December 16, 2011

Squatters targeted Arlington home while owner was getting cancer treatment

They looted and tried to claim the property as their own.

The last year for Julie Dell has been horrific.

She was diagnosed with cancer and moved to Houston to get specialized care.

As she traveled south for chemotherapy, she felt assured that her two-story house in an affluent section of Arlington was well-protected. Security guards patrolled its streets behind the padlocked gate, while video cameras rolled round-the-clock on her property and adjacent homes, some valued in the millions. She left a minivan in the drive to signal that family was home.

But on Oct. 25, Dell's home became the target of a looting spree by people trying to claim legal ownership of her property.

The looters went through every nook and cranny of Dell's 4,300-square-foot home and took an assortment of valuables. They grabbed shoes and lingerie from closets. They ransacked shelves and drawers and found jewelry with sentimental value, Christmas decorations, a gently preserved wedding dress, the ashes of Dell's childhood pet and a marriage certificate.

As they pilfered the contents of the house, they even brought in a commercial trash container to load it up, neighbors said. "All of this has been extremely overwhelming," Dell told the Star-Telegram. "I am trying to not let this entire ordeal affect my health."

Police believe the looters had planned to take possession of her home long before the first piece of furniture was lifted.

They watched for weeks to ensure the home was vacant, police said. Then, they tried to claim ownership. Under Texas law, people can stake a claim to abandoned or vacant properties as long as they have maintained them, paid property taxes and met other requirements if there is no legal challenge by owners.

David Cooper, the DeSoto man arrested in connection with the burglary at the Dell home, paid $16 to file the adverse possession affidavit laying claim to the house in the hope of thwarting police and neighbors, authorities said. Cooper has a 2008 Dallas conviction for prostitution, records show.

Neighbor Joe Bruner called Cooper after he moved in with his girlfriend, Jasmine Williams, who was also arrested on suspicion of burglary.

"He said he did not abide by any rules, covenants, restrictions or regulations that our homeowners association had because he owned the house," said Bruner, an Arlington certified public accountant who heads up the neighborhood association. "I could come over and look at his papers, but he had no reason to give me a copy of them; he was under no obligation."

Eventually, police contacted Dell. She was told that she needed to file a complaint about the squatters. She was stunned. "A $16 document does not give you the right to steal from me," Dell said.

Assessing the damage

It didn't take long after that call for Dell's husband, Raymond, to quantify the damage.

That's when the real heartbreak came.

When Raymond Dell walked into his wife's bedroom, he found large trash bags jammed with clothes. The bed and hand-carved Bassett furniture were gone. A wrinkled wedding dress lay at the bottom of one bag. In the kitchen, the family Bible had been tossed in the trash.

"That is something that will always stay with me," Julie Dell said.

Out front, the living room furniture was gone.

The ashes of a beloved childhood pet, a German shepherd named Baron, had also disappeared.

And Julie Dell learned that her designer purse -- a wedding gift from her spouse -- had been stolen.

She has regularly called the Arlington pawn detective trying to locate it. She thought she saw it at an auction house in Dallas but was later told it had belonged to a Florida woman.

She is not sure whether she will return to live in her Arlington home.

"I hope people understand that this is not about [a law of] adverse possession," she said. "It is about trying to create chaos, burglarizing homes and expecting something for nothing."

Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705

Twitter: @yberard

Related content



Editor's Choice Videos