Murders still haunt some homeowners in North Texas

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by By JESSICA SIDMAN / The Dallas Morning News jsidman@dallasnews.com

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:44 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 11:42 AM

Twenty-eight years have passed. Several residents have moved in and out. Yet people in the small town of Wylie still talk about that house.

From the outside, it looks like any other house on the tree-lined street in southern Collin County. Potted flowers hang from the awning, a purple bike is sprawled on the front porch and teenagers with water guns run around the yard.

But on Friday the 13th of June 1980, that stout brick house became the site of one of Texas' most notorious crimes: the ax murder of housewife and mother Betty Gore.

Who would live in such a house?

After the yellow police tape comes down at a crime scene, new residents bring new furniture, new belongings and new lives. But in many cases, the house continues to be defined by what once happened within its walls. The question then is: How do you turn the home of a high-profile murder into a home?

"I didn't even think about it," said Ray Jackson, whose family rented the Gore house from 1994 to 1996. "It's just another house. It's just something that happened."

He and his wife, Tammy, grew up in Wylie and had just graduated from high school at the time of the Gore murder. They remember running home and locking their doors, thinking a crazy person was on the loose.

Only later did they learn that Mrs. Gore's friend and neighbor, Candy Montgomery, had struck her with an ax 41 times and left her lying on the laundry room floor. The two had allegedly gotten in a fight about an affair that Mrs. Montgomery had with Mrs. Gore's husband.

But over the years, tales of the murder faded, and Mr. and Mrs. Jackson forgot which house was which. In fact, they didn't realize they were moving into the "ax murder house" at first. They thought it was the house next door.

Mrs. Jackson remembers hesitating about the move.

"We decided to go ahead. We thought everything would be normal," she said.

The couple embraced the house's reputation. When superstitious friends came over, they would sometimes make noises or pretend to see something.

"We would be mysterious about it," Mrs. Jackson said. "We always played it up."

But every now and then, Mrs. Jackson said, she thought about her young daughter sleeping in the room where neighbors once found an abandoned infant girl - just before they found her mother's butchered body.

When she showered, she would remember that a murderer washed blood off her clothes in the exact same spot.

And though Mrs. Jackson says she's not superstitious, she sometimes got an eerie feeling in that laundry room.

A black cloud

While living in a Rowlett home where 5- and 6-year-old boys were stabbed to death in 1996, former resident James Lee said he would sometimes joke that "you can find it by the black cloud above the house."

The murdered children's mother, Darlie Lynn Routier, is on death row for one of the murders.

Mr. Lee and his wife - the second of three families who have lived in the house since the crime - were told about the murders before they moved in and didn't mind.

"The house didn't do it. A woman did it," Mr. Lee said. Plus, the house was completely refurbished after the murder with new carpet and new paint.

And when they decided to move a few years later, they had no problem selling the place.

"There were multiple people fighting over the house," he said. "They loved it. It was a gorgeous home."

Others don't want to be reminded of what happened between their walls - at all.

"It's a lot of hooey," yelled a man who currently lives in the home of the Routier murders. He declined to answer questions or give his name.

Several others living in homes of high-profile crimes, including the current residents of the Gore home, also slammed their doors to talking about their house's history.

Selling stigma

The laws are vague about disclosing a house's murderous past to perspective buyers. Sellers don't have to disclose information about natural deaths, suicides or accidents on the property, but the law makes no specific mention of murder.

"You have to read behind the lines," said Devon Bijansky, the assistant general counsel at the Texas Real Estate Commission. She said sellers should disclose a murder if they know about it because it could be a significant factor in someone's decision to buy a property.

But what's a significant factor may vary among buyers, said attorney Judon Fambrough of the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. He says sellers are not legally required to disclose information about a murder as long as they don't lie when asked about it.

"When you go beyond the physical features of the property, that's where you really get into the gray area," Mr. Fambrough said.

Real estate agent Michelle Jones, who sold the Routier home just after the murder, said she made the buyers sign a form stating they were aware that a murder occurred on the property.

When determining how to price the place, Ms. Jones consulted the real estate agents who sold the Gore house and a Lake Highlands home where former pastor Walker Railey's wife was nearly strangled to death in 1987. (In a civil trial, Mr. Railey was deemed responsible for the injuries, but he was acquitted of criminal charges.)

Those homes initially went for 20 percent to 30 percent less than market value, Ms. Jones said. She wouldn't disclose what price the Routier house sold for but says it went fast.

Ms. Jones didn't want to make a spectacle of the house, so only proven qualified buyers got to see it.

But that didn't stop her from getting a lot of strange calls. One caller asked if it would be possible to buy the house, tear it down and build a monument to honor the children on the empty lot.

Deed restrictions would not allow it.

'Demon possessed'

People still drive by the Routier house at all hours of the day, and some take pictures, neighbors said.

The same is true of the Gore house. The ax murder and ensuing trial, in which the jury acquitted Mrs. Montgomery on the grounds of self-defense, inspired a book and a movie. After their releases, hordes of people came to see the house.

Next-door neighbor Lester Gayler, who found Mrs. Gore's body with two other neighbors, says, "It looked like a funeral procession every weekend. For a long time, there was no getting away from it."

Mrs. Jackson said she once got a call from a woman who wanted to see the house when she came to Texas for vacation. She said no. The woman showed up at her door anyway. She didn't let her in.

And then there are Friday the 13th and Halloween.

"The neighbors had warned us, 'Just be careful on those dates. There are a lot of weird people who come looking around,' " Mrs. Jackson said. One time, she found someone peering in the laundry room window late at night.

Christine Eustice, who has lived across the street from the Gore house for seven years and grew up in the area, said she has seen kids cross the street to avoid the house on Halloween. She added that when the house was vacant in the years after the murder, local teenagers would dare each other to sneak inside and spend the night.

During that time, Mr. Gayler would not even walk in between the houses.

"It was almost like the old house was demon possessed," Mr. Gayler said.

Mrs. Jackson said three of the four couples who owned the house after the murder have since divorced. (She rented and is still married.)

"You wonder if there was something about it," she said.

If there is, no one would know from the outside. The house has changed very little over the past 28 years.

But buried beneath, the past remains.

"If you went over there today, and you pulled up the linoleum in the utility room, you would see ax marks on the concrete," Mr. Gayler said. "And not just one."

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