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Activity at house near airport has long vexed neighbors
Neighbors have complained for years about the grey-blue house on 109th Avenue S.W., a modest split-level on 12 acres of marshy land abutting the eastern edge of the Vashon Airport.
It was there that $30,000 worth of stolen film and computer equipment was found two years ago, and there that India Castle’s body was discovered three weeks ago in a shallow pond behind the home. Neighbors say frequent activity at the house — cars coming and going at all hours, people approaching the house with flashlights at night — suggests it’s a site of drug trafficking, and a few Islanders are in the process of forming a neighborhood watch group in an effort to shut it down.
The house is owned by Nelly Grant, an 81-year-old woman who now lives in Seattle. The top level of the house is completely shuttered. The bottom half is occupied by her son, Richard Grant, his girlfriend, Muggie Sparks, and a variety of visitors.
Grant, 47, a slight man with dark hair, has a long record of arrests, including at least nine felonies, and is slated to go to court on Dec. 13 to face the latest charges — possession of 10 grams of methamphetamine with an intent to sell. During an interview at the home Saturday night, he acknowledged his checkered past.
“I admit I’m not an angel. But I’m not a bad guy. I’ve got morals,” he said.
Sparks added, “People should not judge him just because he has a record. Otherwise, how can anybody change?”
His brothers, Arnold and Bryan Grant, Jr., however, paint a different picture, saying their brother has long struggled with drug addiction and petty crime, an arrest record that dates
back to his teen years, and has shown little inclination to change his ways. They’re also horrified by the condition of the home, a place they believe has become a flop house for drug users on Vashon.
“That was my dad’s dream retirement home,” said Bryan Grant, Jr., who lives in Seattle. “It was a beautiful place when he bought it.”
Arnold Grant concurred. “It was beautiful at one point. But it doesn’t stay beautiful if you don’t maintain it. Richard’s got all his buddies there with their trailers and motor homes. It looks like a KOA for meth heads.”
When Richard has gone to jail, Arnold has sometimes attempted to clean up the house, he said, kicking everyone out and hauling their stuff to the dump. But Richard’s time behind bars is often brief, he said, and he feels as though his efforts have proven fruitless.
“I’ve cleaned that place out so many times, I’ve gotten fed up,” he said.
The last time Arnold intervened was after the film equipment was found at the house, a theft Richard had nothing to do with — he was in jail for another crime at the time.
“I went over and cleaned house, only for Richard to get out the following week. That’s what’s been happening the last few years. You think Richard’s going in for some time, and he’s out three weeks later,” Arnold said.
Nelly and Bryan Grant, Sr., bought the 2,400-square-foot home in 1983, in large part because of the senior Bryan’s love of planes, according to their sons. Bryan, who died in 2002, worked for years as a mechanic for various airlines and possessed both a private pilot’s license and a commercial license.
He built two hangars at the airport, hangars still owned by the family and housing a wrecked Cessna that Bryan had hoped to repair and a Mooney, another popular name in single-engine planes, jointly owned by the family.
“It was perfect for him,” Bryan Grant, Jr., said of his father’s home. “If you like airplanes, you can walk right through the woods to the airport.”
Nelly ended up with the home after she and her husband divorced in 1996. Nelly lived there — sharing the house with Richard much of the time — until two years ago, when she moved to Seattle and turned the house completely over to Richard. Richard says she still comes out sometimes, staying in the upstairs. The downstairs is a separate dwelling area, with its own kitchen.
During the interview Saturday night, Richard expressed frustration about his brothers’ allegations, saying they have long treated him as “the scapegoat in the family.”
“My life is improving,” he added. “As long as they want to keep me the scapegoat, I won’t associate with them.”
Asked how he makes a living, he says he works on cars in the carport adjacent to the house. He has a degree from a technical school in diesel mechanics, he said.
He spoke while sitting in an easy chair in what was likely the house’s former rec room, adjacent to a small, tidy kitchen and dining area. Muggie Sparks perched on another chair, adding her thoughts from time to time. On the refrigerator, letter magnets formed the words “Rich + Muggie.”
A friendly black mastiff named Duke occasionally nosed Richard and his visitors. A wood-burning stove belched smoke into the room, a problem Richard said he’d been trying to fix that day. Every window was covered by a curtain, even during the day when a reporter first stopped by the house to talk to the residents.
Asked about India Castle, Richard said he was sad about what happened to the 27-year-old woman, a Vashon High School graduate with deep roots on the Island. He and Sparks last saw her on Tuesday, Nov. 13, the last day family members also reported seeing her.
Castle had been coming to the house to visit for the last six months or so. “She liked us. She thought we were fun,” Richard said, when asked about her visits.
What’s more, he said, the two had experienced similar tragedies in their lives. Richard lost his brother Robert to a car accident in 1984; Castle’s brother Dan died when he was 17, also in a car accident.
On that Tuesday when they were last together, Richard said, he, Sparks and Castle had gone for a late-afternoon walk through the woods that surround the property and along a path that skirts the airport’s runway. It was dark when they got back to the house, and all three of them were chilled, but Castle refused to come in to warm up, Richard said. She said she needed to get home to her family or they would be worried about her.
He also said she “seemed delusional” during the walk, talking about her brother and being scared by shadows she saw in a few of the airport’s hangars, where people were at work.
Richard said he went into the house and asked Sparks to try to talk her into coming inside. Sparks said she sat down on a bench with Castle, who was wearing only a thin sweatshirt for a coat, but Castle again refused to come in and ultimately headed off into the woods to walk home. She left the car she was driving behind.
Richard said both he and Sparks searched the property for her the next day but never called the authorities, even after they learned she had been reported missing. They were going to call her family Friday night when Sparks received a call from a family member, Richard said.
“I’m sorry about the whole situation,” he added. “I’m sorry for her death. I couldn’t force a young woman to come into the house. ... I just wish I’d been more on top of the situation.”
No one from the King County Sheriff’s Office has interviewed him about her disappearance and death, Richard said, though Dep. Charlie Akers, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, questioned that, noting that Richard was listed on the investigators’ witness sheet.
As for his court date next week on charges that he possessed methamphetamine, he said he’s not thinking much about it.
“I just suppress it. What am I supposed to do?”
Richard’s brothers, meanwhile, say they feel sick about Castle’s death, a tragedy that has only added to their despair over the state of their mother’s home. Should Richard end up incarcerated for his August arrest, charges that carry a possible sentence of five years in prison, they hope to reclaim the house yet again.
“If he does time, I’ll evict everyone out of there for the last time and clean the house one last time,” Arnold said.
Bryan said he, too, is determined to see the situation change at the house, which was once assessed at more than $500,000 but is now in a state of disrepair.
“I’m going to clean it up. I’m going to put on a new roof. ... And it’s going to be nice and quiet, and the neighbors will be happy,” Bryan said. “That’s the bottom line for the Island. There’s going to be one less attractive nuisance.”