TAMPA — Kurt Schleicher lives in one of the Tampa Bay area’s most infamous murder houses.
In 1933, Victor Licata slaughtered his parents and three siblings with an ax inside his Ybor City home.
Today, a chill passes through the bathroom that was once the bedroom where two of the children were killed, Schleicher said. He hears knocking noises throughout the house and his dog barks at the bedroom where the mother and another child were murdered.
“I’ve always thought the house is haunted,” Schleicher said. “I think about it more now because I am here all the time. There is no place to go. There is no place to hide."
He is not alone in wondering if something otherworldly is happening at his house.
Others self-isolating wonder if they have uninvited company from the afterlife. Are they quarantined with ghosts?
“I expect an uptick in people who notice they might have spirits,” said Lakeland’s Miki Strange — her real last name — a paranormal investigator with Tampa Bay Spirits.
“Normally we’re all in such a rush to get homework done, dinner done and to bed at a decent time that we don’t have the time to be quiet and pay attention.”
Now, she said, most people are home nearly all day.
“They start hearing things or seeing stuff they didn’t notice before,” Strange said. “They question what it could be and because they can’t get away from it and go to work it bothers them more and more."
Still, her team of investigators first look for physical explanations of odd occurrences.
“Rodent problems, an issue with electricity,” she said. “We try to rule out everything with a normal explanation.”
Amanda Hagood is seeking answers about her Gulfport home.
An administrator at Eckerd College, Hagood estimates she was awake at her house for an average of seven hours a day when she could go to the office. Now working from home, that number is up to 17.
“My house does make more noise than I was previously aware of — bumps and sounds I can’t totally explain,” she said. “My house was built in 1938, so I would not rule out that it is settling."
Still, Hagood said, “I can’t be 100 percent certain of anything," so she also wonders if the noises are otherworldly.
Perhaps there is a physical reason for the noises in his home, Schleicher of the Licata murder house said. And maybe his barking dog is just crazy, he laughed.
But there is no explanation for the chill that occasionally blows through his bathroom, said Schleicher, who is running his S3 Media marketing company from home during the pandemic. “I’ve checked the air conditioning vent and it doesn’t blow where the chill is and there is no draft coming from outside."
Cathy Salustri, a freelance writer, wants to find a rational explanation for what occurs at her Gulfport home.
She regularly wakes during the night to see what appear to be ghosts standing in her bedroom.
“There is somebody there in a formal blue uniform and women with their hair up,” Salustri said. “I’ll be awake with my heart pounding and wake my husband, and he won’t see it. Only I do. It’s creepy. Are they ghosts? Is it only in my mind?"
It’s been occurring for 14 months, Salustri said, but has become more bothersome since self-isolation began. “I don’t have as much to do or anywhere to go. I didn’t used to have time to chew it over in my brain. Now, I have more time for that."
As leader of the paranormal investigator team Spirits of St. Petersburg, Brandy Stark said she has received seven requests in recent weeks from area residents who want her to check out their homes when social distancing measures are lifted.
Most are hearing and seeing strange things for the first time now that they are home more. But one is a past client complaining that the spirits with whom they share a house are busier than ever.
Stark, who won’t share the homeowner’s name, said toys are turning on by themselves, items are disappearing and knocking noises echo throughout the house.
That home had been quiet since around December, Stark said. “So, what changed? An adult child who came back to stay has been very upset with the quarantine. Ghosts sometimes respond to the emotional state. The more agitated you become, the more agitated they become."
Others experiencing a new or more intense haunting while in self-isolation might have curious ghosts, said Cahni Konig, a paranormal investigator residing in Seffner.
A little boy has haunted her home for five years, Konig said, typically opening and closing the baby gate once put up for her now 7-year-old daughter, sneaking into the bathroom or running back and forth in her kitchen.
Also a hypnotherapist, Konig has only been visiting her office for five hours a week since self-isolating. Now, she feels like new spirits are watching her at home.
“I see shadows peeking into my room out of the corner of my eye,” she said. “I think they are wondering why I am suddenly always here.”
Ghosts don’t just haunt houses, Konig added, they also haunt businesses, and such spirits may act out due to suddenly living in isolation as employees work from home.
“They can claim the space again,” Konig said.
That’s the case for the office building in Brandon where she rents a suite, Konig said. “When I am there now, alone since everyone is home, I hear more footsteps more than ever in the hallway and doors opening and closing. It feels like there is a heavy cloud over the building.”
The same phenomena are occurring at the Art Lofts of St. Petersburg, according to Stark, who rents space there.
“We can still come and go but it is closed to the public so it is a lot emptier,” she said. “The resident entity has been quiet for the past three months but can now be heard again. I wonder if he is lonely."
Schleicher is lonely too.
His wife, Diane Schleicher, is president of Arroyo Process Equipment, an essential business because it produces industrial pumps for citrus, phosphate and other processing operations.
So, she is at her Bartow office during the day, leaving Schleicher alone to think about the murders that occurred there.
News archives report that Licata told police that he never killed anyone.
Rather, while he slept, Licata said, his parents pulled him from bed, held him against the wall, sawed off his arms with a knife and jabbed wooden arms with iron claws into his stumps while his siblings laughed. So, Licata said he grabbed a “funny ax” — rubbery, like it was from a cartoon — and knocked each of his family members unconscious with it then wrung blood from it as though it was a wet towel.
The state attorney blamed Licata’s dementia and schizophrenia. But the Federal Bureau of Narcotics later blamed marijuana and pushed that theory to lead a successful campaign to tax the sale and use of the drug. That was first time the federal government regulated marijuana and it eventually led to the criminalization of marijuana.
When Schleicher purchased the home two years ago, V-shaped chunks were missing from the windowsill of the bedroom he turned into the bathroom. Schleicher wonders if they were left behind from the axe attack.
Schleicher says he is accustomed to living in a haunted house, claiming his last residence in Bartow was too.
Still, it is one thing to hear bumps in the night, he said. It’s another to deal with those bumps all day, every day. “You can get used to it happening but it still catches you off guard every time. I need a break from it."
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