News

House is stripped after an ad for free stuff appears on Craigslist

Adam Lynn
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
A TV videographer steps gingerly through the debris strewn kitchen of Laurie Raye from Tacoma, Washington, Thursday, April 5, 2007. A fake Internet classified ad on Craigslist invited the public to take anything they wanted from Raye's rental home. (Dean J. Koepfler/Tacoma News Tribune/MCT)

TACOMA, Wash. - It's difficult to discern the most unbelievable part of the tale of the ransacked rambler.

Is it that someone mad at Laurie Raye was vindictive enough to post a sham entry on craigslist.org inviting people to go to a house Raye owns on Tacoma's East Side and help themselves to its contents?

Is it that people actually did so, stripping the house of everything from the water heater to the kitchen sink to the baseboard molding?

Or is it that Tacoma police might have a line on the person who placed the ad because one of their officers surfing for bargains on the Internet saw the entry and made a mental note about it?

Whatever.

The bizarro story took on a life of its own Thursday, with media outlets across the country begging the 44-year-old Raye for interviews as local news crews did live shots from the front yard of the rundown house.

"Look what can happen to anybody," a harried Raye said by cell phone as she rode in the backseat of a luxury car hired by a national media outlet to transport her to Seattle for an interview. "It's unbelievable."

It's at least a cautionary tale about how the unbridled power of the Internet can be used for ill.

"It's pretty much open to anyone," said detective Gretchen Ellis of the Tacoma Police Department, which has assigned an investigator to the case.

Someone with a mean streak apparently used it to get even with Raye.

The tale began March 29 when Raye evicted her sister from the house that once belonged to their mother.

Once her sister was out, Raye said she carried furniture and several bags of garbage outside and called the city to come haul it away. Then she left the house empty and went home.

Raye didn't want to go into details about why she kicked her flesh-and-blood out of the ancestral home.

Pierce County Superior Court records indicate Raye requested a domestic violence protection order against her sister in 1998. That same sister requested one against her later that summer. One of the orders still is in effect.

But Raye she said Thursday she doesn't think her sister is the one who placed the ad. "She's not smart enough," Raye said.

Efforts to reach the sister for comment were unsuccessful.

Last Friday, an off-duty Tacoma police officer was cruising Craigslist when he spotted a "strange header" on a entry, Ellis said. The ad piqued his interest because it listed an address on the East Side, the sector he works, she said.

The entry mentioned that people could come by any time and take what they wanted from out front or inside. "Please help yourself," it said.

On Saturday, Raye got a phone call.

"They said I might want to go over to my mother's house," she said, "that the doors and windows are missing."

Raye drove over to find the house a wreck.

The kitchen sink was gone. So was the water heater. And light fixtures. And some of the door jambs. And the front window, complete with frame. Even the front porch light was gone.

"I was sick to my stomach," Raye said. "It was a destroyed house."

She talked to the neighbors. They told her cars came and went from the house for hours Friday with people carting stuff off left and right.

"Sounds like it was a free-for-all," she said.

But the neighbors figured it was legitimate because there were so many folks involved and it was the middle of the day, she said. They didn't call police.

Raye did, though.

And that's when she said she learned about the Craigslist ad.

The officer who saw the ad Friday heard about Raye's burglary report, put two and two together and alerted her of the Craigslist entry.

On Thursday, Jim Buckmaster, chief executive officer at Craigslist, said officials "have released all the information we have" about the ad.

It was posted last Friday and was on the site for less than two hours before it was flagged down by users, Buckmaster said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

He said Craigslist rarely encounters such false postings, despite receiving 25 million postings each month. Still, the company does strive to prevent false postings, Buckmaster said.

"It's as difficult to prevent crime online as it is offline, but we do work closely with law enforcement," he said in his e-mail to The AP.

Raye said she doesn't blame Craigslist for what happened. The company sent her as much information as it had about the posting Thursday, she said.

That included a Hotmail e-mail address that police may be able to use to track down the poster, though Ellis said she's not sure a crime was committed.

"It could be a civil matter," she said.

Raye said she thinks insurance will help pay for some of the damages as she gets the house ready to sell.

In the meantime, she hopes police can get to the bottom of what happened.

"Somebody knows something," Raye said. "Somebody invited the public in to destroy my house."

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