Newlyweds James and Brittany Campbell and their two young children left their Honolulu home for a week to visit relatives on the U.S. mainland. When they returned on September 20th, 2019, it was clear that something was very, very wrong. James' bike was sitting outside in the driveway, but it had been safely tucked away when the family left.
Leaving his sons in the car, James approached the front door. When he tried to open it, he discovered a stranger inside pulling it closed. The intruder peeked through the crack in the door and very calmly informed James that "this is not your house."
The man inside, Ezequiel Zayas, was just one of many to commit the crime of 'phrogging'. This eerie crime occurs when a stranger finds their way into someone's home and secretly lives there for anywhere from days to months at a time. They could be in the attic, a cupboard, or even the walls. And unlike squatting, these perpetrators don't care if the residents are around.
And as terrifying as having an unwanted and unknown guest may be, the Campbell's story only gets worse.
While Brittany called the police, James armed himself with a sledgehammer and managed to get Zayas out of the house. In the front yard, the couple noticed that the intruder was wearing James' clothes. Zayas took this time to reassure the couple that he had taken care of their cat while they were away. This prompted Brittany to run inside and check on the animal, which she found locked in a cage with no water.
Once inside their home, it was an eerie scene. It appeared as though Zayas was doing an inventory of everything they owned. Pots and pans had been stacked on top of each other. All of James' musical equipment had been unpacked in the living room. Oddly enough, Zayas had left the children's rooms immaculate, doing their laundry and making their beds. However, the couple's bedroom was trashed.
Amidst the mess was one of their old laptops, a device Zayas had used to compile a disturbing diary about the Campbells. This featured details he had to have picked up from listening to their conversations, including the fact that Brittany and James were struggling to have a baby, and Brittany was undergoing fertility treatments. Zayas commented in his notes that Brittany should give up and simply focus on the children she already had.
Zayas' notes were titled "The Omnivore Trials: A rehabilitation of Ratlike people." The detailed observations tipped off the Campbells to the fact that this man had probably been living in their home for far longer than they could imagine. But the computer contained two more disturbing files. One was a video that Zayas had recorded as he sat naked in one of the Campbell's chairs. In the video, he appeared to mock Brittany in a twisted farce of a makeup tutorial.
The other document was far more disturbing. When Brittany noticed that several knives had been set out beside the old computer, she also uncovered a gruesome manifesto. Zayas had typed up horrifying plans for the family, which included surgeries to turn them into a species he called Omnivores. This included "sexual reconstruction" and "hand transplant" surgeries for Brittany and the two children. He had hoped to turn them into perfect people.
As horrific as all this was, they started to remember little oddities around the house over the past couple of months that began to make a lot more sense. In the middle of the night, a computer's webcam had turned on. Doors had been opened or unlocked that they were sure they had secured. The dog barked at what they thought was nothing. Boxes in the garage had been opened. Items in the house were out of place.
Once, James had even seen a person's shadow outside the house. He later came across a strange message left on a desk calendar: "Your rehabilitation starts today. Do as I did: Choose a house, clean it, set up all devices."
He had thought it was a message from his wife, asking him to tidy up around the house. But now James and Brittany knew that all the strange things that had been putting a strain on their home life had been the work of Zayas.
Following his arrest, Zayas was charged with burglary and put out on supervised release. Not long after, he was arrested yet again for the alleged vandalization of a Buddhist temple. In 2020, while in a correctional facility for that offense, Zayas allegedly beat a fellow inmate to death. Charged with murder in the first and second degrees, Zayas pled not guilty.
Zayas was found to be "unfit to proceed." As of now, he is being kept at the Hawaii State Hospital until the trial begins.
As for the Campbells, their shocking run-in with Zayas has certainly left a traumatic mark. The family has moved out of their Honolulu house and left Hawaii altogether. Brittany has stated that the struggle for normalcy continues on.
Featured image: Dmitry Ant/Unsplash