IRWINDALE — Police think they have solved the mystery of who stole a house in Irwindale last month, but they are still baffled over how to resolve the unusual caper.
The key to unraveling the case is determining just who owns the house.
Police say Alfred Hampton, an Altadena house mover, has told them he thought he still owned the one-story structure Sept. 16 when he moved it more than 14 miles to where it now sits in Altadena.
But Al Castro, the San Bernardino man who bought the house at auction about two months earlier, contends that he is the legal owner.
Wayward House Spotted
The wayward house was found with the help of alert residents on Sept. 19, a day after it was reported stolen, police said.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Brenner and Police Lt. Charles Crawford are trying to resolve the case through negotiations rather than bringing the matter to court. No charges have been filed against Hampton, who did not return repeated phone calls from The Times.
"It's not the stuff that real strong criminal cases are made out of," said Brenner. "It's a real oddball deal."
Police were alerted to the case on Sept. 18 when Brenda McGinnis of San Bernardino told police that the house was missing. McGinnis, a house mover and partner of Castro, said that a prospective buyer could not find the house on a lot at Arrow Highway and Live Oak Avenue where he was told it would be.
"It was a big shock," McGinnis said. "I went to Irwindale to see. There was no house there."
Whether the house had any right to be on the site in the first place is open to question.
Calmat Co., the concrete company that owns the lot, wanted the house, and four others, moved off its property. Hampton told police he began moving the five houses to the site in January.
Bill Bennett, Calmat's landscape manager, said he warned Hampton that if the houses were not moved, the company would claim them and sell them at auction.
Sold at Auction
Bennett said he talked with Hampton by phone several times and sent Hampton two registered letters warning him that if he did not move the houses they would be auctioned. The letters were returned unopened, Bennett said.
Under pressure from the city of Irwindale to get the houses off the land because the company had no permits to keep them there, Calmat held an auction July 24. Castro bought two of the homes, including the one in question, for a total of $800.
Irwindale Sgt. Mickey Nygard said Hampton "denies receiving any documentation or any notification about the July 24 auction until after he moved the house."
Crawford said Castro and Hampton have told him they are willing to discuss how to resolve the case.
"It might be better to try to get those two to come to an arrangement rather than run this though the court system," Crawford said.
But, he added, "I certainly reserve the right to ask the D.A. to file the case if they can't solve it by other means. It's an unusual situation in that the person who took the house is a previous owner."
Brenner said he hopes something can be worked out.
"We're talking about something that we'd really file as a misdemeanor, which gives you something of an idea how much these houses are worth."
Propped on makeshift stacks of wood, with a crumbling brick chimney, broken windows and assorted holes and dents, the house now sits on a lot on Devirian Place in a residential area of Altadena.
The white-and-blue, two-bedroom stucco house has been less than welcome at its new site.
"Look at the debris and everything," said Clara Johnson, who lives next door. "I thought at least they'd clean up the debris."