Drifters, drugs linked to empty Lake Oswego home

LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. -- The Schrimscher family picked their house on Knaus Road because they loved the area's scenery and safety.

"I have two small kids who love to play outside," said Heidi Schrimscher, who bought the home with her husband in the fall of 2012.

A week before the family moved in, someone roamed their neighborhood streets with a knife and killed a stranger.

"That definitely changed the tune," said Heidi, who lives three houses down from the murder.

Fritz Hayes was stabbed to death after returning from a morning walk with his wife, deputies say.

Prosecutors would later arrest a drifter, Erik Meiser, and charge him with murder.

The men were strangers.

"That guy was caught. We felt like it was a fluke and everything was safe," said Heidi.

Heidi and her family knew their new home was next to an empty house. She says it didn't alarm her at the time because there were no obvious signs of danger or mischief.

Plus, the surrounding homes were some of the nicest in all of the Portland area, worth upwards of $500,000 to $1 million.

Not the house next to Schrimscher.

"Then I come to find out homeless people have been coming in and out of this house for years," she said.

The empty house on Knaus Road was actually an open house for drifters, transients and other dangerous people who lived in the house illegally.

Heidi says many neighbors now believe the suspect in the Hayes murder was roaming the neighborhood because of the vacant house.

"The sheriff says transients have a little network. They know where all the vacant houses are," she said, referring to what neighbors say they've been told by deputies investigating the Hayes murder.

A spokesman for the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office says investigators determined Meiser had never been to Lake Oswego before the murder and was merely walking aimlessly.

But that doesn't change the home's problems.

The home is mostly hidden by trees, shrubs and dense foliage.

When a KATU reporter walked down the 40-foot muddy driveway on Tuesday looking for an owner, the property was littered with empty beer bottles, broken glass, debris and garbage.

Plywood covered the windows.

Several "No Trespassing" signs were posted on the house.

A rusty car was parked next to the home, disguised by thick layers of rust, moss, weeds and dirt.

Besides for the muddy driveway, the rest of the yard was tangled with dense weeds, moss, broken pieces of wood, grass, foliage and mud.

KATU called code enforcement officers with Clackamas County on Tuesday.

"Yes, I know all about that house," said Diane Bautista -- and all KATU needed to say was "Knaus Road."

Code enforcement officers cited the owners in 2005, 2010 and again last week for violations like outside garbage, debris and unsecured windows and doors.

Property records list William and Lisa Green as owners.

The owners fixed the violations in 2005 and 2010, according to Bautista. But when code enforcement officers sent a warning letter about broken windows and open doors again on Feb. 26, the letter was returned to sender.

This officially gives officials what you could call lame-duck status.

"We don't have any more authority to do something to a house than your neighbor would have to do something to your house," said Bautista.

Inspectors can initiate a long legal process involving judges who could eventually authorize the county to take action, but this can take months or longer.

"It's very sad. This house has been neglected," said Heidi Schrimscher. But it's also scary: "I am so over-vigilant now," she said, "I no longer let my kids play outside unless I can see them from the window."

Deputies responded to the house three times in 2014 after neighbors called with complaints, said a spokesman with the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.

Last week, they arrested John Lafranchise on the property and charged him with trespassing, possession of meth and failing to register as a sex offender.

"Every time I see a stranger on the street, I'm afraid," said Heidi, who asked KATU to investigate the situation and find out why nothing more is being done.

A sheriff's spokesman said the owners recently gave deputies permission to patrol the property and arrest trespassers without contacting them first.

"That's great news. It's half of the battle," said Bautista, who said she was not aware the owners had joined what's called the Sheriff's Exclusion Program.

KATU was not able to contact owners William or Lisa Green. A phone number was disconnected.

On Tuesday, a man was outside the home attaching plywood to the windows.

The man said the owners are taking steps to secure the property in response to the latest code enforcement warning letter.

He would not say his name but identified himself as the owner's representative. He agreed to tell the owners that KATU is attempting to contact them, but would not disclose a way to reach them directly.

Meanwhile, Heidi has to wait, and hope.