What Failed JonBenét House Sale May Mean for the Watts Home Auction

A photo of the onetime Ramsey family home originally published in 2011 with the permission of current owner Carol Schuller Milner.
A photo of the onetime Ramsey family home originally published in 2011 with the permission of current owner Carol Schuller Milner. Courtesy of Carol Schuller Milner
This week, news agencies have been reporting about the upcoming auction of the Frederick home where Christopher Watts killed his wife and two children last year in a crime that made national headlines. And while all the stories we've seen have the date of the auction wrong (more on that later), they correctly state that the residence will go to the highest bidder.

How many people will be interested in ponying up for a house with such a tragic history is another matter. But judging by the experiences of Carol Schuller Milner and Timothy Milner, owners of the Boulder home where six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey was murdered in December 1996, the sale may not be a bonanza for the creditors who currently hold the deed to 2825 Saratoga Trail.

The Milners have repeatedly tried to sell the onetime Ramsey abode, located at 749 15th Street in Boulder, without success. And while they still own the property, it hasn't been on the market for well over four years.

As for the Watts home, where Christopher strangled his pregnant wife, Shanann, and suffocated Bella and Celeste, his preschool-age daughters, in August, the Denver Post, CBS4, Denver7, 9News and Fox31 (not to mention CNN and lots of other regional and national outlets) have all stated that the auction will take place on April 17. But Weld County Public Trustee Susie Velasquez confirms that it's been delayed. The auction is now scheduled for July 17.

The Watts family before the tragedy in August.
Family photo via
At that time, debt-holding institutions will try to cover the outstanding principal balance of $349,938.09 — the lion's share of the original principal balance, $392,709.

If a sale takes place, Christopher Watts won't earn a profit, since he's the target of a lawsuit over his unpaid liability. And that's not to mention a separate civil complaint filed by Shanann's parents, Sandra and Frank Rzucek, and brother, Frank Jr., which seeks to ensure that Watts's name recognition doesn't turn into cash.

Schuller Milner, the daughter of televangelist Robert Schuller, wasn't seeking a windfall when she and her husband purchased the Ramsey home. As she explained to us in 2011, shortly after listing the residence for the third time, the pair had moved from Southern California to Boulder "to do ministry with college students and downtown residents. So we bought a small home in the Mapleton neighborhood off Pearl Street. But I have an artificial leg — I lost it in a motorcycle accident when I was thirteen — and at the end of 2003, I contracted flesh-eating bacteria. All of a sudden, I was so sick. I ended up on crutches for four months — and navigating those creaky, hundred-year-old stairs made us realize that we needed a place with a downstairs bedroom, or room to put one in."

She and her husband began house-hunting, and when a friend suggested they take a look at the onetime Ramsey residence, which had sat vacant for several years, she was initially reluctant. "We had four kids at the time, and I'm a very visual person, because I'm a writer and director. I'm very sensitive and spiritually based. But then I checked myself and thought, 'It's stupid not to just walk through it,' not expecting for a minute that we'd actually buy it."

A memorial placed on the lawn of the Watts family home after the news broke. screen capture
Her mind changed quickly. "The minute I walked through the door, this sense of peace came over me, and I absolutely fell in love with the home." It was perfect from a practical standpoint, she felt, and while there were some stylistic elements not to her liking, such as awnings that protruded inside the home to prevent sun from damaging the furniture, she saw infinite possibilities.

Of course, Schuller Milner also recognized potential pitfalls. For instance, her two youngest children at the time "were going to the same school that JonBenét had been going to. There's a little bench on the playground memorializing her, and we knew families who knew the Ramsey family — so we knew the kids would be hearing about it at school."

Nonetheless, all members of the clan signed off on the purchase, which became official in May 2004 — and the response they received from neighbors was universally positive.

As Schuller Milner recalled, "We actually had families coming up to us crying and saying, 'We can't tell you how much it means to us that you're in the home. Seeing it with weeds all around it and deteriorating was so sad. We have wonderful memories of the family, and to see joy in there again, and children, is wonderful.' So I think for them, it was the beginning of a little bit of healing."

click to enlarge
An interior shot from the onetime Ramsey family home from the time of the attempted 2011 sale.
Courtesy of Carol Schuller Milner
For her part, Schuller Milner said she was never overwhelmed by thoughts of bad things that happened in the house, in part because she was confident no family abuse preceded JonBenét's murder. "I didn't feel that in the home," she says. "I'm very sensitive in that area; I believe our actions impact our environment. And if something like that had happened, I think it would have bothered me more. And I always really loved the house."

In her view, "the only thing we as a society know as being negative in the home's history is this horrific event that happened to little JonBenét," she continues. "And I just believe there were tons and tons of wonderful memories existing in that home both from when the Ramsey family was there and all the many years leading up to them moving in. I don't know how many families lived in there prior to them being there; it's a 1920s home. But one horrific event shouldn't have the power to wipe out all these other beautiful days that occurred in that home. Every family goes through difficult times, and in my case, if I let the loss of my leg when I was thirteen wipe out all the beauty in my life, well, I don't think the world would have much hope."

So why did the family move in late 2005/early 2006? Schuller Milner said that various projects and opportunities required her to travel to California so frequently that it eventually became clear they should relocate — and while she and her husband hoped for a time they could return to Boulder, they eventually concluded that doing so would be too disruptive for their kids.

With that in mind, the family put the house up for sale in 2008, 2009 and again in 2011, when the price was set at $2.3 million. But there were no takers — so in early 2014, they tried again with a lower price, $1.985 million. But despite a number of improvements they made to the property, including redecorating the kids' former rooms so prospective buyers wouldn't think the look dated back to the Ramsey period, the home attracted no acceptable offers.

click to enlarge
Another photo of the Boulder home still owned by the Milners.
Courtesy of Carol Schuller Milner
According to Stephany Jewell of Redfin, whose page on the home estimates its current value at between $2.64 million and $2.92 million, the property was de-listed in July 2014. It's not currently for sale.

We've reached out to Schuller Milner to see if that could change anytime soon. If and when she gets back to us, we'll share her thoughts in this space.

The Watts house is a lot less valuable than the Ramsey mansion. Perhaps a family will move in with the idea of psychically cleansing the place of bad vibrations, much as the Milners tried in Boulder. Or a buyer may choose to simply demolish it, as was done in 1994 to the Los Angeles-area home where actress Sharon Tate was killed by members of the Manson family a quarter-century earlier.

Just under three years from now, it will be 25 years since JonBenét died. But for now, her house remains. And so does the place where Shanann, Bella and Celeste met their cruel fate.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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