely woman, very eccentric, a real kind of colorful character. And she would talk to us about her ghosts all the time. So it was no shock when when when this all came up.

[00:11:59]

Do you often have clients talking to you about ghosts in their homes?

[00:12:05]

No. But periodically I have clients who are buyers who might ask if there's a ghost. And I would say after all these years of experience, maybe that's three to five percent of the buying public might ask about that.

[00:12:25]

Cynthia says a young couple from New York City started looking at the house. Patrice and Jeff Stemm Baffsky were expecting their first child and wanted to move to the suburbs to start their family.

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They viewed it more than two or three times, I believe, kept coming back and coming back. So I was very, very pleased when when she said, yeah, we've got a deal going in.

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You thought it was all set and everything was going to work out. Yes. Yes.

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This was considered luxury real estate, even though it was selling for, I think, under eight hundred thousand. And we were so thrilled when the buyer came along, we were like, let's let's get the contract.

[00:13:11]

Did you tell them about the ghosts that the owner spoke of?

[00:13:15]

So there was another agent in my real estate office that was working with the same BASKIS and she did not disclose anything. We all laughed about the ghosts in the office that Mrs. Akeley thought she had a ghost. So, no, it was not disclosed to that.

[00:13:33]

This time, Baskis made an offer 650000 dollars. They put down thirty two thousand five hundred dollars. It was 1989. This is Lee Austra Hill Events law professor at the University of Chicago.

[00:13:48]

A few days after the sandbox games were calling around to different contractors to try to get work done on the house once once they closed. And one of the people they talked to says, wait, which house did you buy again? And they provide the address and the contractor says, oh, you bought the haunted House. Well, this was the first that the family had heard about the house being haunted or my reputation in the community as being haunted. And they decided that they didn't want to go forward with the deal because had they known about this, they wouldn't have bought the house.

[00:14:30]

So they tried to pull out of it. Yes.

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So they requested that the Akeley's sellers, we find their money and they actually refused to do so so that Dombrowski felt like they had no choice but to go to court.

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Just in Baffsky suit, Helen Akeley arguing that all of Helen Akeley's ghost stories, which he said he had not known about before signing the contract, threatened the house property value. The court dismissed the complaint, noting that Helen Akeley did not have a duty to tell the Dombrowski about any ghosts.

[00:15:15]

New York had long applied the rule of caveat emptor. Caveat emptor is the Latin phrase let the buyer beware. And usually that means, yes, you're trying to buy something. And there were questions that you didn't answer that maybe you should have asked. Well, that's on you, the buyer, not on the seller. The sellers under no obligation to disclose anything about the real estate. The seller can't actively conceal problems with the real estate. But so long as the seller isn't making a permanent misstatements, then if there's any problems, there are subsequent.

[00:15:58]

Discovered with the property that that's on the buyer, that's not the seller. Jeff Stand Baffsky appealed the decision.

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The New York Supreme Court, the appellate court decides that notwithstanding that rule of caveat emptor, the Zambada should be let out of that right out of the contract, should be able to rescind.

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The appellate court found that it was only fair for the doctrine of caveat emptor to be set aside in this case.

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In most buyer beware cases, the defect is physical, like a leaking roof, and a diligent buyer could be expected to discover it during inspection. But this case was different. You can inspect a house for ghosts. And it was 1989, so you couldn't Google the house and find Helen Akeley's article in Reader's Digest or see that the home was included in a ghost tour of Nyack.

[00:16:57]

As one judge wrote, a very practical problem arises with respect to discovery of a paranormal phenomenon, he went on to write, quote, Who you going to call as a title song to the movie?

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Ghostbusters asks, You know, it's fairly common for there to be a leaky roof maybe that the seller knew about and that the buyers inspection didn't recover. It's fairly common for there to be termite infestation, a property that the buyer only discovers after moving in. And then you get into a big dispute of did the seller know about this before they sold or where the sellers are unaware. That's kind of your garden variety real estate litigation. The ghost case. There's only one ghost case.

