Moving In Next Door to a Rathouse

A nightmare of a story from LA Weekly about a family that moved in next door to elderly twin sisters who feed and keep thousands of rats in and around their home.

After plunking down $1.8 million, the Denhams moved into 1014 Fiske on Friday, October 12, last year. He, Liz and the movers worked fast against the encroaching dark, and the next morning, Scott started sorting through boxes in his backyard.

“I’m standing out there with my 4-year-old son, and there’s this giant rat standing about four feet away from us,” he recalls. “Just looking at us in broad daylight, as if it were a pet.”

Scott had dealt with rats during a job he had in New York inspecting apartment units. But the Palisades rat was somehow different. It showed a lack of fear that gave Scott the willies. Then, another rat appeared. It seemed far too much at ease, slowly making its way through some boxes in the garage. Scott “kind of climbed up on the boxes — off the ground — and sort of watched this thing just nonchalantly walk around inside my garage and onto my yard.”

When told, Liz didn’t believe him, saying, “I’m sure it was a squirrel or something.” But later that day, several friends stopped by to see the new place, and one of them reported that, just outside, she’d spotted a big rat.

A little later, when the Denhams’ real estate agent, Elizabeth Stein, and her husband, Jim, came over, Jim immediately spotted two rats crawling through the grass. He announced: “You guys have a major problem.” On the Steins’ recommendation, they promptly called an exterminator, Rat Busters, which couldn’t come until Tuesday.

Before long, the clues pointed next door — to 1018 Fiske, a Spanish Colonial–inspired stucco. “You start to realize that, as you go to that property, ‘Wait a minute. Something isn’t right here,’” says Scott. He hadn’t paid much attention to the house next door. But now, he noticed, “You couldn’t see in any of the windows. I don’t know if it was tarp, but it wasn’t just curtains. It was blacked out. You couldn’t see in the house. The front door was rotted.”

When he crept closer,the odor — “a urine stench” — was “unbearable.” By the end of their first long weekend in the Palisades, Liz was stressed out, peering at shadows. The more she peered, the more rats she saw. Standing in her own master bedroom, she found herself at eye level with a group of rats who clearly had a routine, slipping methodically in and out of drains and cracks on her neighbors’ outside wall.

She saw three rats squeeze out of a roof drain in a precision, shoulder-to-shoulder group, Ratatouille-style. Another rat pack traveled along the dusty, reeking hedge on the property line. The hedge was a rat highway, and it swayed under its commuters’ weight.

Liz knocked on her neighbors’ rotting front door, but no one answered. They soon learned from other neighbors that the owners were 78-year-old twins Margaret and Marjorie Barthel, who rarely left the house — and never at the same time. When one of them did go out (and many people could not tell them apart), she wore heavy clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and large glasses as she pushed a shopping basket from Ralphs. It was always filled with large bags — of dog food. They haven’t owned dogs for years.

(via Boing Boing)