Help! I Think My Relative Is Hiding Something Truly Awful in His House.

Advice on manners and morals.
June 27 2013 6:15 AM

Fright in the Attic

My creepy relative won’t let anyone set foot in his house. Could he be hiding something terrible?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudie,
I have an older relative in his mid-40s, who is, for lack of a better term, a creeper. His mother was a wonderful woman with one huge blind spot: her youngest son. She babied him incessantly and supported him financially. He never moved out of her home, is socially stunted, and though friendly on the surface, can be a huge temper-tantrum-throwing man-boy. Unfortunately he also has a habit of stalking women. We’re not aware of any violence, but he will frequently fixate on a woman, usually a polite co-worker, waitress, store clerk, etc. He then drops by often and uninvited, brings little gifts, and talks constantly about this nonexistent relationship. When he is rebuffed, he will follow the woman after work until she complains to management, at which point he is fired or banned from the place of business. The family is at a loss as to what to do. After his mother died, the very first thing he did was change all the locks on her house and vehemently tell all family members that nobody was allowed on "his" property. Unwilling to make a fuss, everybody has respected this, and not a single person has even attempted to set foot in that house in over three years. Last week he was in an accident that shattered several bones. His sister rushed to the scene and his first words to her were, "If I have to stay in the hospital, I'd better not catch anybody in my house!" At the hospital, he asked for a phone charger and ear buds, and when his brother offered to pick them up at the house, he demanded a new set be purchased—and they were. He was told he could convalesce at home, which was made completely handicap-accessible for his mother, but he refused to have any family members or caregivers come there. So he is going to a rehab facility four hours away for several months. He has demanded his siblings purchase all new clothing and toiletries for him so they don’t go in the house. I have two questions: 1) What do we do about his behavior? 2) What are your thoughts on poking around his house while he's in rehab? His paranoia and the news about the Cleveland captives has me a little concerned that there is evidence of violence or really unhealthy obsession there or worse.

—Scared Kin

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Dear Kin,
Hearing your account it’s impossible not to wonder whether your relative’s home is another 2207 Seymour Avenue, the Cleveland house of horrors where Ariel Castro kept three women captive for a decade. In cases like Cleveland, the monsters hiding kidnap victims relied on the natural reluctance of people to force the issue, or the door, and inquire as to what was going on in the mysterious house with the unwelcome mat. Sure it’s more likely that your relative, who’s a disturbed and disturbing person, has simply filled the place with embarrassing memorabilia of his various obsessions that he doesn’t want anyone to see. But since your account is going to make the hair on the back of the neck of many readers stand on end, I agree with you that it’s important to find out what’s going on. Your late grandmother may have enabled and indulged her perpetual baby, but there is no reason for the rest of the family to quake at the idea of a Rumpelstiltskin-like fit from him. You notably put quotation marks around “his” property when referring to his mother’s house. Now that your relative is going away, this is a propitious time to clarify just who owns it. His siblings have to talk to a lawyer and find out the legal status of the property. They should also mention their concerns about his past behavior and his paranoia about anyone going inside. I hope it turns out his siblings have a clear right to enter and inspect the property. If so, call a locksmith, and once everyone’s in they should call out, “Is anybody here?” Look for locked doors and false fronts. I hope all you find are dust bunnies. As for trying to reform your relative, in the absence of his wanting to join the rest of his family in the real world, I don’t see that there’s much you can do to change his approach to life and romance. It’s kind of a miracle he hasn’t entered the criminal justice system, but for the sake of the innocent women who become his obsessions, his siblings should continue to keep a close eye on him. And carry an extra set of keys.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Horribly Neglected Pet

Dear Prudie,
I work for a small nonprofit. My boss and I were discussing our preparations for a critical daylong event with three high-level officers from an influential foundation we are courting for funding. The event will include a formal presentation of our work and informal time for everyone to get to know each other. I mentioned to my boss that I planned to do an Internet search and read everything I could not only about the foundation but also about the officers, including their professional history, current positions, any articles they have written, etc. My boss was taken aback and suggested it was snooping and that I could get into trouble if I revealed I had prior knowledge about them. He insisted it was better to just be ourselves and let conversation develop naturally. I countered that I saw the event as an interview, and this is the type of preparation that I would do before any interview. I did it to prepare for getting this job! Have I crossed some ethical line with my Googling?

—Searching

Dear Searching,
What a strategy your boss has for impressing these funders: “Hi, I’m Rip Van Winkle, and I don’t know a damn thing about your organization, or even too much about the 21st century.” I assure you, that if you mention to one of the funders, “I see you went to Fordham, so did I!” that this person will not think you’re getting your information by hacking into PRISM. Anyone going into a funding meeting who hasn’t done their due diligence deserves to be told in due time they’re not getting the money. Of course any new technology changes assumptions about how people interact (not that search engines are new). The telephone was once considered alarming. But if it becomes clear at your meeting that your team hasn’t bothered with the basics of knowing who you’re talking to and what they do, you’re going to offend them with your ignorance. I think you need to push back with your boss and say, as charmingly as you can, that one reason you got this job was because of the research you did about your own organization. You can explain you’re going to limit this search to the germane and appropriate, but that you would like to give him a packet of your results so that you both go into the meeting able to turn the conversation to your advantage. If Rip objects, start using your search skills to find another job.

—Prudie

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