[00:17:47]

The judge wrote that by talking and writing about the ghosts in her home, Helen Ackerly, quote, fostered the home's reputation in the community. He described Helen Akeley's, quote, promotional efforts.

[00:17:59]

You know, the court said, as a matter of law. The House is haunted. Well, that's silly. As a matter of law, there's no such thing as ghosts. But what the court means when it says as a matter of law, the house is haunted is, hey, you know, actually you're the ones who created this problem with your house. And you told the whole world about it. Everyone except for the sand barbecue's problem, that would have been highly relevant information.

[00:18:29]

So when the court says, you know, as a matter of law, the house is haunted, they don't really mean that literally. But they do mean, you know, that you owe a duty to a buyer that is at least as strong as the duty. You take it upon yourself to inform and entertain the general public.

[00:18:53]

The judge also made one additional point. If Helen actually believed there were ghosts in the house, then she was trying to sell a house that was occupied. Jeff Dombrowski and Helen Akeley settled out of court. The standoff skills got half of their money back and more let out of the contract. We reached out to them and spoke with Patrice Stan Baffsky. She said that at the time she was worried about what it would be like for her child to grow up in a house that everyone thought was haunted.

[00:19:46]

She said, I didn't want to be in the house where there were other kids that said, oh, you live in the haunted house.

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Law professor Leo Extraverts has taught this case for years and was once able to speak with Jeff Dombrowski, Jeff Numbats, he says he does not believe in ghosts, but he then went on to say, I have a master's in business administration from the University of Chicago. And so while I don't believe in ghosts, I do believe that other people believe in ghosts. So he was thinking about, well, I'm buying this really expensive asset. And if it turns out that the assets I'm getting is worth less than what I bought, I was buying because of the superstitions of others.

[00:20:35]

And that's not enough that I really want something is worth whatever someone else is willing to pay for it. And so he doesn't believe in ghosts, but he does believe in market. And where fear of ghosts or superstitions are influencing what people are willing to pay for things to market. And he kind of does believe in ghosts in a roundabout sort of way.

[00:20:59]

The standard real estate adage is location, location, location. But in my profession, the better motto is perception, perception, perception. Even though the property physically is fine, people are feeling souls. We we have perceptions. And if the perception is negative, whether it be paranormal activity or crime scene stigma or what have you, that very much translates into the market's response to that property. So it's kind of mind, body and soul. And yes, there are physical elements of real estate, but they're also emotional elements and they very much have an effect on the value.

[00:21:41]

Randall Bell is a specialist in real estate damage economics. He consulted on the property where 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult died by suicide in 1997. He also consulted on Nicole Brown Simpson's condo and one of the sites of the Manson family murders.

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Part of his work is evaluating how the psychological stigma attached to these properties affects their value.

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The Stand Bosky case is famous because it really laid the groundwork that this issue of stigma or risk is legitimate, at least in the world view of the courts.

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And this case is still cited in law school textbooks.

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STEM, Bosky and Reid versus King, which is a similar case in California, are cited almost daily in this type of work. They are very foundational in terms of legitimizing or validating that this is a very real issue.

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Tell me about Reid versus King. Reid versus King was a case in northern California where, very sadly, an ex-husband came along and murdered his ex-wife and the children in a small house in a rural area near Reno, Nevada. And the seller sold the house and failed to disclose that matter to the new buyer. The buyer found out and in fact, the seller had asked the neighbors to keep it quiet. The neighbors didn't feel that that was right. And when the buyer found out, they were understandably, they're very upset and they filed a lawsuit successfully as a result of Reid vs.

[00:23:20]

King.

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The disclosure laws in California have become strict. If a death occurred in a house in California within three years, the seller has to disclose it. But disclosure laws vary state by state. Randall Bell says about 50 percent of states are still buyer beware. In many cases, you have to explicitly ask, has someone died here? In one case, he worked on a woman named Janet Milkin, sold her house in California after her husband died there, and she had to disclose that.

