by Debra Keipp, January 29, 2014
Alf and Mary Rose of Point Arena have a son named Joey. He was raised fishing off Point Arena Pier while his mother owned and operated the kitchen store at Arena Cove. Joey's dad is a fisherman and gardener. Joey has spent his life so far enjoying his favorite hobbies: fishing and hunting.
On a sunny, recent Monday, Joey and a pal decided to do some skeet shooting near a hidden seaside property they caretake for a couple now living out of state. Joey and his parents used to live in a trailer on the property while the main house was occupied by the old owner who has since died.
The place isn't visible from Highway One, but it's a large home with a barn that can be seen only from the ocean. The new owners don't use the place or visit much, if at all, and this beautiful little place sits empty but fully furnished, growing old from the salt air and disuse.
Joey first noticed the broken window when they approached the house to check on it. He took a long look and was glad he did. He waited a long time before he took a cautious step inside. There was someone upstairs, a person who shouldn't have been there.
The house contained a man who had made it his home — a transient, a vagrant, a squatter. He may have occupied the place for as long as a week.
The intruder had been not a good tenant. In fact, he seemed unaccustomed to living indoors, and completely unacquainted with the modern amenities he'd found in the house he'd taken for himself.
Squatter Man had found the owner's shotgun and shells and had amused himself by shooting the place up as best he could until he ran out of ammo. Most of us, even if we were squatting, would have turned on the radio or satisfied ourselves by watching the sun set in the Pacific. There are people, of course, who prefer noise and destruction as a means of entertainment. There's also a small army of crazy people loose in the land. Squatter Man was one of the latter.
Meanwhile, Joey's outside looking in, where he remained when he saw through the window the shotgun laying on the floor, carelessly abandoned amid the wreckage of what had been an orderly home.
Joey called his folks and told them what he'd discovered. Alf and Mary Rose arrived just after Joey had gone ahead on inside. But Joey had heard someone moving around upstairs and quickly hustled back outside. A shotgun and overhead mystery sounds demand full caution.
There ensued a kind of one-way standoff with Alf, Mary Rose and Joey outside, Squatter Man oblivious upstairs. Alf kept his deer rifle handy for the four and one-half hours it took a deputy to arrive from Fort Bragg.
The deputy boldly went on upstairs where he found Squatter Man, the same man he'd encountered a few nights before out on Highway One where Squatter Man had started a roadside fire. This time the deputy discovered Squatter Man standing behind a bedroom door, shotgun at the ready, but out of ammo, not that the deputy could have known that. The deputy, however, seemed to proceed as if the gun was empty.
Squatter Man was clearly 5150. He seethed threats of mass mayhem in between incoherent but passionate statements. The deputy handcuffed Squatter Man, but before the deputy could place his captive in one of the spiffy new SUV's the Sheriff's Department sports on the Mendocino Coast, Squatter Man, with a Houdini-like slither, suddenly brought his cuffed hands out in front of his body, the better to make a run for it. The deputy pounced and wrestled Squatter Man into the squad car, placing him securely behind the mesh. "It wasn't easy getting him in there, Alf said. "He was pretty nutty."
Inside the violated home, Alf, Mary and Joe saw that Squatter Man had taken the abalone hammers from the kitchen drawers and hacked apart rocks on the antique furniture upstairs. He'd used bulky bath towels as toilet paper then tried to flush them down the toilet. When that didn't work, he threw soiled towels in the other toilet. The running water had been shut off by the owner, but the vagrant bathed in the hot tub, which had water in it.
Most absentee people who can afford a cozy little getaway with an ocean view would probably see to it that someone local kept an eye on it for them. The new-style transients aren't great respecters of property, public or private, and there are lots of them out there shuffling up and down Highway One, a small army of them, unhappy unto crazed.