In “Would you buy a serial killer’s house?” I asked whether you would, uh, buy a serial killer’s house. I asked people to consider whether they would do so if the murders were a year ago or a hundred years ago and whether the neighbors knew of the murders or not. (Oh, and the real motivation is that the house is priced well below market value for a comparable house in this desirable neighborhood.)
I was intrigued by the answers. James Palmer declared that he’d buy it in any of these circumstances, and might even find the house’s history adding a touch of intrigue and mystery to home ownership. Yeah James, you tell yourself that when your wife sends you down to the cellar in the middle of the night to check on that mysterious moaning sound.
Jerry Rivard actually had the opportunity to purchase a house like this once but passed, though not because of the house’s history. (Perhaps it was because of the swarms of flies that were crawling all over the second floor windows.)
Brap Gronk’s only concern — a reasonable one to be sure — was whether the spouse would approve. That might be a tough sell if the laundry room is located in the basement.
I was also intrigued by Dan Wilkinson’s comments: “I would go by the “feel” of the house. I have been in houses that have just felt very, very wrong. Tough to say whether it was something spiritual or architectural, but if it feels wrong, I wouldn’t want to live there!” This might sound kinda loosey goosey to some, but I think Dan’s on to something. Back in the mid-nineties Gavin de Becker published The Gift of Fear in which he argued that human beings have innate survival instincts which alert us to the presence of danger. While these instincts with their subtle ability to detect impending danger have served us well for millennia, we have been trained in the modern world to suppress them and that gets us into all sorts of danger. For instance, de Becker notes the case of a woman who is waiting for the elevator. The doors open and there is a man standing in there. But something doesn’t seem right. Somehow the guy seems a bit “off”. She senses her survival instincts warning her not to get on the elevator. What does she do? Suppress these intuitions and get on. de Becker points out that this is crazy behavior. Now our intuitions are surely not infallible, but they are reliable. So is this a risk you want to take?
I think it is reasonable to see Dan’s survival instincts as being likewise attuned to dangers in the environment. And so I wouldn’t think it is necessarily irrational, as some might, to refuse to buy a home based on those strong intuitions when entering the home with a real estate agent.
My greatest sympathies were with AF Pierce who said with admirable directness “I’d keep looking.” So would I. And not only because my wife wouldn’t be caught dead living in a house like that. (Sorry, lame pun.) And not only because my daughter would run the risk of being a social pariah. (“Hey! That’s the kid that lives in “Murder House!” She’s freaky!”)
So why would I pass? I have to ask this question because I want to be rational in my beliefs. So here is one reason: the possibility of ghosts.
“Ghosts? Dude, you’ve been watching too many scary movies.”
Perhaps I have. But there is reasoning here nonetheless. First off, I am a substance dualist, and I have good philosophical reasons for believing that human persons are distinct from their bodies. Second, there is empirical evidence that human persons can survive apart from their bodies as self-aware agents who sense perceive the material world around them. Gary Habermas has provided good surveys of the peer-reviewed literature on this topic. (More on that in another post perhaps.) Third, scripture attests to the possiblity of intermediate existence apart from one’s body, most perspicuously in the “Witch of Endor” story of 1 Samuel 28. Fourth, there is abundant evidence that people have had encounters with ghosts. Many of these testimonies are probably incorrect, but I lack any trump card (e.g. “Ghosts are metaphysically impossible”) to dismiss all of these reports. Fifth, it strikes me as more likely that ghosts (i.e. disembodied souls) would exist when their deaths were violent and unjust than otherwise. (I have assumed that ghosts are disembodied souls. They could be memory traces or something else that does not involve intentional agency. I don’t know. But I wouldn’t want any of that in my house.)
Finally, the deal breaker. And on this we are perhaps dealing with matters of taste. I might buy a house that had a reasonable chance of having mice. I in all likelihood would not buy a house that had a reasonable chance of having rats. To my mind, ghosts, if they exist, are somewhere below rats in ranking and so I’d be very, very unlikely to purchase a house in which, relative to my background set of beliefs, made it at all likely that the house might have ghosts.
(Footnote: I’d be more likely to buy the century old house if there was no history of ghosts because I think in this case absence of evidence would be evidence of absence (of ghosts that is). But the 1 year old murder house would be a real wild card and so that is the one I most surely would not purchase.)
By the way, the building pictured above is the infamous “Murder Castle” of H.H. Holmes in which he tortured and dismembered several people during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.