The announcement about the impending auction of the Frederick home once occupied by Christopher Watts, who made national headlines after he killed his pregnant wife and two children there last year, drew comparisons with multiple attempts to sell the Boulder home where six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey was murdered in December 1996.
The former Ramsey residence, on the 700 block of 15th street in Boulder, was put up for sale in 2008, 2009 and again in 2011, when the price was set at $2.3 million. Three years later, in early 2014, the home wound up on the block again at a lower price, $1.95 million, but no transaction went through — and it was de-listed that July.
Today the home remains unavailable for purchase, but not because no one wants to live in a place where such a notorious tragedy happened. Instead, Carol Schuller Milner and her husband, Timothy, who bought the house in 2004 before returning to California a few years later, are residing there again, and enjoying it immensely.
"The house is not vacant," Carol says. "We actually had offers on it — decent offers. But we didn't take any of them, more out of our attachment to the house. It's our home, and we really, really love it."
Carol is the daughter of the late televangelist Robert Schuller, whose Hour of Power program was nationally syndicated for forty years, from 1970 until his retirement in 2010. Beginning in 1981, the Hour was broadcast from the spectacular Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, which Schuller founded.
Although she spent her early years in California, Carol notes, "I moved to Colorado when I was sixteen to be on a ski team. I was a competitive ski racer."
Her skills on the slope were remarkable given that three years earlier, she'd lost one of her legs in a particularly gruesome way.
"I'm an amputee because of an accident, a motorcycle accident," she reveals. "I was thirteen years old and my parents were out of the country. I was by myself. I got seventeen pints of blood in 24 hours, and I was bleeding to death. My leg was just hamburger meat, and after it was amputated, I was in the hospital, in isolation, for eight months."
She believes she survived this trial because of her faith. "The experience was so visceral, and I remember going, 'Oh, my gosh, God's real,' because all of a sudden, I didn't feel alone. I didn't feel scared. And that anchored me in what I believed. Before that, I was just a kid. I was bordering on being a rebel. But in our most difficult moments, God doesn't run from, He runs to. He's at His best when He's in the midst of a rescue. And you can't know the beauty of being rescued unless you have the need of being rescued."
Years later, in the early 2000s, Carol and Tim were self-funding a ministry in Boulder that included work with students at the University of Colorado — so many that their modest home at the time seemed cramped during meetings. They needed more space, so Carol says they were interested when "some of the friends who'd bought the house from the Ramseys told us they liked what we were doing and were interested in selling it to us."
Problem was, the Milners' resources were limited. "We didn't want to be unfair to them," Carol recalls. "So we told them that what we could sell the house we were in for was basically what we could afford. And they said that would work."
When it came to touring the 15th Street home, however, Carol admits to some trepidation.
"I was like, 'I don't know about this,'" she concedes. "But I've never been one to back away from something just because it's a challenge or odd. I'd been tutored by my father and my faith to be thinking outside the box constantly. In fact, one of his famous sayings is, 'Make your box big enough for God to fit in,' which I think is pretty cool. So I thought I couldn't just not go in because of this silliness in my brain. And the minute we walked across the threshold, there was such a whoosh of peace and anticipation."
For one thing, she continues, "I was stunned at how beautiful the home was. Not the dressings, which were a bit dated and not my style. But I'm used to seeing past that stuff — and I saw that there was a lot of history before the Ramseys lived there. It was built in 1926. There was a French-café kind of garden room with lattice wallpaper covered in pink roses and pink striped awnings that came into the room, so they really obstructed the whole window. So I peaked under that window awning and there were these beautiful, original leaded windows. My husband and I had custom-designed a home in California where we put in leaded windows, so we knew what they cost. As we walked around the home, I could tell it was really finely made — a well-built house from the ’20s. And it had large rooms that would be great for meetings and enough space on the first floor that we could put a master bedroom there, since I'm disabled."
