St. Petersburg family one step closer to getting house back, but battle not over

Better Call Behnken

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – A St. Petersburg family says crooks used a fraudulent deed to steal their childhood home. Now, after a Better Call Behnken investigation, they are one step closer to getting it back.

The Pinellas County Property Appraiser’s Office decided to revert ownership in property records back to the family. This is a move that further clouds the title which would make it difficult for some anyone else to sell or occupy the home.

It’s the first step in getting the home back, and now the family is working with a lawyer to get the mystery deed thrown out of public records for good.

Nikki Edwards said things changed after 8 On Your Side Consumer Investigator Shannon Behnken got involved.

“Whereas before, they were saying you have to go to court, you have to get your lawyer, that was just it, so we know that you doing this particular story has helped our family tremendously,” Edwards said. “We’re not at the end, but we’re much closer to the end.”

The modest 800-square-foot home on 21st Ave. S. has been in the Edwards family since 1961. Now, an investment company claims to own the home. The company filed a mysterious deed in public records in November 2019.

“I can’t believe this is possible,” said Keith Edwards, who grew up in the home and planned to keep the house in the family for generations to come.

“This home is my family’s security blanket, and someone just took it from us, someone stole our house.”

The deed shows it was notarized by Belinda G. Ross, a city of St. Petersburg supervisor. But the notary stamps look sketchy. It shows the commission was to expire in 2005, but state records show the commission number wasn’t even issued until 2017.

The Edwards family is spread out across Tampa Bay and across the nation. The house at 3021 21st Ave. S. in south St. Petersburg has served as home base. Throughout the years, one of the family members would call the house home until a job or family life pulled them in another direction.

They say their grandfather, Luther Jones, a minister, moved into the house in the mid 50s and, records show, he then purchased the home in 1961 when he assumed the mortgage of $7,600. He paid the home off in 1986, according to the Satisfaction of Mortgage document.

When he passed away, the home went to his wife and then eventually to their children, including Bettye Edwards. No matter whose name the house was legally in, though, the entire family has shared the home and the responsibility, Keith Edwards said.

Keith Edwards was the last to live in the home and moved out in 2007. He said his mother had dreams of moving back to Florida from Georgia for her retirement years but unexpectedly passed away before that dream could become a reality.

“We had plans to extend the home and make it larger and nicer,” he said. “We never got to do that.”

Instead, the family boarded up the home and planned to keep it as a security home in case a family member needed. Or, they thought, if someone was ever in financial trouble, they could sell the house to help.

That security, along with the house, has been taken from the family.

The Edwards family turned to Better Call Behnken to help them expose what has happened.

Nikki Edwards and her husband live the closest, so they have been mowing the lawn and checking on the home all of these years. Nikki also pays the taxes. When she attempted to pay the taxes this year, she was in for a big surprise.

She says a representative at the Clerk of Court office told her the home is no longer in her family. An investment group called C & B Investments filed what’s called a Quit Claim Deed in November 2019, showing they bought the home from her mother-in-law Bettye, for $0.

Even more peculiar, the deed was allegedly signed by Bettye in 2004, a year before the home was even in her name. She died two years later.

“There’s no way my mom would have given the house away,” Keith Edwards said. “There’s no way she would have even sold the house. This is fraud.”

There’s a lot of things that don’t add up about the deed, the family points out, including the fact that it wasn’t filed until 16 years after it was signed.

Now no one from the investment group has physically taken the house or made any contact with the family. Nikki Edwards and her husband have continued to care for the property, and would not have even known about this if she had not tried to pay the property taxes.

“How could it be so easy to take someone’s house?” Edwards asked. “Where are the checks and balances?”

The Edwards’ uncle, Luther M. Jones Jr., was on the deed with his sister when she died, and says he knows she didn’t give the house away, and could not have done so anyway, he said, because he owned the home, too, at that time.

“She did not do this,” Jones said. “Someone took this home, and it’s not right.”

The family filed a police report, hired a lawyer and turned to Better Call Behnken.

It’s unclear who is behind what happened to this house. There’s one local company, based in Pinellas Park, with the name C & B Investments LLC.

Investigative Reporter Shannon Behnken has not yet reached anyone affiliated with the company.

A spokesman for the St. Petersburg Police Department said police are taking these allegations seriously and an investigation is underway.

Now, the question is whether the clouded title can be cleared up so this family can put this behind them. City and county officials have started that process.

This is a developing story that Better Call Behnken will continue to investigate.

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