Turn on the TV. Isn’t that your house?”
That's the last thing you want to hear if what’s on television is a documentary about serial killers. But that’s what happened to Catrina McGhaw in 2014.
She had just moved into the house in Ferguson, Missouri, and her landlord made no mention of anything nefarious ever taking place there, even throwing in a dining room table to seal the deal. But as it turns out, the home was that of a man named Maury Travis, who authorities believe tortured and murdered as many as 20 women before being apprehended in 2002. McGhaw’s friend had been watching an A&E documentary on Cold Cases when she recognized her friend’s house on the show.
Even the free table had been an instrument for murder. Travis made gruesome videos of the torture and murder of his victims, which depicted him tying his victims to a support beam in the basement of the house.
When a local newspaper received a letter and a map indicating where one of the victim’s bodies was located, police traced the map, made with a computer program, back to Travis’s computer. Authorities placed the suspect under arrest, but they didn’t have the chance to put him on trial. Travis committed suicide while in custody just a few weeks after being arrested. While the bodies of two of his alleged victims were successfully recovered, police believe he may have been responsible for as many as 20 murders.
Understandably terrified, McGhaw told her landlord she knew of the house’s history and wanted out of her lease. The landlord, who turned out to be Travis’s mother, refused to let her out of the agreement.
After consulting a lawyer, McGhaw learned the hard way that landlords or sellers are not always obligated to disclose things like murders or suicides. While some states require such disclosures, in Missouri, there is no such obligation. What's more, the law usually applies to properties that are on the market for sale, not for rental.
McGhaw called on the support of her family. They dutifully arrived, but what happened next only made matters worse. While family members gathered to discuss solutions to McGhaw’s struggle, one relative, a little girl, played in the basement. Suddenly, the child grew frightened; she began to cry. She was steps away from the pole where Travis once tied his victims and, in McGhaw's opinion, reacted as if she could clearly see someone in pain—but no one was there.
After that, McGhaw called in the big guns—the news media. Reporters from the local television station covered the story and shortly afterwards McGhaw was finally able to break her lease and move elsewhere. Yet she still can’t get the horror of that afternoon in the basement out of her mind. As she told the news station, “"[The child] looked over ... like she was scared. Like she saw somebody scared and crying and nobody was there.”
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All stills via CBS News