Empty but active

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Two homes have remained vacant since Clifford Webber was stabbed in his girlfriend’s home at 319 West 14th Street and discovered in the abandoned home at 317 West 14th Street on June 16.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

The scene of a grisly stabbing where a victim’s body lay undiscovered for days is turning into a playground of sorts, say neighborhood residents.

They say at night the two buildings come to life — movement in and out of the doors, the occasional flicker of lighters and low conversation coming from within.

And during the day, neighborhood kids dart in and out, playing in and around the two empty homes at 317 and 319 W. 14th Street.

“Ever since they pulled down the yellow (crime scene) tape and opened the doors, you’ll see kids going in there,” Benny Moreno said.

Moreno and his wife, Peggie, pass by the scene often as they travel to and from their home in the 1100 block of Rencher Street, where they have lived more than nine years.

“I hate to say it, but there are bad dealings going on over there,” Peggie Moreno said. “It’s just kind of scary.”

It’s where police say Clifford Webber was stabbed to death inside his girlfriend’s home at 319 W. 14th. Then she and a friend moved his body next door to an abandoned house at 317, according to court documents.

Webber’s decomposing body was found about three days later on June 16, when the woman’s friend reported to police his role in moving the body.

The homes have remained vacant since.

Repeated efforts by CNJ to locate the owner of the properties haven’t been successful.

The Morenos say their greatest concern is the buildings were never secured. Now with new notoriety, they fear the empty buildings are a magnet for drug users, criminals and children.

School starts in two weeks. And the close proximity of James Bickley Elementary School — just a half-block away — adds to their concern, Peggie Moreno said.

Moreno said she’s afraid a child might wander in to one of the homes and cross paths with a violent or startled person. Or, a child might be lured in by someone who means them harm.

“These kids walk to school by themselves… It’s just not a safe environment. We just don’t want anything to happen to kids.”

Boarding up the windows and doors to keep trespassers out, or renting the properties would put their minds at ease, the Morenos said.

A spokesman for the city says he also is concerned.

Abandoned buildings are at the top of the list for the city’s Director of Building Safety Pete Wilt when he returns to work Monday.

Wilt said his department is on the cusp of launching a focus on dealing with abandoned and unsecured properties in the community.

Wilt was injured in May when he and another man fell down an elevator shaft during an inspection at Hotel Clovis.

Wilt said his first day back at work is Monday.

“We’re going to start taking a more aggressive approach,” he said.

“There (are) numerous vacant properties that we’re going to be (targeting).”

Wilt said the first step for the city is to mail a notice to the property owner, giving them 15 days to secure the property.

If a property owner does not respond, the City Commission can then pass a resolution allowing the city to step in and secure the property.

Properties may also be condemned if found uninhabitable.

Several letters have been sent to property owners already, though Wilt said he was not aware what if any action had been taken regarding the properties on 14th Street.

But he promised, “We’re going to starting to deal with some of these houses.”