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There’s no place like a vacant home

In a home near you, someone who shouldn’t be there might be inside right now.

That’s because it’s the hot thing to do in the Charlotte area these days: Go to the local register of deeds office, file some paperwork fraudulently claiming ownership to a vacant home of your choosing, change the locks, put your Ikea furniture inside and — Bingo! — you’re in business.

This year, The Meck Times has reported on various incarnations of such squatting schemes. And, thanks to a program called Google Analytics, we know that our online traffic rises substantially when one of those stories hits our website. Clearly, bizarre squatter cases are very popular with readers, though very unpopular with the banks and the legitimate homeowners.

I usually don’t like to make predictions or my own auto repairs, as I’m not good at that, either. But, here goes: I don’t think we’ve seen the last of these frauds in the Charlotte area. With so much vacant and foreclosed property sitting around, there’s just too much temptation around every corner for hardcore squatters to resist.

So, while we wait for the next big squatting scam to hit our pages, let’s reflect on some other famous ones throughout history.

Robert Louis Stevenson: Made famous by his books “Treasure Island” and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” the Scottish novelist once made himself at home in an abandoned, three-story bunkhouse that was part of a mining camp named Silverado in California’s Sonoma County.

Stevenson had just married San Francisco native Fanny Vandegrift, and, honeymooning on the cheap, they squatted in the bunkhouse because they couldn’t afford the $10 a week it cost to stay in Hot Springs Hotel in nearby Calistoga.

What a way to impress your new wife.

Stevie wrote about it in a travel memoir, 1883’s “The Silverado Squatters.”

Randy Quaid: The Texan actor best known for his Cousin Eddie character in the “National Lampoon” movies and his wife, Evi, were arrested last year for setting up in a Santa Barbara, Calif., guesthouse without permission.

The Quaids said they had owned the property since the ‘90s. But, according to reports, a representative for the new owner said his client had purchased it in 2007 from whomever the Quaids had sold it to years earlier.

The Quaids then tried to seek refugee status in Canada, saying their lives were in danger in the U.S., but we don’t have the space to go into that further.

Curtis Howe Springer: An American radio evangelist, Springer declared himself a medical doctor, driving the American Medical Association nuts with treatments he sold, like an antacid (found to be mostly made of baking soda) and potions (they were basically vegetable juice) that were supposed to cure a slew of things, including cancer.

When he wasn’t giving the AMA heartburn, he was giving it to the federal government; in the ‘60s, Springer started marking off pieces of property and allowing those who donated to his ministry to build houses on them.

The feds sued him, saying he was squatting on federal property. He was found guilty and evicted along with his followers.

As for those health products he made, he was eventually convicted for false advertising.

Lastly, we cannot forget Robert Harrill, perhaps North Carolina’s most famous squatter.

Born in 1893 in Gaffney, S.C., Harrill escaped a Morganton, N.C., mental hospital, went off the grid and settled in the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, a state park in New Hanover County.

The “Fort Fisher Hermit,” as he was called, was arrested for vagrancy and sent to Shelby, his hometown. But he was a determined little hermit, and he made his way back to Fort Fisher, living in an abandoned World War II-era bunker in the marshes near Cape Fear River.

Harrill survived off what he found to eat in the marshes and grew in his vegetable garden. At one point, they say, he was the second-biggest tourist attraction in the state, behind the USS North Carolina.

In 1972, some teenage boys found his dead, bloodied body on a pile of trash. The New Haven County coroner listed his cause of death as heart attack.

Harrill’s bunker is still around, by the way. Last week, it was a stop on the ghost hike held at Fort Fisher.

Roberts can be reached at [email protected].

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