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Torture scene to enter hot market

Charming 1928 bungalow. Built-in brick fireplace. Parquet hardwood floors. One block from Henry and Ola Park and a few blocks from the river.

Back room missing floorboards. Confiscated by law enforcement.

As Steven Lorenzo sits in prison, appealing his recent 200-year sentence for drugging and torturing nine young men in his home, a legal battle has started brewing over who gets to cash in on the eventual sale of his bungalow, which sits in a hot Tampa real estate pocket.

Lorenzo's home is among those that real estate agents consider "stigmatized."

The houses are physically fine but psychologically flawed.

Federal prosecutors said at Lorenzo's trial that the bungalow was the scene of two slayings in December 2004, although Lorenzo has not been charged with murder.

It could be a year or two before the house, 213 W Powhatan Ave., goes on the market, according to the federal prosecutor's office.

But many in the neighborhood are scratching their heads and wondering who would want it.

"It's a bungalow, so obviously we don't want to see it torn down, but something needs to be modified on it to get rid of the stigma that goes with the house right now," said Christie Hess, vice president of the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association.

Florida is one of several states with a law that guides real estate agents on handling such houses. Basically, sellers don't have any obligation to reveal if a murder, a suicide or any kind of death happened at the house, a 2003 law states.

It's up to the buyer to find out such things.

"Some people are just suspicious of murders and ghosts, but those (suspicions) aren't really material to the house," said Stephanie Singer, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Realtors.

Some stigmatized houses have a difficult time selling on the market.

In 1995, the cottage where killer Gary Ray Bowles lived for a few weeks in Daytona Beach - before murdering its owner - sold in a "distress sale" for $35,000. Bowles was convicted in 1994 and sent to death row. He had been considered among the FBI's "most wanted" as a serial killer of gay men.

The buyer said earlier this month that he had known about the murder.

The BTK Killer's three-bedroom house in suburban Wichita, Kan., sold for $90,000, which was about $30,000 more than it was worth, in an auction in the summer. The buyer wanted the extra proceeds to benefit families of victims. Dennis Rader, nicknamed BTK for his way of murdering - bind, torture and kill - confessed to killing 10 people between 1974 and 1991.

Lorenzo's beige bungalow blends into a bright block of historic 1920s homes. A wind chime of tiny houses hangs off the front porch, near a lawn landscaped with cacti, palms and dying mulberry trees.

The house featured prominently in Lorenzo's trial because investigators took most of their evidence from inside the home.

For example, they collected hundreds of photographs taken of young men in the living room, bedroom and bathroom. But the men were all knocked out, tied up, bruised and posed in provocative positions. Investigators also removed floorboards from the spare "torture room" in the back of the house to collect DNA samples.

Prosecutors presented evidence that Lorenzo was involved in the deaths of 26-year-olds Michael Waccholtz and Jason Galehouse on a weekend in December 2004 at the house. During the trial, prosecutors presented pictures of Waccholtz's body posed inside the house and Galehouse's DNA collected from floorboards.

In August 2004, Lorenzo had gotten a $78,000 equity line on the house through Citibank FSB, which has filed a claim with the government. The county also put a claim in to cover unpaid property taxes.

Judge Richard A. Lazzara has scheduled a hearing Friday to help decide the fate of the house, which will probably get sold as soon as the bank, county and federal government decide how to split the proceeds.

Tampa real estate agents who sell in Seminole Heights say they often speculate about the future of the Powhatan bungalow, roughly 1,200 square feet.

A slightly larger bungalow across the street sold for $241,000 in September 2004. In January 2005, a 1,600-square-foot house down the block sold for $225,000.

Rick Fifer, a real estate agent who has lived in Seminole Heights for 15 years, said he would not want to be the agent in charge of selling Lorenzo's forfeited bungalow.

"I think it's going to take a very long time, given the neighborhood, and it may just take somebody buying it as a rental property and allowing some years and time to go by," said Fifer of First Home Realty.

Yet, real estate agent Suzanne Prieur of River City Realty said the scarcity of historic bungalows in the Tampa area would buoy the home's salability.

"I don't think that anybody would necessarily flinch from buying a historic house, even if something violent happened there," Prieur said. "I'm sure they would have sympathy for the victims, but the majority of people looking at historic houses buy them, because they like the history."

Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.

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