Family: Squatters on Nevada County property threw out memories, left behind mounds of trash
Lisa and Bob Marlowe felt like they had stepped into an episode of “The Twilight Zone” when they pulled into their family property on Cooper Road above Nevada City.
Trash and vehicles littered the driveway leading up to the home they had not seen since early March, and mounds of garbage festered outside the two-story residence.
A woman allegedly squatting in the house and renting to other “tenants” was arrested that day and faces felony first-degree burglary and vandalism charges. But the Marlowes’ nightmare was just beginning.
The serene family compound, featuring the main house and an adjacent cabin, had been purchased by Lisa’s parents in 1997. Over the years, the family spent a lot of time there, and many of Lisa’s childhood memories revolve around family get-togethers. Even after Lisa’s father died in 2006, her mother stayed for months at a time, she said.
“We used to come much more frequently, as our family liked to swim in the river every summer and we attended WorldFest every summer,” Lisa said.
In March, Lisa’s 91-year-old mother went to the East Coast temporarily to stay with family.
“We were there March 3, then COVID-19 and the fires hit,” Lisa said. “We couldn’t get back up until Oct. 18.”
But, Lisa stressed, the house could not have seemed abandoned — the utilities were on, the family kept furniture and personal mementos, including letters and photos, there — and there was food in the freezer.
The day they came to check on the property, the Marlowes immediately knew something was drastically wrong.
“We got scared when we first drove up,” Lisa said. “It looked drug-infested — like a meth house.”
Terrified, the couple retreated and called 911. When Nevada County sheriff’s deputies arrived, they contacted Amanda Lynn Carlson, 39, as well as a couple who said they were renting the cabin from Carlson, reports state.
“All my mom’s furniture was piled outside, along with garbage that they accumulated from in the house,” she said. “When we went in, that’s when I lost it. It was complete and utter destruction. … They had kicked in the door (to the garage) to gain entry.”
Picking up the pieces
Carlson remained in custody Friday on a $50,000 bond and has pleaded not guilty to the charges, records state. During a hearing in Nevada County Superior Court last week, Judge Linda Sloven approved a stay-away order should Carlson be released and set a felony conference for Dec. 4.
The prospect of cleaning up the mess has overwhelmed the Marlowes.
“We spent all (that) weekend going through it,” Lisa said. “We found drugs, drug paraphernalia, jail release paperwork from multiple people, drivers’ licenses, stolen mail and Amazon packages from neighbors and other areas. The house is destroyed. Even the well and pump was destroyed. … They were relieving themselves in buckets in the house.”
Bob estimated the cleanup costs will run well into the thousands of dollars.
In the wake of the discovery, the family was unable to turn off the utilities because people were still living on the property. An outstanding electric bill — totalling $1,800 — has become the responsibility of Lisa’s mother. One of four stolen vehicles was found a week later with a man driving. It was impounded and towed, and Lisa’s mother received a bill for several thousand dollars, she said.
The couple living in the cabin claimed they paid rent, but the windows were broken to gain entrance, Marlowe noted, adding they have since moved out. They left behind more trash and debris, including several broken-down vehicles with towing costs estimated at nearly $1,000.
The hits keep coming, Lisa said. She just received a letter from a credit card company declining to issue a card, in an apparent identity theft attempt.
On a return trip to the property last week, the Marlowes found trespassers had returned and taken more items, cutting a chain and removing no-trespassing signs. A caretaker has been hired to stay on-site full-time and a gate was installed.
“It’s very upsetting,” Bob said, adding his mother-in-law’s “whole life is strewn out here like it was nothing … We don’t even know where to start. Just getting to ground zero is going to be difficult.”
The Marlowes said they will seek restitution, since a judgement in their favor would be attached to any future wages or other income.
“My mother is devastated — she’s heartbroken,” Lisa said. “This was her home.”
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Nevada City Farmers Market is now accepting vendor applications for the upcoming 2021 season. The market runs 39 weeks, Saturdays May 1 through Dec. 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.