2015: The fixer-upper
A young man stands in front of the haunted house, the bed of his truck loaded with building materials.
He doesn't know this place is haunted, not yet. At least, that's what people say.
They call it the house that "haunts everyone."
They call it "the Cheri Lindsey ghost house."
But the couple watching the man from nearby — they know.
They'd been on their way home from the nearby park on Binghamton's North Side that they visit almost daily, the one dedicated to their daughter's memory. They saw the man parked outside the neglected husk of a house at 6½ Sturges St.
They never stop here. Almost never.
"Don't bother," Jean Lindsey tells her husband. But he gets out anyway and approaches the would-be fixer-upper.
The man is friendly. He wants to put a fresh face on this house, he says, rent it out.
David tells him: A little girl died in this house, murdered back in 1984. She was 12 years old.
She was his daughter, Cheri.
Five years later, David can still recall the stunned look on the man's face. "They didn't tell me that when I bought the house," the man says.
Two weeks later, a "For Sale" sign would appear once again in the front lawn of 6½ Sturges St.
"Well," David tells him. "That's the story."
A sledgehammer, and a chapter closed
July 30, 2020: The family and the crowd
A mother takes measured strides up the wooden porch steps to the house where her daughter died 36 years before.
Behind her, a crowd of nearly a hundred has gathered in the middle of a pandemic, wearing masks and holding up phones to capture the moment. Nearby is her son, named David like his father, who was just 6 in 1984 when his big sister Cheri was murdered here.
A few feet away, a wrecker rumbles, wedged in the tiny and overgrown front yard at 6½ Sturges St., poised to claw through the front of the house.
The crowd cheers as Jean Lindsey picks up the sledgehammer: "You can do it! Come on, Jean!"
Cheri's mother swings twice, low and hard, cracking the faded blue front door. Shouts swell as she passes the sledgehammer to her son David, who wields it with twice as much force. His swings shatter the window, batter the door into the house.
A moment later, Jean gives her verdict.
"It was good," she murmurs.
Forty minutes later, the front face of the house will have been ripped away. Dusty shambles will lie in jagged piles on the ground. A mangled refrigerator will rest atop the broken wooden beams.
“It’s kind of a closure for her," David Lindsey says. "She’s looking down on us, I’m sure of that. She knows how hard we fought for her, to make it right by her."
This isn't the final peace the Lindseys seek. That won't come until Cheri's killer takes his last breath in prison. But this morning, July 30, is the last day they — or anyone — will ever have to look up at the house where their daughter died.
And that sure is something.
One neighborhood, one century
Binghamton house where Cheri Lindsey murdered demolished
Kate Collins, firstname.lastname@example.org | @kcollins213
1904-July 2020: The owners and their neighbors
More than a hundred years ago, somebody walked up to a brand-new house on Sturges Street and made it their home.
The traditional-style two-story house at 6½ Sturges was built in 1904, and the neighborhood in this upstate New York city has changed along with it. Just a block away, Interstate 81 carves a concrete swath through the North Side.
After the horrors of 1984, as the murder trial for the man who lived here unfolded in Broome County Court, an auction as a result of foreclosure action was announced for the house on Sturges Street. In 1985, a couple paid $34,000 for the property, only to sell it again 18 months later.
Over the past 30 years, the house would get purchased and foreclosed upon two more times, most recently in 2017, before the deed went to Broome County in February.
Thirty years ago, most people knew their neighbors around here.
Now, the blue shingles of 6½ Sturges are faded and chipped, and the wooden fencing that forms its front deck creaks with every step. A glimpse inside, through the musty and eroded first floor kitchen and living room, reveals the ravages of neglect: a shadowy skeleton of bare brick, wooden ceiling beams and excavated floors.
Weeds dominate the surrounding yard space and outline a narrow path from the front door to a back deck of eroded wooden beams.
A next-door neighbor points at the vacant house, where years' worth of leafy ivy growth has snaked up and around the weather-worn yellow siding.
