What’s it like to live in a place where a murder was committed?

Estimated read time: 7 minutes

This article first published in The Gazette in 2006 and is republished here with permission by The Gazette Company.

Publication Name: THE GAZETTE
Publication Date: 10/28/2006
Edition: F
Section: A
Page: 1
Headline: They live where murders were committed. Some witness strange things. But they are NOT SPOOKED
Byline: Christoph Trappe
Source: The Gazette
Gary and Diana Stromer on Friday threw out the bathtub where a Cedar Rapids woman was
murdered and bled to death in 2000.
“The bathtub is out of here,” Diana Stromer said. “I couldn’t bathe in a
bathtub where somebody has died.”

The Stromers, both 47, bought the home at 818 10th St. SW where Christina Sanoubane, 20, was
killed. They said they liked the home’s location and its price – $45,000.

The Stromers’ residence is one of several dozen or so in Linn and Johnson counties
where people have been murdered. In most cases, the people who lived there at the time of the
crimes have moved on – or have been sent to prison – and other people now call the murder
houses home.

The Gazette found many of the new residents don’t mind the homes’ histories. But
at least one resident said she’s noticed odd things – electronics turning on and off – and
believes spirits may be in the house.
Sometimes family members of murder victims move out of town to escape constant reminders – like Sanoubane’s mother, Linda Sanoubane,
46, who moved from Cedar Rapids to Houston in 2004.

“I moved away because of my memory,” said Sanoubane, who was in Cedar Rapids a few
months ago to visit her daughter’s grave. “I couldn’t stand it. … Just being
in town I feel … her spirit, her breath, her smell.”

Emily Zucker, 22, a University of Iowa senior studying nursing, lives with two roommates in
apartment No. 4 at 427 S. Van Buren St., Iowa City, where Jonathan Memmer, now 31, killed Laura
Watson-Dalton, 29, and Maria Lehner, 27, in 1999. Memmer is serving life in prison at the Iowa
State Penitentiary.

“I do believe in spirits and ghosts,” Zucker said. “I don’t think they
are harmful. (But) they are making their presence known.”

One time, Zucker said, she was sitting at her computer, messaging her sister, when the
stereo turned on by itself. Other times, doors open and close unexpectedly, she said.
When she moved in, her father wanted her to put extra locks on the front door.

“A lot of people come to visit us and want to know” about the spirits, she said. “And then they don’t believe us.”
The law and beyond State law does not require home sellers to disclose if someone has been murdered on a property.
“But it’s pretty easy to find out from neighbors,” said Jay Iverson, CEO of
the Cedar Rapids Area Association of Realtors. He said the association recommends that agents disclose such a fact if they know it. Some
Realtors, he said, think a violent crime like murder can reduce a home’s selling price by
10 percent, depending on how “grisly the murder was.”
Vicki Crompton, 58, now of Davenport, knows that can happen. Her 15-year-old daughter,
Jennifer, was stabbed more than 60 times in her Bettendorf home in 1986.
Crompton was trying to sell the home in the late 1980s, but “who wanted to buy it? Everyone knew. It was all over the papers.”

She remembers her Realtor went pale after learning of the murder.
“You can imagine what that crime scene was like,” Crompton said.
When an offer came in for the home, the buyers pointed out they knew about the murder.
“We had owned it for five years,” Crompton said. “We had done lots of fix-ups. We sold it for the same amount we paid for it. We probably put $20,000 into improvements.”

Ted Nelson of Professional Realty in Cedar Rapids sold the home at 818 10th St. SW to the
Stromers. He knew he didn’t have to tell potential buyers about the murder, but he did.
“The last thing you want is (to) have a single family move into something and have them
find out there’s been a murder in the place,” he said. “If you don’t tell
them, the neighbors will tell them.”

Ways to look at it
Gary Stromer, who was moving into his new home Friday, believes its history “gives it

“Since (our Realtor) told us, it’s become more and more of a running joke that we
bought a haunted house … and right before Halloween,” he said.

For her part, Diana Stromer said, “I’m not afraid of any ghosts. I’m sorry
that it happened, (but) there’s nothing I can do.”

Sometimes, people move into a home and never know its violent history – like Chris Ahart,
22, who lives at 704 34th St. SE, where Susan Hajek, 31, was murdered in 1992. He didn’t
know about the crime and said he won’t worry about it now that he does.

Frank Vozenilek, a Cedar Rapids police officer and paramedic with Area Ambulance Service,
lives in a house in southwest Cedar Rapids where Edward Wright, 44, was shot to death on Dec.
31, 1998. “There’s probably some strange things that go on in there,” he
said. “But probably not more strange than in any other house.”
Vozenilek said he sometimes hears strange noises and wakes up in the middle of the night and
sees some kind of movement out of the corner of his eye.

He also sees the patched bullet hole in the window frame but doesn’t “think about
it too often.”

Vozenilek was working as a paramedic the night of Wright’s murder and saw him die. Mark

Marshall, now 47, is serving up to 50 years in prison for the murder.

Today, Vozenilek uses the part of the house where Wright died for his computer and a table
with knickknacks on it.

Don Damsteegt, a Mount Mercy professor of psychology who also works with Family Psychology
Associates, said he can think of several reasons a person would want to live, or at least not
mind living, in a home where somebody was killed.

Perhaps they are not superstitious, and it’s not a big deal to them. Or it could be
something they can tell their friends about, Damsteegt said.
Among the reasons someone might not want to live in such a place is “potential bad
influences from the spiritual world,” he said. The home also could lead to conflict
between a person and his friends, he said.

The cleanup
Keith Brown’s company, Eastern Iowa Carpet Care of Marion, has been called in to clean up
homes where someone was murdered.

Cleanups cost $500 to $10,000, with many homeowner insurance policies paying for the cleanup.

Brown said as long as a qualified company cleans the home, it is safe for people to move in
without fear of health issues.

“Everything is going to be scrubbed and replaced, new subfloor put down, new padding,
new fixtures,” Brown said. “Traditionally, people think of (this as) crime scene
cleanup. It’s more removal.”

But if the cleanup is not done correctly, it could be the next owner’s “worst

nightmare,” he said.
“Somebody buys the house and a few years later … pulls back the carpet and sees what
looks like a body imprint,” Brown said, adding that’s happened in other places but
not in Iowa to his knowledge.

Vicki Crompton, the Davenport woman whose daughter was killed, said it cost her several
thousand dollars to get her home cleaned after the murder.

And while the home was clean, the memories remained, she said.

Her daughter died on the living room floor, the room where the family would sit to watch
television. That association was painful and constant, she said. In Cedar Rapids, Linda
Sorenson said she doesn’t go by 385 15th St. SE, where her daughter, Leah Wara, was killed
in 1989 by Jeffery Hass.

Hass, now 36, is serving a life sentence at the Clarinda Correctional Facility.
“Four years after my daughter was killed, I did go back into the apartment for
myself,” Sorenson said. “I needed to revisit. There was a really nice young couple
living there. They had it cleaned up very nice.”
Later, they sent Sorenson a message that there were no ghosts in the place.
“It made me feel good,” she said.
While Sorenson said it would be “horrifying” for her to live in the apartment, she
sees nothing wrong with other people calling it home.

“There’s nothing wrong with the place,” Sorenson said. “It’s not
the place that caused it. It’s … people who caused it.”


Listen to my podcast