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She then moved her family to Pennsylvania and bought a house, she later learned the two violent deaths had recently occurred in the house. She and her children reported strange and unsettling experiences, noises, footsteps, a feeling that someone else was there. Janet Milkin learned that the seller had intentionally kept her from finding out about the violent deaths. She sued, but the court sided with the seller. She appealed and the court sided with the seller again. The judicial opinion read, if psychological defects must be disclosed, then we are not far from requiring sellers to reveal that a next door neighbor is loud and obnoxious, or on some days you can smell a nearby sewage plant.

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Janet Milkin appealed again and the court sided with the seller again. This time, the judicial opinion made the point that some graphic events, having matured into historical curiosities, may even increase the value of the property. The realtor for one Lavetta place, Richard Ellis, also brought this up. My point of view is that the publicity about the ghost is kind of a positive thing. And if I were listing the property now, I'd probably make some note of that, because I think most people don't believe in ghosts and it might even attract some people to to the property.

[00:25:35]

There's some evidence that that one the the actually arm got this notoriety that that became a selling point law professor, Leapster Hilbert's.

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So I think, you know, sort of Kresge's, the paranormal celebrity of New York, you know, made noise about trying to buy the home or have seances in the home. And one of the things that Jackson, Bobby, told me is his understanding was that after the appellate court handed down its decision, all the sudden there were a lot of people who wanted to buy the house, but only if it was. Well, maybe all the sudden maybe it does materially affect the value of the home, but maybe it raises it materially rather than lowering it materially is as a symbolic one that a place has changed hands several times.

[00:26:32]

None of its residents have reported seeing any ghosts. The house is currently for sale. The list price is one point nine million dollars. After she sold one Nevada place, Helen actually moved to Florida, where she lived until she passed away in 2003. Her memorial service was back in Nyack and the reception was held just across the street from one Lavetta place. During the reception, one of the guests took a picture of the old house, Cynthia Helen's daughter says that when you look closely at the picture, you can see people standing at the windows, looking out at Helen Akeley's reception.

[00:27:17]

You know, your mother lived in that house for a long time.

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I wondered, you know, did she ever think about the fact that maybe when she died, she just go right back to the house like all those other people?

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I think so. I think she was hoping she did. Of course, she always wanted to come back as a overfed, fluffy housecat, so I bet she said if reincarnation is real, that's what I want to come back as.

[00:27:48]

But, well, she's she's sitting there with that blonde woman who you used to see.

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Yeah, exactly. It doesn't sound like a bad place to spend your eternity. It sounds like a pretty house by the Hudson.

[00:28:04]

Oh, it is. It's a very pretty house and it's got a lot of great memories for myself and and even my kids and my brothers or my sister.

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So do you ever miss the ghosts? Actually, sometimes I do it. I did a lot more when my husband was traveling a lot after my kids moved out of that, our house here. It's like I sometimes wish this house had more occupants in it.

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But that's one reason my mother said that she could always she she never after my father died, she was in the house for a good 12 years after he passed away.

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And she said she never felt alone or lonely in the House.

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She always felt like there was something very comforting and somebody there. Criminalist created by Lauren S'pore and me, Lydia Wilson is our senior producer, Susanna Roberson is our assistant producer, audio mix by Rob Buyers, special thanks to Hilary, Sylvia, Julie and Alexander makes original illustrations for each episode of Criminal.

[00:29:24]

You can see them at this is criminal dotcom. More on Facebook and Twitter at criminal show. Criminal is recorded in the studios of North Carolina Public Radio WNYC, where a proud member of Radio Topia from PUREX, a collection of the best podcasts around.

[00:29:43]

And if you didn't know, we have a new show. It's called Fibi Reads A Mystery.

[00:29:49]

And every day I read you a chapter of a famous mystery novel.

[00:29:54]

This month we're reading Dracula.

[00:29:57]

You can learn more in the show notes or just by searching. Phoebe reads a mystery. I'm Phoebe Judge. This is criminal. Radio to hear from your ex.