When Good Neighbors Go Bad

Sometimes the key to a happy home is who is living next door.

June 22, 2006 — -- This story originally aired on May 5, 2006.

We all seem to have had a neighbor or two who's driven us crazy, whether they've got a barking dog, throw boisterous parties or have trees growing into our yard. Sometimes the tiniest infractions make us want to throw the book at them.

He can joke about it now, but for years Jim Belushi was involved in a real-life neighbor feud, and it was no laughing matter.

"Feuds are very serious," Belushi told "20/20." "Neighbors especially, I mean, it's tough because, you know, it's your land! But I mean, think about it, all over the world, they're all fighting over what? Land, you know."

Belushi's next-door nemesis was Julie Newmar, best known for her role as Catwoman in the "Batman" series. Belushi and Newmar have been next-door neighbors in Brentwood, Calif., for 20 years, and there is only about 10 feet between their houses.

Not-So-Neighborly Neighbors

In their case, good fences have not made good neighbors. In fact, the fence is one of their biggest problems. Belushi wanted it higher for more privacy. Newmar wanted it lower. Having spent decades tending her prized gardens, she said the fence robbed her plants of sunlight. "20/20" asked her how Belushi's fence affected her garden. She said that once she had "huge roses, beautiful roses," but they are now "kind of wimpy."

Years and years of griping ensued. He accused her of tearing down his fence. She complained that his noisiness forced her to buy air traffic controllers' earmuffs. It got so bad that Belushi sued Newmar for $4 million -- accusing her of harassment, defamation and vandalism.

Belushi accused the still glamorous 74-year-old of egging his house. Newmar cringed when "20/20" asked her about it. "Oh!" she grimaced. "Well, it, it left my hand, unfortunately."

She attributed the slip to frustration and "just not communicating well enough."

Belushi's written a new book called "Real Men Don't Apologize," and he stuck fiercely to that motto in his feud with Newmar. He does an impression of himself in a booming voice when "20/20" asked him if he ever considered apologizing, or simply moving.

"No! I am not moving! I'm standing my ground! I am not apologizing. She's wrong, I'm right! I'm going to fight this battle until I'm bloody," he boomed.

"And you know what?" he said, dropping his joking. "We both got a little bloody."

It's not just Hollywood where neighbor disputes can spin out of control.

Neighbor From Hell?

In Seattle, Larry and Teddi Schultz have been in a bitter feud with their neighbor for 13 years. They say he complains about them relentlessly. He's called 911 operators 14 times in 14 months to complain about things like their wind chimes. They're swamped with tickets from when they say he reported their cars illegally parked. Although he has denied it, they say he cursed at their grandchildren -- even threatened Teddi Schultz's life.

They both say he is the neighbor from hell.

The neighbor lives just 10 feet away, and the worst part, said Larry and Teddi Schultz, is that he has videotaped them for hours on end with mini-surveillance cameras trained on them.

"I feel like a prisoner in my own home," Larry Schultz said.

After seeing that her bathroom had been videotaped, Teddi Schultz said she no longer feels safe there. "I don't take a shower in that bathroom anymore. It gives me the creeps. I spend a lot of time at the gym. I just spend a lot of time at the gym, and sometimes I couldn't even go into the gym. I just sat in the parking lot and cried," she said.

Her husband, Teddi said, has trouble sleeping at night. "It's been horrible. I don't have any place to go sometimes," she added, tearfully.

To create a barrier, the Schultzes have installed double-paned windows and heavy shades, and they planted bamboo, which they were told will grow 24 to 26 feet tall.

But the neighbor said it's the Schultzes who are behaving badly. He has said the Schultzes broke a mediation agreement. He even sent clips of his surveillance video around the neighborhood. It shows him measuring the decibel level of their wind chimes. It also shows what he calls the Schultzes' harassing behavior. One clip shows Larry Schultz repeatedly hitting the wind chimes and using obscene gestures. Another shows what appears to be Larry opening the door and launching an egg.

So, are the Schultzes actually the bad guys in all this? Not from their perspective.

"That tape shows that he's harassing us," said Teddi Schultz.

"Basically, when you have that many cameras on a guy, on somebody, that's pretty much harassing somebody," she said.

But that's not how the court saw it. It was their neighbor who prevailed, receiving a restraining order against the Schultzes. They've agreed to remove their wind chimes and never throw anything on his property again. And Larry Schultz is now being prosecuted for that egg-throwing incident. He said he was provoked, and that he's sorry and ashamed of it.

"He pushed me into a corner so far," Larry said. "I can see me go grabbing a guy and punching him one time. And that's what he wants. And I'm not going to lower myself to that."

But just this month, the neighbor moved away. Larry feels he finally triumphed…although he does regret his egg toss.

'The Stuff of Nightmares'

Gillian and Chris Kennedy know firsthand how neighbor spats can lead to violence.

They lived in a house in Pegram, Tenn., where, they claim, neighbors taunted them for years. They claim neighbors vandalized their property, shot off BB guns and shined lights into their home.

"I felt like putting a helmet on, and grabbing me a shield, and running to my truck every morning," Chris Kennedy said.

In 2004, Chris Kennedy got into a knockdown, drag out fist fight with relatively new neighbor Kenneth Cantrell. Gillian Kennedy said she pulled out a shotgun to protect her husband.

"I took the gun out there, to scare him. To just leave us alone, you know? Well, what have we done so much that you hate us," she said.

What happened next is the stuff of nightmares. Gillian said the gun when off accidentally. She shot her husband through his hands, and killed her neighbor.

Cantrell's widow, Tosha, said her family never harassed the Kennedys, and that her husband was murdered in cold blood in front of their four children.

"My husband didn't have a knife, he didn't [have] anything in his hands at all," Tosha said. "She chose to take the law into her own hands and kill my husband. He should be here today with his kids."

Kennedy went to trial for second-degree murder. The jury couldn't reach a verdict, however, and she got off. Today she still believes she did the right thing.

"Let me ask you this: If you saw your husband out there, what would you do?" she asked.

Her husband believes she saved his life that day. "I believe in my heart that if she hadn't intervened, I'd be dead," he said.

Looking back, both the victim's family and the Kennedys said they wish they'd simply moved. Their advice to others in a nasty neighbor dispute? Forget about the mortgage. Pack up and move.

"It's not worth it," said Chris. "The house, the sentimental value that you have there, it's not worth it. And get out. Go."

Luckily for Jim Belushi -- who was so stubborn about standing his ground against Julie Newmar -- that his feud had a Hollywood ending in which both parties compromised. They settled the lawsuit through mediation. Belushi invited Newmar onto his show to play, what else, his battling neighbor, where their tense real-life drama finally made way for comedy.