She won't give her name — she doesn't want it associated with the place and the terrible thing that happened there — but she says she's been there 20 years, doing what she can to keep her modest front yard well maintained.
Nobody's actually lived in that vacant house for at least a decade, she says.
On the day the hateful old house comes down, a crowd of strangers, many of them carrying red balloons, assemble on the street outside Tamika Burnett's home of three years. When she moved in, she learned the full horrors of what happened in the house across from hers.
She can't help but share some sense of the crowd's bittersweet joy.
"It could've been anybody's child," Burnett, 40, says just before the demolition. "Even though it was 36 years ago, the feelings are still there. When you lose a child, that's something that's hard to let go."
Wales arrives at 6½ Sturges
1983: The new family
A man and his wife stroll along the street in front of their new house, their youngest children in a stroller.
James Wales is a short, stocky 35-year-old with curly red hair who moved his family into 6½ Sturges St. in late 1983 from another house on the same block. He's a quiet man, neighbors say, who tends to “keep his head down.”
He walks daily down Sturges with his family; their children play in the fenced-in backyard.
Until February 1984, he works as an on-and-off newspaper carrier, and his bosses say he's an exemplary employee. He gave up the route when his wife got a job, and he trains someone new: a vibrant 12-year-old with a crooked smile named Cheri.
Weeks later, his will be the last face she sees.
Cheri's mother faces the house
1986: The mother, for the first time
A grieving mother is running an errand when she finds herself nearing the house where her daughter died two years ago.
Jean was on her way to Kmart, just one more of the many incongruous ways life keeps ticking along in the wake of tragedy.
James Wales is beginning to serve his punishment after being convicted of murdering Cheri: 33 years to life in prison. Jean hasn’t seen the house since she helped Cheri on her newspaper route.
Gotta face it, she tells herself. Gotta get over it.
She wonders whether the house looks different. Maybe the windows are shattered or the siding is damaged.
She’s not sure what she expects to see, but she wants to see something, see a change, something that speaks to the monumental way Jean and David Lindsey’s lives have been blown apart by what happened in that house.
But as she slows alongside the house, Jean can see right away that it’s still standing. In fact, it's no different at all.
She keeps driving.
A journalist meets a killer
March 27, 1984: The reporter
A writer for the Evening Press knocks on the door of house in the neighborhood where a little girl went missing.
The white two-story home at 6½ Sturges St., with its wooden front porch and its fenced-in backyard, is unremarkable among a row of similar houses. Reporter Sara Gillen is interviewing residents about their reaction to the disappearance of 12-year-old newspaper carrier Cheri Lindsey on her North Side route, and the sun is just starting to set as Gillen knocks on the front door.
A short, stocky man with curly red hair in a blue T-shirt and sweatpants answers.
He agrees to an interview in his living room. In the article Gillen and reporter James M. Odato will publish later, they describe the TV news coverage of the search for Cheri droning in the background as they speak to him.
What they don't know as they speak to James Wales: Cheri's body lies in the fruit cellar below them.
The house's horror
March 26, 1984: Cheri
A 12-year-old girl with short-cropped sandy hair and a newspaper delivery bag climbs up the wooden porch steps and knocks at a house on Sturges Street.
It was 1984, and "E.T." had burst into theaters two years earlier. Cheri Lindsey kept a board game based on the movie in her room; she played Life and Monopoly, too.
The East Middle schooler kept a stuffed animal collection propped on her bed. There was a baseball glove and team jersey and, draped on her dresser mirror, an emerald Girl Scout sash.
(Her parents have preserved her room this way, even 36 years later.)
In early 1984, Cheri wanted to throw her teacher a baby shower, so to raise money for the party she took on a newspaper route. Her mom joined each afternoon, making deliveries to 36 customers and collecting newspaper money.
But on this late Monday afternoon, Cheri goes by herself.
One of her customers, a woman who lived at 11 Sturges St., has set a dollar aside to tip Cheri for her work. But Cheri doesn't make it that far.
