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Kristen Simpson: Losing Brian, then her home

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN, (Week of August 22, 2013)
Photo: Kristen Simpson outside home where husband was murdered.

When Brian Simpson was shot to death by a home invader in his Central Beach home on Fiddlewood in mid November, 2011, his wife Kristen Simpson didn’t  think about how much the house meant to her.

After all, it was Brian she and the kids missed unbearably. It was Brian’s shirts she slept in to feel his closeness. It was Brian’s driver’s license that son Scott, now 16, kept in his sock when he played baseball.  And, it was Brian’s love of the sea that kept daughter Samantha, now 17, returning to the ocean to find peace.

But as time went on, Kristen, Samantha and Scott realized that the home, itself, kept the memory of Brian, 41, alive and that living there was a great comfort to all of them – despite Brian’s tragic death there.

Which is why it is so difficult for them to face that – after loosing Brian so brutally and unexpectedly less than two years ago – Kristen and the kids are now losing the house to the bank.

“Brian’s soul is in this house. We feel his presence here, loving us,” said Kristen.

But before he died, Brian and Kristen Simpson took second mortgages on the Central Beach home on Fiddlewood, and owed Chase Bank about $320,000. On her public school teacher’s salary of about $38,000 a year (after 22 years of teaching), Kristen can’t make the monthly payments on that mortgage, which is now several years in arrears.

Thus, she sadly is about to sign a “deed in lieu” agreement on her house with Chase Bank, which would allow her to walk away from it with no debt and a clean credit record. As of the signing of the agreement, she would have three months to vacate and find somewhere else to live – and leave behind all the cherished memories she made with her beloved husband.

“It’s a horrible situation for them to lose their home, but the bank deserves some credit for negotiating and not foreclosing,” said Vero Beach attorney Brian Connelly, a close friend of the Simpsons who has been dealing with the bank.

Kristen says Chase told her in the past that it will take about $220,000 for the house.

Real estate agents estimate the house is currently worth over $330,000, although negative publicity about someone having been murdered there might depress the sale value short-term. Connelly says previous attempts to raise money and save the home for the family fell short of goal and raised only about $150,000 in pledges.

The door still might be open for someone to step forward and pay the bank $220,000 for the house, and let Kristen, now 44, and her kids live there for the $700 a month rent she can afford for 5 to 10 years, until the children are out of school. The house could then be sold down the road at a nice profit.

“The mortgage company would be foolish not to take such an arrangement,” said Vero Beach Realtor Elaine Amy. “They don’t have to worry about selling a house in the near future that someone was murdered in and they look kinder, too. The new owner can eventually sell it at a good profit.”

As newlyweds, Brian and Kristen bought the Fiddlewood house across the street from Christ United Methodist Church By-The-Sea in 1994 for a little over $100,000. Kristen had favored a model home on the mainland, but Brian insisted the Central Beach location of the house made it a smarter buy.

At the time, Brian owned a small awning company, and Kristen was a physical education teacher at Highlands Elementary. While Samantha was born in 1996 and Scott came along a year-and-a-half later, the house continued to escalate in value.

In 2003, Brian and Kristen refinanced and went to work renovating it. They added a third bedroom, an office, a TV room and a swimming pool, doing most of the work themselves.

“It took a lot of love and sweat to make this home our castle,” said Kristen. “We shingled the roof, knocked out walls, hammered away, mixed mortar, and lay tiles. We made it ours and we love it.”

The living room furniture, a large red pool table, is a testament to their casual and active lifestyle. A 40th birthday present to Brian, the family used it for a buffet table at parties, for table tennis, and, of course, for pool.

“As a family, this is the only house we’ve ever known,” said Kristen. “The four of us had a great time in this house.”

But in November 2011, right before Kristen and Brian’s 19th wedding anniversary and their 17th year in the house, Brian, a window salesman at the time, made an unscheduled stop back home to get a glass of ice water between work and going to see Scott play baseball in the Riverside field.

A neighbor later said she noticed a suspicious teenager who didn’t live in the neighborhood circling on a bike in front of the house and thought about calling the police. But when she saw Brian’s car heading down the street, she figured the kid would leave. Instead, without Brian seeing him, Darius Robinson, 16, ran into the Simpson house to tell 23-year-old Henry Jones that the owner was arriving home.

Brian entered the house. While taking his shoes off by the front door, he apparently heard a noise in the master bedroom. The burglars ran in the bathroom, and Brian wedged the door shut with a wooden flagpole -- probably so he could call police. But Jones, who is in custody awaiting trial, is alleged to have fired several shots from a stolen handgun through the bathroom door, hitting Brian in the upper chest and killing him.

Five days later, Kristen, Samantha and Scott went back into the home.

“I was trembling because it was so eerie to be there,” said Kristen. “But over the next year, I could feel Brian in the house, and it became a place of love again, rather than a place of sadness.”

The wooden trigger fish and metal sun that Brian gave Kristin hang outside by the front door. Just inside are Brian’s Topsiders on a mat, exactly where he left them on the night he was killed. Scott’s larger shoes are next to them.

The walls are covered with photos of the family’s past: Brian teaching his toddlers to snorkel. Brian and Kristen in San Francisco, on a cruise and skiing. The family of four riding horses, fishing and kayaking. They are in the house around the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree. They are in the yard in their bunny Halloween costumes.

Always, their arms are around each other and they are smiling.

Kristen cries when she looks at the photos.

“Not tears of sadness,” she says. “Tears of thankfulness that I get to remember how full and happy our life was.”

The kids say they can accept it if they have to lose the house. While they will miss their home terribly, they say nothing is as bad as the loss of their dad.

But Scotty has one request: “Wherever we go, I hope we have room for dad’s pool table.”