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FarmerBrownjim brown


It was a lengthy process. The tenant finally was evicted. He was a sore loser. He knew where I lived and worked, knew the phone numbers to contact me, would stand on the sidewalk to stare at my office window, and periodically phoned to threaten me. I shrugged it off. I didn’t know he’d already killed another.

Oregon is a boom and bust state. Between 1960 and 1980 it was boom. Then came the bust. With 20 years of boom, vast subdivisions of homes were developed. Real estate developers said 1981 was a bust but 1982 would be gang busters. It was. It busted the gang. By 1986 the question at the Rotary Club luncheons was.

“Who’s going to be the last one to turn off the lights.”

The lemming migrations up from California ceased. Oregon’s main industry, re-located California home equity, dried up. At the same time Oregon’s second industry, timber harvest, ran out of old growth trees to kill. The economy went into freefall. A Salem, Oregon ad for a janitor at a nursing home resulted in a line of applicants a block long. Many California lemmings were forced back to the golden state, sans home equity.

Empty track houses and surplus subdivision lots forced the banks to foreclose and liquidate. Real estate prices crashed.

As part of the bust, my employer in 1985 closed their Portland office and offered me a job in L.A. Instead, I did the unthinkable, started my own business. To my amazement, I made money. Soon, I had a little pile of it in the bank.

With so many wiped out due to negative leverage, the wife and I didn’t want to invest in anything which required a loan. We paid $15,000 cash for the first house, a one bedroom, dump and rented it to a guy down and out, stripped by his ex-wife of everything, including his credit rating. He moved in at $100 a month and we became landlords. He was a good tenant.

By 1987 we had 7 houses, owned free and clear, all bought cheap and of marginal improvements. We’d become slumlords.

Oregon’s residential rental laws favor the tenant, the slumlord is the potential victim of tenant abuse. The landlord, tenant relationship is by nature adversarial. The landlord wants money and the tenant doesn’t want to pay it.

With marginal houses our tenants were marginal too.

Lance Alexander had got a raw deal in life. You knew so by looking at him. His nose was crooked from being broken and not having been set right. He wore a hungry, hang dog look from experiencing a poor childhood, one stuck with the old maid card growing up. Otherwise he was a 21-year old, normal looking, sandy haired, 6-foot, white, male, albeit on the thin side, the lanky sort. He was intelligent, not book so but peasant shrewd.

He grew up without a father figure presence and the little he had was abusive. He’d had minor skirmishes with the law and an attorney was helping him getting from behind life’s 8 ball. We didn’t know if his legal issues prevented him from having a regular employer but the economy was depressed and not having a regular job not that unusual. His income source was house gardening. His attorney sponsor referred potential clients needing a yard gardener and had funded his equipment to which my wife added a power edger.

Kind hearted, she empathized with him. He’d gone to the same high school as our kids. So, we took a chance, bought a refrigerator for the house and he moved in. As novice slumlords, we didn’t know, never provide the refrigerator, and always pay for garbage collection. An education Lance taught well once he was gone.

We’d forgone the last month’s rent and cleaning deposit to get him started. We collected the $200 monthly rent 3 times, enough to establish him as a legal tenant with renter rights. It was the last money we received.

Landscaping is a decent business if you work at it. You mostly get cash and have the independence of your own business. The problem is you got to cut the lawns. Lance solved that problem by skipping lawn cutting.

It took 6 months of no rental income, $1,500 in attorney fees, mandated arbitration and a $200 check to the sheriffs’ office and Lance was out.

It could have been 4 months of no rental income. Lance was intelligent and knew how to work the tenant rights system. He came to arbitration with a government paid attorney who offered a fair and equitable solution, let Lance stay until the end of the month, pay him $1,000 to vacate, forgo any claims against him and write a letter of recommendation saying he was a good tenant.

Our refusal of these reasonable requests was the cause of Lance’s ire. His other landlords had probably been reasonable.

Once he was evicted, the phone calls started. First it was the silent pause to which I just hung up. Then he spoke and said he’d get even to which I replied.

“You’re going to pay the rent due?”

Unsatisfied with my answer he’d call, be silent a moment, then tell me he was getting closer. My reply was.

“I’m waiting for you.”

Then came the call from his grandmother. She informed my wife Lance had beat his mother up, put her in the hospital and he was going to get me and was dangerous.

I didn’t get it and figured Lance was another 21-year loser going nowhere, not a real threat. I did, however, keep a 9mm pistol handy, just in case.

Then I came on the news. The night before, I’d returned from a business trip. In the morning, I was flipping channels at 5 AM on the bedroom TV. There flashed a picture of Lance on the local news. He was the big story of the day, fifteen minutes of post mortem fame.

Lance had come to my office the previous day to learn only, I was out of town. He’d then walked down the street and around the corner to a child day care center, barged in and pistol whipped the day care woman. He took her car keys and dragged a 7-year old girl by the hair to the provider’s car and kidnapped the girl.

Soon the chase was on. Spotted on I-5, he made it as far south as Roseburg, Oregon but lost control speeding and rolled the car upside down on the freeway meridian. Wearing seatbelts do save lives but for some only for a short time. He held the girl with a pistol to her head and attempted mediation.

While discussing terms, he accidently let the gun barrel move from a protectory which would harm the girl captive. It was a fatal mistake. The SWAT sharp shooter ended mediation with a bullet through Lance’s forehead between the eyes. The girl ran to her rescuers, bloodied and brain splattered but all of it Lance’s. With a shower she was free of him.

In the subsequent investigation, it was learned he’d walked up to, shot and killed a total stranger in Bush Park. What was he thinking? He wasn’t.

I don’t know what long term mental impact her kidnapping had on the girl but it took us longer to physically be cleaned free of Lance than her. Once back in possession of the house, we had to clean out 6 months of his occupancy. Like some tenants, he was a pack rat. He’d brought back others trash for his possible use and eventual landlord removal.

Opening the garage door revealed a pile of collectables about half way up the walls. It took a mask, pitchfork and 6 truckloads to the Coffin Butt sanitary land fill to get into cleaning the house interior. I opened the refrigerator to ensure it held no body, tied a rope around it, put it on the dolly and slide it into the truck bed. What was growing within, I didn’t want to touch. I used a power washer to clean the inside of the house and replaced the doorknobs he’d removed to sell.

We sold the rental houses. I put the 9mm away. I still think about him. I’m sure the girl does too.

Author Notes: What was he thinking? He wasn't.

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About The Author
jim brown
About This Story
23 Feb, 2019
Read Time
6 mins
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