One California man makes his living off of putting a price tag on the country’s most horrific murder scenes, like JonBenet Ramsey’s home and the house where Nicole Brown Simpson was killed.
Randall Bell has earned the nickname ‘Dr. Disaster’ in real estate circles after having worked in appraisals of devalued property for decades, simply because he got bored putting a price on commercial real estate.
‘I thought it would be fascinating, because I think I have adult ADD, and I like interesting, challenging things,’ he told Rolling Stone.
It was the OJ Simpson case that really got things going for Bell’s ‘stigmatized’ property appraisal business, after a brief write-up in a newspaper included a quote from him about the home where Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered.
Randall Bell makes his living off of putting a price tag on the country’s most horrific murder scenes, like JonBenet Ramsey’s home and the house where Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered. OJ Simpson’s home is pictured
Randall Bell (pictured0 has earned the nickname ‘Dr. Disaster’ in real estate circles after having worked in appraisals of devalued property for decades, simply because he got bored pricing commercial real estate
‘Nobody knew who I was or cared until OJ came,’ Bell, who has a PhD is Sociology said.
Bell said the firestorm came after he had been out to dinner with George Ryun, who had appraised the Menendez brothers’ home in Bel Air, and his wife, Ruth Ryon, who wrote a column called Hot Properties in The Los Angeles Times’ real estate section.
‘I was asking George about the Menendez property and Ruth called me up and said, “Hey, I heard you’re working on the OJ thing,” and she put one or two sentences in the newspaper with my name, and what I told her was pretty benign, but I swear to you the whole world called and I’ve never looked back since the OJ Simpson case.’
Bell got involved with the Simpson property because Lou Brown, the father of Nicole Brown Simpson lived in his neighborhood and asked for his help.
‘Lou is a really cool guy, but he thought the property would be more valuable because it was famous,’ Bell said.
‘I had the delicate task of sitting with him over lunch and saying, “Hey, just because something is well-known doesn’t mean it’s necessarily more valuable. I hate to tell ya, but there’s good news and bad news: the bad news is that the property value has gone down, but over time it can be somewhat restored.” So we got a renter in there to pay the bills, and he sold it later.’
Nicole Brown was murdered at her home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, on June 12, 1994
Bell said that from the hundreds of cases he’s seen, the typical loss in value runs between 10-25 percent for a crime scene property, and bulldozing and rebuilding doesn’t help.
‘[W]hen you bulldoze a property, you have not bulldozed the stigma. The stigma is attached to the land,’ Bell said.
‘I’ll give you an example: Megan Kanka, the little girl in Megan’s Law — [the law requiring sex offenders to register for a public database] house was bulldozed, now it’s a park. Jeffrey Dahmer’s property was bulldozed and that land — I was just there two months ago and it’s still vacant.
Bell said that from the hundreds of cases he’s seen, including working on the home of JobBenet Ramsey (pictured), the typical loss in value runs between 10-25 percent for a crime scene property, and bulldozing and rebuilding doesn’t help.
‘Think of it this way: have you been to a Civil War site around the country? You go there and you don’t see any bodies or cannons or swords, but because what happened on that land is so profound and important, the land is considered sacred to so many people. It’s the same with crime scenes. The stigma is attached to the land: you can bulldoze, but you can’t get rid of the stigma.’
Dahmer’s property is a bit of an exception, though, Bell said, because it sold for a premium due to a pre-existing land development deal.
Another exception would be the Lizzie Borden house in Rhode Island, which very successfully ‘monetized that crime,’ Bell said.
‘They have bed and breakfasts and you can sleep in the room where Lizzie Borden’s mother was murdered with an ax for hundreds of dollars a night,’ he said.
‘But as a general rule, those kinds of things don’t happen. Heaven’s Gate, JonBenet Ramsey, OJ – there’s literally hundreds of cases people haven’t heard of, and those typically fall into the 10-25 percent pattern, but there are some unique one-off circumstances.’