Just as important for Carol was the vibe she got from the home. "This is all speculative, but based on the feelings we got from being there, we never felt the Ramseys were involved" in JonBenét's death. "My husband is a marriage-and-family therapist, so we understand a little about dysfunctional families. And if that stuff had been going on behind the scenes, I don't think we would have felt that way in the home."
Still, Carol and Tim understood that the decision about moving into the house wouldn't only affect them, since they had four kids.
"I actually found out afterward that they'd been attending the same school where JonBenét had gone, a charter school in the area, even before we bought the house," she points out. "But we did sit down with them, because we didn't want them hearing about it from anybody else. We always believed in being honest with them. So we said, 'This happened here. Some really bad things happen in the world. But our faith says God's bigger than the bad things. We can let the bad things have the last word or we can believe that restoration can come where bad things have happened. How do you guys feel about this?' And they were like, 'We think we should move in right away.' They just felt this incredible empathy and compassion for the family and, of course, for JonBenét."
The Milner clan took up residence in the house in the middle of 2004 and quickly made it their own. But in the years that immediately followed, a big project of Carol's was greenlighted, and it required her to spend so much time in California that commuting back and forth to Colorado became impractical.
Even after settling in Cali, though, Carol says they were reluctant to give up the house in Boulder. In her words, "It was like, 'Let's try to hold on to it, because we may come back some day.' But we don't have pockets that deep. We couldn't afford to have a second home. And I knew that if I left again, it would break my mom's heart. That's when we realized that we'd better put it on the market."
Hence the aforementioned efforts to sell the home, which never came to closure. Yet coming back to Colorado was not yet an option.
In Carol's words, her father's ministry was "going through some things" — for instance, the Crystal Cathedral sought bankruptcy protection in 2010 — "and my parents were aging. I was their durable power of attorney for all their medical decisions."
In early 2014, Carol's mother died, with her father following a little over a year later. A few weeks later, Carol remembers saying to Tim, "'Let's get back to Boulder.' We didn't really have any projects I couldn't fly home for."
Most of the kids are grown up now, but Carol and Tim have a twelve-year-old for whom the house on 15th Street is home. "He's a Coloradan," she says. "We live in the house full-time now, Christmas lights and all."
That's not the only holiday the Milners have marked at the house lately. This past Thanksgiving, all the kids and their significant others returned to Boulder for family time. "I just love the thing where guys like to cook now," she marvels. "Everyone was helping me in the kitchen. I was like, 'This is great.' It was the first Thanksgiving where I didn't have a ton of dishes to clean up."
When asked about potential buyers for the Watts house in Frederick, which is set to be auctioned on July 17, Carol urges them to approach the idea of buying it with an open mind. "People either have the ability to live bigger or they don't," she maintains. "Some people let the imagery in their brain and all that stuff to just kind of control their decisions. But I don't think that's the way to live. You can't be captive to the past, and you can't let your brain think like that. You've got to tutor it and bring it under submission and bring it to something bigger than you."
At the same time, she goes on, "when you walk in, you'll either love it or you won't. It just depends on how it fits what you're looking for. But I don't believe in letting the negative stuff rule. If you're a negative person, it's like a mirror; it bounces off and magnifies. But if someone has sown a positive, faith-based type of thinking into their being, it just eventually pushes out the negativity. So I don't see why someone who has a strong personhood and is bent on good wouldn't consider the house if it has all the things they need: a good area, good schools, the functionality you want for your family."
As for her own Boulder home — the one so many people familiar with the tragedy of JonBenét can't imagine living in — Carol cherishes her time there.
"I'm someone who wakes up in the middle of the night a lot to work," she says. "With kids, that was the time when I could be quiet and connect; it was kind of a carryover from my accident, when I was awake in the hospital. I have spaces in the house where I love to go and sit at night and see the full moon and the tops of the Flatirons dusted with snow — and I see a shooting star now and then."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.