A blood stain at the scene of the Heaven's Gate suicide

‘Appraiser of Doom’ Helps Sell the Most Famous Crime Scenes

Meet the man who helped sell the Heaven’s Gate mansion, Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment building, the Sharon Tate property, and other notorious real estate.

Randall Bell, known as the “Appraiser of Doom” and the “Master of Disaster,” spent years evaluating commercial property in Southern California in the 1980s when the routine started to get dull. That’s when he decided to work on more interesting properties. That decision has lead him to work on some of the most infamous crime scenes in the country, including the mansion where 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult committed suicide in 1997 to hitch a ride with the alien spacecraft hiding inside the Hale-Bopp comet.

“With Heaven’s Gate, I waited till after they finished taking out the bodies,” Bell recently told Rolling Stone. “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.”

Over the years Bell and his firm Landmark Research has been called in to appraise a variety of damaged real estate such as Bikini Atoll, where the US tested nuclear weapons in the 1940s and 50s, the World Trade Center, the federal building bombed by Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City, Hiroshima, Columbine, Chernobyl, and all manner of natural and man-made disasters.

As far as crime scenes go, Bell has helped determine the value of property carrying the stigma of the country’s most well-known murders. Bell has worked on Sharon Tate’s house where the Manson Family murdered her and her guests in 1969, the JonBenét Ramsey house, the OJ and Nicole Brown Simpson crime scene, the Menendez house, Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment building in Milwaukee, and numerous other lower profile cases.

Bell was even among the first people allowed in the Los Feliz murder mansion 50 years after a doctor murdered his wife there. The group he was with conducted a seance while inside the home.

Los Feliz murder mansion
The Loz Feliz murder mansion

Bell says a crime scene generally sells for 10-25% loss of value.

“The Lizzie Borden house in Rhode Island, that property, they monetized that crime, if you will,” Bell says. “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. But as a general rule, those kinds of things don’t happen.”

So how does he determine value?

Bell uses a list of over 400 items in 10 classifications known as the Bell Chart. Items which may devalue a property include zoning changes, terrorism, contamination, landslides, and crime.

“The first rule I got is you gotta be realistic,” Bell says. “Trying to make the value go up is tough. With Neverland, that’s never gonna turn into Graceland because it’s simply too remote. You look for any opportunity, but generally speaking, a crime scene is not gonna become a museum or tourist attraction. What I’m trying to do is mitigate the damage. I’m trying to make the best I can out of a bad situation, recognizing that it’s not gonna be normal or have a normal return. You’re just trying to minimize the losses. We divide everything into 3 categories: cost, use and risk. 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.”

In the case of Dahmer’s apartment building, however, Bell says the property actually sold for a profit.

Jeffrey Dahmer's apartment building
The empty lot where Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment building once stood in Milwaukee

“When he was arrested, at the same time, coincidentally, there was a group called Campus Circle, and they were trying to buy up all the housing in the area that was crime-ridden where Dahmer lived and create more student housing in Marquette University.”

Bell says the Dahmer building was throwing a wrench in Campus Circle’s plans, so they bought the property. “The owner of the apartment complex knew they were highly motivated and he held out for a premium.”

Today, the building is a vacant lot surrounded by a fence. Sharon Tate’s home and the Heaven’s Gate mansion were also razed. But the locations still draw curious visitors.

The house where Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson Family in 1969
Sharon Tate’s home being torn down in 1994

“I worked on the Sharon Tate property. That property was bulldozed, and I’m telling you, tourists still go by that property to this day,” Bell told Rolling Stone. “So bulldozing doesn’t accomplish anything, really. The Heaven’s Gate mansion was bulldozed completely — the fences, the driveway, every tree — and they rebuilt on it, and people point to the property to this day, and say, ‘That was the Heaven’s Gate mansion.'”

While Bell doesn’t believe in ghosts, he says there was something strange at the Heaven’s Gate estate. While conducting tours with the media, people always said they felt unease in one particular room.

“Everyone identified the same room,” Bell says. “I kept that to myself, but the room everyone was referring to was a room where there were four bodies, two bunk beds with four bodies. There was no blood in the room, there was nothing — you gotta understand, there were 39 bodies in the house, so there were bodies in every single room, so there wasn’t anything special about that particular room, but everyone said that who I took through the house.”

