BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Squatters looted the home of a dead neighborhood woman and were booted from the property a day before the building was damaged in what authorities said an "absolutely suspicious" blaze.
The four-story home at 952 Bedford Ave. between DeKalb and Willoughby avenues was badly burned in a Sept. 6 fire that took dozens of firefighters to get under control. Even after the fire, the young squatters were seen lurking around the property, according to a police spokesman and employees of the Public Administrator’s office who were not authorized to speak about the matter.
The property was left vacant in March after the death of Elizabeth Edmund, 87, records show. Edmund, a former teacher, left behind a house chock full of artwork, clothing, books, photographs, and souvenirs from a lifetime of traveling the world, according to a city worker. But she left no will, and no known heirs.
The borough’s Public Administrator, which handles the estates of people who die without wills, sold the property for $3.1 million on June 7.
The buyer has not yet been identified, because the sale is not final, according to court records and Public Administrator sources.
One worker in the office said he had been inside the home about three weeks before the fire, and said everything appeared in good condition, with the artwork and other possessions untouched.
“When I inspected it the first time, there was art all over the place and it was obvious she had traveled a lot,” he said. “She had a large collection of books and furniture.”
But in August, a group of young burglars set upon the home, tagging the walls with graffiti, and carting belongings out of the building, sources said. NYPD officers were called to the scene four times, beginning on Aug. 5, about reports of trespassers, a police spokesman said.
The worker in the Public Administrator’s office said he showed up on Sept. 5 in order to inspect the house ahead of putting it up for bid to be cleaned out, but when he arrived around noon, he was met by a pair of hostile young men who he said demanded, “Who the hell are you?”
The employee called 911 and police bounced the youths from the property, but made no arrests, according to an NYPD spokesman. According to the city worker, there appeared to be about five to seven people who had been going in and out, some of whom left their own personal items, including shoes, clothing, and a cell phone.
When workers from the Public Administrator’s office managed to get into the house after the squatters were ejected, they found many items missing, and much of the artwork had been lined up along one wall as if the burglars were taking photos of it to sell, he said. But the group hung around down the block, keeping eyes on the place, the city worker said.
“Even after police came it seemed like they were watching us,” he said.
The next evening, at about 9:30 p.m., firefighters received a 911 call about a fire on the first floor of the building. By the time it was under control, flames had scorched much of the building, and it was left littered with broken glass, charred clothes, and other debris.
Two days later, on Sept. 8, police were called to the property once more about reports of trespassers, but so far no arrests have been made, a spokesman said.
The fire remains under investigation and FDNY and NYPD officials declined to say whether it may have been arson, but sources in the Public Administrator’s office said they had little doubt that the fire was intentional.
“This is absolutely a suspicious fire,” he said.