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Scott Lewis: Stranger At The Door; Be Careful Who You Let Inside For Service Work

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scott lewis Scott Lewis: Take Back Your Power
In this blog, former TV journalist turned private investigator Scott...
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By Scott Lewis, Private Investigator

Just think how many people we allow into our homes every day without giving it a second thought, from carpet or air duct cleaners to appliance repairmen and chimney sweeps. The list is long.  And most of us never ask ourselves; ‘who are these guys I’m opening the door for, and could they be dangerous criminals’? Unfortunately, sometimes they are.

While most service workers are not a threat, there have been reports across the country of companies sending dangerous criminals into people’s homes.  In most cases these companies don’t do background checks on their employees.

  • In Seattle, Washington recently a man hired to clean a woman’s chimney exposed himself and attempted to sexually assault the woman’s four-year-old daughter while the babysitter was in the next room.  The man was a twice-convicted sex offender on parole.  The chimney sweep company never did a background check.
  • In Douglas County, Nebraska, a pizza delivery man raped a woman in her home.  When the offender applied for the job he had been in prison 16 times and had a history of sexual offenses.  The pizza company never did a background check.
  • In Norcross, Georgia, a woman was murdered by a maintenance man for her apartment complex.  The killer had a rap sheet going back 20 years for serious crimes and had a warrant out for his arrest at the time of the murder.  Again, no background check.

Fortunately these incidents don’t happen every day, but when they do they can be devastating for the families of the victims.

One mom’s nightmare

It’s been 15 years since the unthinkable happened to Mary Spooner’s daughter.  She says the pain gets softer but there are days when she and her husband are still very lonesome.

Mary’s daughter, Kerry Spooner-Dean, a young pediatrician was brutally murdered in her home in Oakland, California. She got a coupon in the mail from a company offering a discount on carpet cleaning.  She called and made an appointment. The company sent out a man named Jerrol Woods to do the work.  It turns out that Woods was on parole for armed robbery and had been convicted for a series of armed robberies dating back 30 years.  The company had not done a background check.

(Family photo)

(Family photo)

Woods returned to Spooner-Dean’s home days later and murdered her. Dean’s mother told me in a telephone interview that the crime was horrific.

“It was a violent, violent, murder. She wasn’t even five-foot-two, and he was this big ex-green beret. He used the kitchen knives.  He used every one of them. In fact, a couple of them went all the way through and she was stuck to the floor,” Spooner said.

Spooner told me it was never clear whether Woods returned intending to rob her daughter or to take care of some spots on the carpet that she was unhappy with, but Dean opened the door and let him into the house.  He was caught because he stole, and later used her credit card.

Mary Spooner didn’t find out that the company didn’t do a background check on Woods until she filed a lawsuit against them.  She thinks we should all be more cautious about the people we allow into our homes.

“At the time I think I was as naïve as everybody else.  You just assume that the person coming into your home is okay… something comes through in the mail which you think is a good package and you go with it,” Spooner said.

One woman’s crusade

For nearly ten years Lucia Bone has been on a relentless campaign, pushing for federal legislation that would require thorough background checks to be done on all in-home service workers.  Her inspiration is a personal tragedy.

In August of 2001, Bone’s sister, Cathy Sue Weaver was raped and beaten to death in her suburban Orlando, Florida home.  The killer then set her house on fire in a failed attempt to cover up the crime.

Six months before her murder Weaver had called a high-end department store to have her air ducts cleaned.  What she didn’t know is that both of the men sent out to do the work had criminal records.  One was a twice-convicted sex offender on parole.  Six months after the service call he returned to Weaver’s home and raped and murdered her.  The department store had not done a background check on either man.

(Family photo)

(Family photo)

Three years later, Bone formed the Sue Weaver Cause, a non-profit organization pushing for federal legislation that would help prevent these kinds of tragedies.

“I think it’s a lot bigger problem than anyone will admit to,” bone told me in a telephone interview.

Bone is pushing for legislation that would require thorough background checks to be done annually on all in-home service workers. In addition Bone’s organization urges businesses to get the Cause Certification which means they conduct annual high-standard background checks on all in-home service workers voluntarily.  But, she says, both efforts have been uphill battles.  She says business owners don’t want to foot the bill for proper background checks because of the high cost involved.

“They don’t look at the bottom line, they just look at the expense and not realize that over time, you know, one lawsuit, one bad hire, one negative headline is all it would take to put a company out of business,” said Bone.

In the meantime, Bone believes that all of us have to do our own due diligence when calling companies to have work done in our homes.  She says there are four questions you should always ask:

  1. Do you perform criminal background checks on your employees and subcontractors?
  2. When are the background checks performed?
  3. Which background screening company do you use to perform background checks?
  4. How can I be assured that the person being sent into my home has had a criminal background check performed?

Mary Spooner says she is much more careful herself since the tragic murder of her daughter.  She has some simple suggestions to help keep yourself safe.  She says when a worker comes to her home, she always has someone in the house with her.  She also calls neighbors and tells them what company is coming and when they are going to be there.  She also asks for identification when the worker shows up at the door.

As for dealing with the pain caused by the brutal murder of her daughter, Spooner says she and her husband Herb had a choice;  let the murder destroy her and her family, or not.

“We chose to not, and our energy, and recovery, focuses on remembering and honoring Kerry rather than those moments of horror and the person who killed her,” Spooner said.

Veteran TV investigative reporter Scott Lewis is now in private practice.  Scott Lewis Private Investigations is a premier, full service agency serving the state of Michigan.  If you need private investigation services, contact Scott at 1-855-411-Lewis (5394), email him at info@scottlewispi.com or check out his website at www.scottlewispi.com.

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