Bodies being removed from the Heaven's Gate estate
Bodies being removed from the Heaven’s Gate estate

For more about Randall Bell’s experiences, how to appraise a crime scene, and how to scare off Satan worshippers read the Rolling Stone interview right here.

Lizzie Borden's mansion

Lizzie Borden’s Maplecroft Mansion is For Sale

Own the house where Lizzie Borden lived out her life after the brutal murders she was acquitted of.

The 3 story, 8 bedroom Queen Anne Victorian home in Fall River, Massachusetts once owned and occupied by Lizzie Borden is for sale. Lizzie was accused of the murders of her father and stepmother with a hatchet on August 4, 1892. When she was acquitted the following year, she and her sister Emma left the house where the murders happened and, using the money from their father’s estate, bought the sprawling 1889 mansion Lizzie dubbed “Maplecroft” in a wealthy area of the city known as “the Hill.”

Nearly a year after the murders, despite the fact that Lizzie had been found not guilty, the Borden sisters still could not escape the the scrutiny of their neighbors. An article in the September 10, 1893 edition of the New York Times noted the Fall River community criticized Lizzie’s lack of common courtesy, as they believed she should have been wearing black in remembrance of her father.

“Emma Borden has always worn black since the day of the tragedy,” the article reported, “and whenever the two sisters appear in public together, one in the habiliments of grief, the other in a suit of light-colored material, Fall River takes it all in, splutters about it, and thinks that, after all that has occurred, she might ‘wear a bit of mourning.'”

One of Maplecroft's six fireplaces
One of Maplecroft’s six fireplaces

Though friends of the Bordens told reporters they hoped the sisters could drop out of sight, it didn’t seem likely. The old Borden house had also become a popular tourist destination by the time Lizzie was freed.

“The police stationed at the railroad stations and wharves, and in the center of the city, say that the curiosity of the traveling public to see the famous Borden house on Second street remains undiminished,” the New Bedford Evening Standard reported on July 1, 1883, “and that the first question asked them by any traveler who is obliged to wait, no matter how short a time in the city for a train or boat, is, ‘Have I time to go up to Lizzie Borden’s house where the murder’s were committed?’ This question, they say, is asked of them hundreds of times a day.”

“The insatiable interest and curiosity in the fearful mystery,” the article continued, “has precluded any thought of continuing to reside there unless Lizzie and Emma desire to be stared at whenever they make their appearance, with much the same interest that is shown toward dime museum freaks.”

Maplecroft mansion
Is that Lizzie Borden’s stereoscope?

The first house the sisters attempted to buy was the Butterworth house. Those close to the them found it a surprising choice, considering the notoriety of the home was second only to the Borden’s own. The former owner was a highly respected Fall River citizen by the name of Alfred D. Buttersworth. He was a traveling salesman for the Hargraves Soap Co., a member of the Masonic Hall, and the Butchers Rendering Association. He fell ill in the winter, and hanged himself from a tree on Elsbree Lane in April of 1892.

Despite the history, the home was “far enough removed from the center of activity to afford the sisters something of the seclusion for which they have yearned,” the Evening Standard wrote.

For unknown reasons, possibly due to hostility from the Borden’s prospective neighbors, the sale fell through. The sisters purchased Maplecroft soon after.

“The orphans have shaken from their presense surroundings that must have been a nightmare for them,” the September 24, 1893 edition of the New York Times wrote. “They are reveling in the luxories of bathtubs, substantial food and plenty of it, the actual comforts of home life, and delicacies to which years they were living strangers. And they are at last living in a style becoming to their means and in a manner agreeable to their tastes.”

Emma moved out after an argument in 1905. The sisters never saw each other again. Lizzie, then going by the name Lizbeth, lived in Maplecroft until her death on June 1, 1927.

Lizzie Borden lived here at the Maplecroft mansion until her death in 1927

The current owner has restored to the home and filled it with period-appropriate furnishings. The asking price is $799,000. See more photos right here.

Lizzie’s permanent residence is is nearby Oak Grove Cemetery.