Photographer busted in Baker Hotel through social media

Posted Monday, Apr. 28, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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In a selfie taken in October, Susan Marinello playfully sticks her tongue out while posing in front of the boarded up Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells.

“Because Being Crazy isn’t enough. I want it all. And being in places I shouldn’t be makes me feel like I can do anything,” the caption reads in the self portrait. “This was one of my biggest #UrbexProjects. I climbed some exterior walls, Knocked down some wooden boards, climbed through broken glass, and I have the battle wounds to prove it. I’m Crazy, but sometimes that’s not even enough.”

Perhaps it should have been enough.

Last month, Marinello returned to the historic hotel, once again sharing her adventure with Instagram followers.

Now, the Texas Tech student is facing up to a $500 fine after a tipster sent Mineral Wells police a photo that Marinello shot inside the historic hotel. Investigators later uncovered more pictures and postings allegedly made by the photographer in which she boasted about hiding from police while there.

Mineral Wells Police Chief Dean Sullivan said the postings, made on a variety of social media websites, read “almost like a chronology of criminal activity” and corresponded with a March 26 police call to the hotel.

Sullivan said Marinello wrote about hiding in the dark as police boarded up her exit before finally escaping.

“It’s like a play-by-play brought to you by the suspect via Twitter,” Sullivan said.

On Friday, police mailed Marinello a Class C misdemeanor citation for occupying a dangerous structure, a violation of the city’s municipal code.

“I guess I’m officially a street artist with my first citation,” Marinello quipped during a telephone interview with the Star-Telegram.

She said she received the citation in the mail on Monday.

‘Trespass if you dare’

Marinello, 27, said she has spent 3 years documenting abandoned buildings for an urban exploration book that she is publishing. She said she brings only her camera, flashes and a flashlight, and leaves no trace of her presence inside.

“When I go to these places, I don’t leave something behind like ‘I was here,’” Marinello said. “The only thing I take are the images. … I have a lot of respect for these places.”

Marinello, owner of Peace Love & Sue Photography, said she has been intrigued by the Baker Hotel for some time and was motivated to capture its beauty in its current state before its proposed renovation.

“That hotel, every floor has different carpeting, different wallpaper,” she said. “All that detail is going to be gutted out. All that wallpaper from the 20s is going to be gutted and nobody is going to see it again.”

One of her photographs, taken of the hotel’s main ballroom, is the cover piece of a photo gallery of abandoned structures she’s photographed. The gallery, she said, is an early draft of a book she is publishing called Beauty in the Forgotten … trespass if you dare.

But Sullivan said Marinello’s profession as a photographer does not place her above the law.

“Just because you’re an artist, … that doesn’t give you carte blanche just to enter,” Sullivan said.

‘It’s not legal to enter’

In 2013, Mineral Wells police wrote 24 citations at the hotel and made two arrests, one for burglary of a building and the theft of metal and the other for criminal mischief/graffiti. A dozen others, many of them juveniles, were given written warnings for being on hotel property, Sullivan said.

With a referendum on the May 10 ballot to dedicate an eighth of a cent of the city’s sales tax to the historic hotel’s renovation — and the media attention it has drawn — police have stepped up their checks on the hotel, Sullivan said.

“We’re having a lot more people breaking in just for curiosity’s sake,” Sullivan said

In the last three days alone, Sullivan said, police issued nine citations for seven people found at the hotel.

Marinello insists that she did not break into the Baker Hotel during either of her two visits.

“For me, at least, I have rules when I do this. … If it’s open and accessible, then I go and do it,” she said.

The first time, she said, she entered the hotel by crawling through through a broken window. Last month, she entered through a door that she described as “wide open.”

“I just walked right in from the balcony,” she said.

Sullivan said “no trespassing” signs are posted around the hotel, along with a condemnation notice on the hotel’s entrance.

“Open door or otherwise — it’s not legal to enter and it’s posted as such,” Sullivan said.

Changing her own rules

Marinello acknowledges that she did hide after hearing noises inside the building but said she did not initially know it was a police officer.

“It was dark. I couldn’t see who was on the other side of the lobby,” Marinello said. “When I heard the police officer’s walkie-talkie, I was kind of a little bit at ease.”

But as the officer was on his way out, Marinello said she didn’t chase him down but decided rather to just leave.

“I’m not going to run to the cop and be like, ‘I was in there. I don’t know if you were looking for me,’ ” she said.

Marinello said Monday that she was debating whether just to pay the $117 flat fine or fight the citation in court “just because I don’t think they have the full story and full understanding.”

“I’m so passionate about what I do,” Marinello said. “I’m not a rambunctious 19-year-old. I’m 27. I have two children. I’m going back to school. I’m just really passionate about art.”

Either way, Marinello said, she’ll add an addition to her “Urban Exploring Rules” — get permission beforehand.

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655 Twitter: @deannaboyd

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