Wales had trained Cheri on the route, but today she is here to collect payment. He says he can't find the money in his pocket, so he goes to the cellar to get the money from a jacket. Cheri follows him.
Then he attacks, strangling Cheri and striking her with a table leg. Wales snaps out of what his public defender will later describe as a "fantasy of revenge."
He goes back upstairs and finishes cooking pork chops for dinner.
Thirty hours later, around 9 p.m. the next day, Binghamton police detectives show up at Wales' door. Her father, David, is a city police sergeant, and among the leads investigators are pursuing is a theory Cheri was taken along her newspaper route.
They take Wales in for questioning. His wife tells officers that her son — Wales' stepson — had heard screams from the cellar the night before.
She agrees to let police search the house.
They discover Cheri's body in a blue blanket, hidden beneath a pile of wood paneling and other objects in the fruit cellar.
Away from the house, the police confront Wales. He confesses.
"She's dead," he says. "I killed her."
Cheri Lindsey's family, community release balloons at site of her murder
Kate Collins, email@example.com | @kcollins213
The house 'haunts everyone'
2015: The parents, together
A neighbor spots a couple in a car outside the haunted house on Sturges Street.
"Are you looking at the Cheri Lindsey ghost house?" he calls from his front porch.
On an autumn day 31 years after their daughter’s murder, David and Jean Lindsey sit quietly in their car, parked by the curb outside 6½ Sturges St.
Curiosity brought them; they wondered if anyone's living in that house these days.
The house hadn't changed the day Jean drove by, her daughter's murder still fresh, but it has now. The white siding has been painted over with yellow and blue stripes, almost like an attempt to cover its horrific history.
But the structure, vacant as it is, remains.
"It would never be a house for a family again," says Gina Faiella, a resident of Binghamton and friend to the Lindsey family.
Eventually, Faiella will organize a petition to encourage Binghamton officials to demolish the house.
"It's just sitting there," she says. "It just haunts everyone."
The Lindseys have heard the stories: a woman who claimed to feel something brush up against her as she was cooking in the house’s kitchen, a mother who claimed her children’s building blocks were mysteriously kicked against the living room wall, a couple who moved out of the house because they believed it was haunted.
David wonders if there's not something to it all. Maybe Cheri's spirit is lingering in the house.
As they stare from their car, they don’t say anything. They know it doesn't take a ghost to feel haunted.
But David calls out to the inquiring neighbor across the street. We're Cheri's parents, he tells him, and we want to see this house torn down one day.
What grows after the rubble is cleared
July 30, 2020: The last to bear witness
The parents of a murdered girl, and the boy whose sister was taken away, and the people who remember Cheri and ones who only know the story gather to bear witness as a crumbling house is brought to its rightful ruin.
Now the house at 6½ Sturges has been torn down, the footprint of Cheri’s murder reduced to dust and debris. The Lindseys hope to help build a community garden there, transforming that place of death into one of new green life.
Their daughter's killer is 72 now. James Wales is serving a 33-years-to-life prison sentence for Cheri’s murder. He's been denied parole twice since 2017, but he is eligible for a parole hearing every two years, and the Lindseys say that’s a battle they must keep fighting as long as it's necessary.
The story of Cheri's murder won't been complete until her killer dies behind bars. The house's demolition brings an important chapter to a close, David says, but "the book isn't all written yet."
Cheri Lindsey murder: Convicted killer James Wales denied parole for second time
But moments before they bring the house down, Jean reveals a bittersweet secret. She's kept Cheri's newspaper delivery bag. The one she slung over her shoulder to make daily deliveries. The one she had with her the last time she visited this house.
Just after she traces her daughter's path up the wooden steps and strikes the symbolic blows with the sledgehammer, Jean tosses the bag into the front doorway.
Forty minutes later, the bag that Cheri carried is buried deep inside the ruins.
"It was finally time," she says, "to let it go with the house."
Cheri Lindsey's mother breaks door of house where daughter was murdered
Kate Collins, firstname.lastname@example.org | @kcollins213
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