‘But as a general rule, those kinds of things don’t happen. Heaven’s Gate, JonBenet Ramsey, OJ – there’s literally hundreds of cases people haven’t heard of, and those typically fall into the 10-25 percent pattern, but there are some unique one-off circumstances,’ Bell said. The home of JonBenet Ramsey is pictured
In trying to quantify the loss for a particular ‘stigmatized’ property, Bell said there are several considerats.
‘We divide everything into three categories: cost, use and risk,’ he said.
‘The costs are the cleanup costs of the blood or the bullet holes or what have you. In one case, Satan worshippers were coming into the house and they started a fire inside the garage in a Satanic ritual, so those all have costs.
‘The second element of use means the house isn’t being normally used, so there’s a way to calculate the loss of use.
‘And the word “risk” is synonymous with stigma, which means there’s a resistance on part of the market to pay full value. So that’s how we do every case.’
Bell said he does what he does because he wants to help people mitigate all three types of loss, to the best of his ability, out of a desire to get people through traumatizing times.
‘I have a high threshold for drama, for some reason. I really do. I volunteer with prisoners at San Quentin and at Orange County jail. For some reason, I’m able to handle a high level of trauma,’ he said.
He swears it’s not out of morbid curiosity, although he has plenty of stories of valuing property where horrific things have happened.
Bell is pictured standing in front of the Heaven’s Gate estate where 39 people committed suicide in 1997
For instance, Bell was involved in appraising the Heaven’s Gate mansion, where Marshall Applewhite and 38 followers committed a mass suicide by overdosing on vodka and the narcotic phenobarbital in shifts over three days in 1997.
‘I don’t have any morbid curiosity. I don’t want to see bodies or crime scene photos, I’m not into that,’ he said.
‘With Heaven’s Gate, I waited till after they finished taking out the bodies. But when I went in, I just wanted to barf because it smelled so bad. There had been bodies decomposing for three days, and there was blood all over the place — blood on the carpet and the marble, all throughout the house.’
Bell said the blood came from the bodies leaking after they had been decomposing for days.
Bell was involved in appraising the Heaven’s Gate mansion, where Marshall Applewhite and 38 followers committed a mass suicide by overdosing on vodka and the narcotic phenobarbital in shifts over three days in 1997
Although Bell has worked on valuing such high profile pieces of real estate as the World Trade Center and the Flight 93 crash site, he said there are many under the radar situations that would turn stomachs.
He shared one particularly wild story of a crime scene property that the buyers were unaware they had acquired.
‘Here in southern California, in Mission Viejo — this family bought a house, and they move in, and the daughter is putting her clothes away in the closet, and she notices a hole in her closet floor. So she gets her dad and says there’s a hole in the closet floor and sure enough, it’s a bullet hole and then the dad looks around and sees one in the ceiling and lines up the trajectory and goes downstairs, and behind the water heater up on the ceiling was a bunch of blood and brain matter,’ Bell said.
‘The family had not been told the house had belonged to a guy who committed suicide in the garage and the people that sold it failed to disclose it, and failed to cleaned up the blood and the brains. So that was really pretty disturbing for this family, and I saw it myself, it was disturbing to me. They filed a lawsuit against the broker and the seller, because legally, in New York and California, you have to disclose that stuff.’
Even as Bell shared that story, he insisted, ‘I don’t look at the macabre.’
‘I’m not there to gawk at the murders and suicides, but I love helping people through really tough times. It’s kinda like a fireman helping people in horrible auto accidents. I’m there to help. I’m not there to gawk and stare and be a voyeur,’ he said.
‘I look at my whole career built around helping people through really tough situations, because while people are freaking out and are in total shock and their lives are destroyed, I can walk in and because I’m acclimated to this, I’m able to give them sound advice and sound information to help them through it, at least in part, and in some way make their life a little bit better and take some of the stress off them.’
Although Bell has worked on valuing such high profile pieces of real estate as the World Trade Center and the Flight 93 crash site, he said there are many under the radar situations that would turn stomachs. The Twin Towers are shown in New York City in 1981