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Better safe than dead

Becky Vargo • Jan 18, 2018 at 10:00 AM

She was perceived to be “a rich broker who worked alone,” Carl Carter Jr. said at a meeting of the West Michigan Lakeshore Association of Realtors on Wednesday.

But that was her “fake it until you make it mentality,” he said of the woman who lived paycheck to paycheck.

He was talking about his mother, Beverly Carter, a real estate broker who was kidnapped while showing a house in a small town outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, on Sept. 25, 2014. Her body was found five days later behind an old cement plant, about 20 miles away from the scene.

Carl addressed the Realtors group in an attempt to drive home safe protocol for working in what he called a “dangerous profession.” And part of that is following your gut instinct about a person or a situation.

His mother knew the house she was going to show was a piece of junk under foreclosure, Carl said. When her client wanted to meet her at the house, she balked and told him she wasn’t allowed to show a rural home on her own.

That’s when the guy’s wife came on the phone and reassured Beverly that she would be there, too, Carl said. So his mom agreed to go.

Still, Beverly called her husband to let him know she was going to a showing before stopping at their favorite Mexican restaurant to pick up dinner on the way home.

Carl said he was a little irritated at first when his father called him at about 9 that night to say Beverly had not returned home and he couldn’t reach her on her cellphone. The younger Carter agreed to go to the office while his father went to the house that was being shown.

At the house, Carl Sr. found an open door and his wife’s car parked nearby with her purse still inside. Carl Jr. said those five days of searching were agony for everyone involved. But there was still hope he would still see his mother — whom he described as his best friend — alive.

Carl said the investigation and testimony during the eventual murder trial revealed that the man surprised his mother as she turned from taking a photo. He pushed a Taser into her side and bound her with duct tape. He then put Beverly in the trunk of his vehicle, took a picture and sent it to his wife, Carl said.

The plan was to get ahold of Beverly’s credit cards, have them filled with ransom requests, and then eventually free her. But the man left the scene without Beverly’s purse, which was safely locked in her car. 

Carl said that, at one point, the man returned to the house to get the purse, but police were already on the scene. The man panicked, and then took Beverly to a rural area, wrapped her face with duct tape until she suffocated and buried her in a shallow grave, her son said.

The police investigation eventually led them to a married couple, which targeted Beverly as their way to get out of poverty, Carl said.

Takeaways that Carl offered to the local Realtors group: know your client; slow down and think about safety concerns with open houses and showings; trust your gut; keep the conversation going.

Aside from keeping his cellphone handy, Carl, who is also a real estate agent, said he carries a panic button in his pocket. He also uses a cellphone app called Forewarn to get as much information on his clients as possible.

Martha Thomas, an agent for Eastbrook Homes, said she had an incident in which a client wanted her to ride with him to look at a home. When she declined, he left, she said.

“Trust that instinct when you feel something isn’t right,” Thomas said. “Then remove yourself from that situation.”

Five Star Lakeshore agent Stacey Koziol said she had a scary experience last fall. A client who approached her over the internet called and wanted to see a vacant home on acreage the next day. It was nothing like what he had been searching, Koziol said, so she had another agent accompany her.

Another time, Koziol arrived first at a vacant house, went around the back to get to the lock box and discovered the door was open. When she went back to the front, she saw someone moving through the house. She and her client immediately left the property without going in.

Both Thomas and Koziol said learning as much about your client as you can beforehand is a good idea. Being aware of your surroundings is also important.

More information on safety can be found at the Beverly Carter Foundation website at www.BeverlyCarterFoundation.org.

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