John Weinrich's parents fell in love with a stunning, one-of-a-kind 19th century home in affluent Wyncote, Pa., but never knew it had a grisly past until the real estate deal was close to settlement.
Just a year earlier, in 1986, Isma'il Raji Al-Faruqi, a distinguished Palestinian-American and Islamic professor at Temple University, and his wife, Lois Lamya, were slashed to death in their 323 Bent St. home by a religious fanatic.
Their pregnant daughter was also attacked and required 200 stitches, but both mother and baby survived. Police later determined it was a political assassination.
"The guy snuck in the back window on the Islamic holy day and ate cherries and spit them out as he waited," said Weinrich, now 48. "Around midnight, he went after the wife and basically decapitated her with a Bowie knife."
Today, Weinrich, who runs his own real estate company, is charged with selling the property that saw so much violence.
He said his parents weren't "really concerned" about the house's dark past, though they bought two guard dogs and a security system before moving in. They also brought in the Catholic priest who married them to "bless" the house -- inside and out.
"We looked at it as a tremendous opportunity and we got it reasonably priced -- $239,000," he said of the eight-bedroom, five bath home. "The character and craftsmanship was irreplaceable."
He hopes buyers will look beyond the bloody crime to see its Gilded Age charm and grab it at a good price in a bad economy -- $589,000.
Most people get the spooks from a house with a violent history, even if they don't believe in ghosts.
"There are old superstitions and magical thinking and also illusory association," said Frank Farley, a Philadelphia psychologist who lives in the Wyncote neighborhood. "If a murder occurred in a place, it could occur again. They think, 'I don't want to risk the horror.'
"That space is enormously important to people -- home is where the hearth is, where we grow up and we are created and defined," he said. "To have the lingering shadow of the heinous violent crime, some people don't want to emotionally deal with it."
Real estate agents refer to such houses as "stigmatized properties" -- any place where a murder, suicide or sex crime has taken place.
The Boulder, Colo., home has sat empty since it was sold in 2008 by Tim Milner and his wife, Carol Schuller Milner, the daughter of televangelist Robert H. Schuller.
Cleveland House of Horrors for Sale
The townhouse in Los Angeles where Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered in 1994 had so much bad karma, its address was changed from 875 to 879 South Bundy Drive. When O.J. Simpson sold his $5 million Tudor mansion in 1998, the new owner bulldozed the home and all the buildings on its property.
Today, the house of horrors where serial killer Anthony Sowell murdered 11 women and buried them in his backyard, has been condemned by Cleveland's building and housing department, according to the Plain Dealer.
But that hasn't stopped Internet hawkers from selling the soil from the home's grounds.
Owners of the crime collectibles website Serial Killer Ink, sells one gram of the soil packed in a jewelry bag for $25.
The site also has dirt from the property of Dorothea Puente, the Sacramento, Calif., boarding house owner who killed her tenants for their Social Security checks in the 1980s.
"In all honesty, a lot of people who are creeped out by this stuff buy it," said co-owner Jessika Gein of Jacksonville, Fla. "It's a weird thing to show off to their friends, and guests come over and look at it."
"We live in a sick world," said her husband, Eric Gein. "It's true that there is a fascination with dark history."
Surprisingly, realtors in Pennsylvania, as in other states including Vermont, are not required to disclose a home's violent history.
Weinrich said he would gladly tell a buyer the history of the home if they ask. But by law, he is only required to disclose that he is related to the seller, among other things such as details of structural issues.
"No one has ever raised the issue," he said.
The home had been the richest in the area when it was built along with a massive three-story house and a carriage house for servants in the 1860s by a family that produced ocean liners.
The writer Ezra Pound lived four houses over and the Stetsons [of hat fame] lived around the corner.
"The house has a lot of nautical themes," he said. "The doorknobs are from a boat. ... The ceilings, even on the third floor, are 10 feet tall."
After the murders, when police investigators did a reenactment of the crime scene, Weinrich was there.
"[Lamya] was murdered in the office on the first floor," he said. "He came out of the bedroom and got ahold of the daughter. She had run down to help her mother. He slashed her up, but she acted like she was dead and protected her unborn child."
"He got [Al-Faruqi] against the door and stabbed him 20 times," said Weinrich. "His last words were, 'Enough is enough,' and then he collapsed."
The intruder walked down the street and left the bloodied knife in a trash can. He later confessed to the crime after being questioned in a domestic violence case, according to Weinrich.
The house sat unsold for a year.
"My grandmother was religious and worked in a rectory down the shore," he said. "She left crosses and religious artifacts around the house. We had a priest come and bless the entire house -- inside out, from room to room."
Such superstitions are common, even among the secular.
David Farkas, 64, of Amherst, Mass., earns his living as a house healer who claims he can rid a house of negative energy -- even remotely. He charts the property's "ley lines" or water sources, and their proximity to battlefields and burial sites.
"People don't want to believe it's a problem, but a lot of people have dramatic encounters with ghosts," he said. Farkas charges by the square foot, with fees that start at about $200 for 2,000 square feet.
"Frequently, people will buy a house and they don't know violence occurred, but something feels really wrong," he said. 'I will tune into that. ... To me, demons are parasites that feed on human negative emotions."
Buyers Know When a House Is 'Creepy'
Most people know when they are in a space that is haunted by the paranormal, Farkas said.
"They have a sensation that this place is really creepy and I don't want to be here," he said. "We all have that radar. Mine is just more finely tuned."
Dave Vescio, an actor who stars in horror movies, said he knows the feeling.
"My parents moved to Cocoa Beach, Fla., six years ago and there was an old guy who died in the house," he said. "It freaks the crap out of me."
His latest movie, "Lost Soul," is set in another realm, and Vescio, 41, said he is not so sure ghosts don't exist.
"If you see someone full of energy then they die and it's all gone. Where did that energy go?" he said. "That's the question we've been asking for centuries."
Vescio said he would never even consider buying a home where a murder had taken place.
But Weinrich dismisses those superstitions about ghosts haunting his family's Pennsylvania home.
"Sometimes two dogs would unexpectedly bark and their ears would go up," he said. "But they never acknowledged any paranormal activity in the house.
"People die have died through humanity and the ages in all different places," said Weinrich.
His elderly parents just found the expansive Wyncote home too big for their needs and decided to sell it after 24 contented years.
"They raised five boys and had many large family social events there, such as showers, pre- and post-wedding parties of 200-plus people, christenings of the grandchildren, big Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations," he said. "With eight bedrooms, there was always enough room."