In a tragic twist, the same Silver Spring house where Washington, D.C., school principal Brian Betts was found dead Thursday is the same location of a murder in 2002. Betts did not know about the murder when he moved in, but after he learned of the house's history, his realtor, Therese Cox, had an exorcism performed, she said Tuesday.
On Aug. 6, 2002, at random, Anthony Quintin Kelly, of Washington, D.C., now 46, shot and killed 47-year-old George Russell and his 9-year-old daughter Erika Smith at 9337 Columbia Boulevard in Silver Spring. In that incident, Kelly broke into a rear window of the home wearing a wig and a beard, pistol-whipped and shot the girl once in her bedroom, then fired eight rounds into Russell as he ran toward his screaming daughter.
He was arrested about a month later and in 2008 was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Cox, who is a Washington, D.C., realtor for Long and Foster, helped Betts buy the two-floor, 1,400-square-foot brick home in 2003 for $324,000, according to public records. Not only did Betts not know about the property's history, but Cox said she didn't either.
"When we went to settle, and he moved in the next day, a neighbor came over and told him," said Cox, who says realtors are not required to disclose past history about a house prior to a sale unless a prospective buyer asks. "He called me in hysterics and said he couldn't live there, it was horrible."
To appease Betts, Cox, who says she is very religious, enlisted two ministers to perform an exorcism on the home. From that point on, Betts had little trepidation about living in the home. Cox and Betts eventually became friends — she also helped Betts sell his D.C. home — and Cox attended parties and barbecues at the Silver Spring house. When Betts bought the Columbia Boulevard home, it was in poor condition, but he renovated the kitchen and dining area and added a deck in the backyard.
When Cox heard that Betts was found dead in that same home Thursday, a victim of at least one gunshot wound in an incident police are investigating as a homicide, she was personally devastated by the news. But professionally, selling homes with sketchy pasts often comes with the territory for realtors, she said.
"It's an act of God," said Cox. "It's out of our control."
Betts' next door neighbor Dan Kelly said he and his wife were home when both Russell and Betts' deaths occurred, but they never heard shouting or gunshots in either incident.
"I feel really bad that this happened to really good people," Dan Kelly said.
Betts often barbecued for friends and colleagues, Kelly said. They talked and became neighborhood friends to the extent that Betts would let Kelly know if he was going out of town.
But Betts lived alone and mostly kept to himself, said Janine Moreno, who lives directly across the street from Betts.
"It's kind of scary," she said. "It makes you wonder if it could have happened to even ourselves."
While acknowledging that the two incidents are unrelated, the Woodside Park Civic Association will meet to discuss any increased safety measures to enact in the wake of Betts' death, said Woodside Park's safety committee chair, Connie Raab. The quiet, wooded area of single-family homes has a neighborhood-watch program and last summer had considered a more serious and attentive "citizens on patrol" program, where residents actually patrol the neighborhood's streets. Raab said that option will be "back on the table."
Kelly said his wife last saw Betts Wednesday evening, when she said he was barbecuing in his backyard. Tall fences separate neighborhood backyards, and she did not see if Betts was alone or had company, he said.
Montgomery County Police Spokesman Capt. Paul Starks said Betts was alive up until 11:30 p.m. April 14, information gained through interviewing neighbors.
Cox also has the unwanted distinction of selling another of the District's most infamous homes. In April 2005, she sold a Dupont Circle home on Swann Street to Joseph Price and Victor Zaborsky. On Aug. 2, 2006, Robert Wone, who was visiting his friends Price and Zaborsky and staying at the home, was stabbed to death in a bizarre, gruesome killing.
Price and Zaborsky, along with housemate Dylan Ward, have been charged with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and tampering charges in connection with the death. They are currently awaiting trial and maintain their innocence.
That high-profile case was well-known when Cox again attempted to sell the house after the three men moved out in 2008, but she sold it anyway, for nearly $1.5 million, $200,000 more than she had sold it for to Price and Zaborsky, according to public records.
Cox said there's no telling who will be the realtor responsible for selling Betts's home.
"We move on," Cox said. "Almost any house you look at — especially in Washington, D.C. — how many people do you think have died in any of these houses?"