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Home Sick

Is this crazy, or what? The only way Mildred Bennett can get her house back is to prove she's mentally disabled.

In 1988 the Bennetts applied to the Colorado Housing Assistance Corporation for assistance, and the agency paid the Bennetts' property taxes that year. But later there was a mixup, and the agency never heard from the Bennetts again. George first learned that his mother had stopped paying her taxes when he picked up the mail one day and saw an official-looking notice from the Denver Treasurer's office. "I asked Mom what it was about, but she just brushed it off," he says.

On November 6, 1989, a company called Hannah Investment Corporation, owned by Mary Lou Paulsen, paid off Mildred Bennett's $769.23 tax bill (see story, page 12). In the years that followed, the company continued buying the liens on Bennett's property; by December 1994, Hannah had acquired tax liens on the West Byers Place home worth $6,374.22. The liens later were transferred to ADA Corporation, which is also owned by Paulsen.

It wasn't as though Bennett had anything against property taxes in particular. She stopped paying other bills, too, finding omens and conspiracies in the figures that arrived in the mail. "Mom stopped believing the numbers on them," George explains. She quit paying the gas bill when she noticed six different pipes attached to her house and concluded that her neighbors had secretly arranged for her to pay their bills.

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"I tried to tell her what was happening," George says. "But she's got an attitude. Two and two is four. But if she tells you that two and two is seven, well, it's seven. That's her."

As the warning letters from ADA piled up, "I let things go after a while, I admit it," says George. "I knew what was happening, so I just said, 'What the hell; we're going to lose the house soon anyway.' I'd just kick the trash around."

At about 9 o'clock on the morning of November 14, 1996, a policeman knocked on the door of the Bennett house and told George and Mildred that they were to be evicted. "I knew what was going on, and I tried to give her the blow-by-blow," George recalls. "I told her, 'Mom, at least wear some clothes.' But she didn't believe it, didn't understand it."

"She refused to go," recalls Wolf, who observed the eviction from next door. "She said they were going to have to drag her out of there, so that's what they did. She was at the door, screaming 'Help!' and crazy things--things that didn't make any sense."

After the ambulance pulled away with Mildred inside, a moving company hired by ADA arrived. They packed up everything in the house and put it out in the front yard. All the loose papers--family photos, personal letters--were stuffed into plastic garbage bags and thrown outside. As passersby saw what was happening, they stopped their cars and trucks in front of the house and began loading up the Bennetts' possessions to take them home.

"I tried to stop them, but after a while I gave up," George recalls. "One guy had the nerve to ask me to help him load our refrigerator into his truck. I explained to him what was going on. But he just shrugged and said, 'That's sad, but...'"

George keeps a picture of his room just before it was wiped clean during the eviction. The walls and ceiling are plastered with his drawings of fighter jets and movie posters. There is the classic movie still from Easy Rider, with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda on their chopped bikes, cruising down the highway.

Underneath that picture is an intricate blue-pen drawing. "I wish I had taken that off the wall and saved it," says George, who recently began a job detailing cars at a Denver dealership. "I put a lot of time into that drawing."

Mildred Bennett was taken by ambulance to Denver Health Medical Center, where she was admitted on a 72-hour involuntary hold. During her initial evaluation, she told a doctor that he was "part of the criminal team" and that "she will go back home no matter what the police said." Two weeks later she began seeing Dr. Elizabeth Cookson, a staff psychiatrist, who counseled Bennett through her release on January 10, 1997.

To Cookson, there was little doubt that her new patient did not see reality as others did. "She never appeared to understand the loss of her house," the psychiatrist wrote in an evaluation. "She maintained at various times that HUD was responsible for paying her taxes and that she believed them to be up-to-date; that a group of Mexicans, Arabs and/or Asians had harassed her for years and planned a 'con job' to take her house; and that the judge handling the case was also a fake.

"She could not care for her own hygiene (bathing, doing laundry) without assistance. She was unable to manage her own funds. She never accepted having a psychiatric diagnosis and never showed an understanding of the reason for hospitalization."

From Denver Health, Bennett was moved to Fort Logan, where she was admitted to a psychiatric facility. In June, with no place else to go, she moved in with George, who was staying with a family friend on Knox Court.

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