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A look at San Diego's most infamous homes

Posted at 11:21 AM, Nov 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-18 14:21:55-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- He's known as "The Master of Disaster."

Dr. Randall Bell is a real estate damage economist with Landmark Research Group.

"I basically focus on properties that have been damaged. It can be environmental damage, geotechnical, landslide, and of course, crime scenes come up all the time, and that creates a lot of interest," said Bell.

Bell has studied several of San Diego's infamous homes. The former Fallbrook home of Summer and Joseph McStay is one of them.

"The McStay property is really a mess because sadly, four people died, and anytime children are involved in a crime, that really turns up the dial when it comes to the residual stigma on the property," said Bell.

Last January, a jury sentenced Chase Merritt to the death penalty for killing the family with a sledgehammer and then burying their bodies in a shallow grave in the desert.

The family disappeared in 2010; more than three years later, their bodies were found.

Merritt and Joseph McStay had been business associates.

The Spreckels Mansion in Coronado is another infamous home in San Diego County.

Coronado-based real estate agent Scott Aurich first sold the historic property to Jonah Shacknai in 2007.

"You know that history was so documented, both with newspaper and with media, all kinds of stories going on like that, everybody pretty much knew what happened, but we shared it," said Aurich.

What happened inside the home is still a mystery to many, including Aurich.

"I probably was as close to this as anybody in terms of knowing the players, and I still couldn't tell you what happened," said Aurich.

In 2011, Jonah Shacknai's six-year-old son Max fell from the second story banister. At the time, Shacknai's girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau, was caring for Max. A few days later, the child died from his injuries, and Zahau was found bound, gagged, and naked hanging from a second-story balcony.

Although Max's death was ruled an accident and Zahau's a suicide, Zahau’s family has always maintained that she was murdered. Adam Shacknai, Jonah's brother, was found liable for her death in a civil suit.

Aurich sold the home last March for $11 million, roughly 35% lower than the market value.

"The house itself is more a piece of Coronado's rich history in the architecture of the house," said Aurich.

Farther north in Escondido, there was another notorious home. The so-called bomb factory generated national headlines just weeks before Christmas in 2010.

"The guy who had the bombs, he was a renter. So, the landlord is the one kind of stuck with the problem," said Bell.

Investigators say the rental home of George Jakubec was home to the most massive cache of homemade explosives in a single spot in the United States. The property was so dangerous that the sheriff's department ultimately decided to do a remote-controlled burn of the house.

Today, it's a concrete slab with no trespassing signs. It's unclear what the owner plans to do with it. Jakubec is serving a 30-year prison sentence.

"What people don't realize is that stigma goes to the site, so even though the house is gone, there can still be a stigma there even though that was 10 years ago, it can linger," said Bell.

It's been nearly 30 years since a La Jolla socialite named Betty Broderick killed her ex-husband and his new wife as they slept. The Marston Hills home has been the focus of a book and movie.

Bell has tracked multiple sales of the house since the murders. He said it has struggled to keep up with market value.

"Crime scene stigma is interesting, you can have anything from no impact and rare situations, but it does happen, to 100% impact, I've seen cases where there's a premium paid, that's very unusual, typically, you see a 10 to 25 % loss of value," said Bell.

There is one property that stands out the most to the international appraiser.

"I'm often asked which is the most bizarre case, and I think it comes back to Heaven’s Gate," said Bell.

A Rancho Santa Fe Mansion was the scene of the Heaven's Gate cult and the largest mass suicide on U.S. soil. Thirty-nine members of the cult drank a lethal cocktail for three days back in 1997.

In the end, neighbors pitched in to buy the home and tear it down. Even the street was renamed.

"What I saw in the house was disturbing. The house was demolished, I've never seen a more thorough job done in terms of demolishing everything, the tennis courts, the swimming pool, the fences, the lawn, absolutely 100% of everything, the site has been rebuilt on, but, as I say, the stigma goes to the site, so there could still be lingering issues," said Bell.