New, old and former neighbors gathered Friday to watch the demolition of the condemned house at 6110 Sorrells St., and they didn’t hide their delight.
“It would just mean the world to me for my grandmother not to have look out the door and see this mess every day,” said Michelle Bradford, whose grandmother has lived across the road on Blair Street for years. “If she ever tried to sell the house with this across the street, she never could have.”
The house has been an eyesore and health hazard in the former Covington mill village for decades, its decaying state reportedly matching the mental state of the man who lived there.
Jack L. Moser Sr. was arrested Sept. 13 for contempt of court and obstructing law enforcement officers while he was rummaging through the trash can of a car wash on U.S. Highway 278.
Moser has repeatedly refused to appear before Covington’s Municipal Court for code violations, including allowing his house to fall into unsafe — the roof had fallen in — and unsanitary — the house hasn’t had utilities since 2009 and was infested by rodents — living conditions.
He has refused to recognize the authority of the city of Covington to regulate his property. When he appeared before the Covington Municipal Court Wednesday, he told Judge Steven Hathorn there was no city and said his farm was in the county. The judge signed an order to have Moser evaluated by the state’s mental health organization.
When asked if it was the worst house he’s ever been in, Covington code enforcement officer Jim Berry said “by far.”
The man in the house
The rumors surrounding Jack Moser Sr. have grown and multiplied over time, with his neighbors serving as keeper of the tales.
He may have been an engineer by trade, and some have said he was a genius. Despite living in the house without utilities, there are numerous examples of rejiggered devices in the home, including a stove fashioned out of a 55-gallon drum and a rifle with an extended barrel. Piles of insulation and boxes of caulk sit in the attic.
Moser was married; he has a daughter and a son who’s a lawyer. However, during the years since his divorce he has lived by himself. Neighbors say he’s turned into a recluse, rarely speaking to anyone and traveling out of his house only to search through rocks and scrap garbage. Rocks are crammed into dozens, maybe hundreds, of containers throughout the house. The rocks may have been used as part of a shrine or they may have been used to ward off evil spirits and vampires.
He reportedly has multiple personalities, maybe five or more, Bradford said. Toby Sammons, who has also lived in the area for years, said that years ago Moser would wear military fatigues and march down the road swinging his arms and kicking his legs out like he was a German soldier. One time, he told somebody he was Fidel Castro, the former longtime Cuban dictator.
When he appeared before the city’s judge this week, he answered most of the questions asked of him. He said he had attended five years of college.
He was not retired, but worked on his farm — referring to the home. When asked about his last employment outside of his home, he said he helped a man with some jobs and also worked at an area business years ago.
“I find that you are sufficiently intelligent to understand what I have told you and that you understand the consequences of your actions if you choose to defy this court’s order,” Judge Hathorn said.
The land under the house
The house was only partially demolished Friday afternoon, and the job will be finished next week, code enforcement officer Berry said.
Because Moser was locked up, the city hired workers to go through the home and remove items that may be of personal importance to Moser. While the home was full of things that most people would consider junk, Berry said the workers are doing their best to identify and salvage potentially meaningful items.
Once the house is torn down, the lot will simply be grassed and left as is. Moser will still own the property, but there will likely be $25,000 worth of liens on it by the time the city is done paying for demolition and asbestos removal, as well as previous work, including cutting down a tree on the property, treating and cutting kudzu — the house used to be called “the kudzu castle” — and numerous cuttings of Moser’s grass.
Property tax payments for the property have gone unpaid since 2008, with $7,131.32 in past due bills, according to the Newton County Tax Commissioners’ website. The Newton County Tax Assessor’s Office lists the home as being worthless and the 0.44-acre corner lot as being worth $5,000. At times, the grass has been as tall as an adult human, and neighbors have had to deal with the consequences: snakes and rats. Sammons said he’s had to kill six snakes this past summer. Moser’s case had been one of the few in the city’s history that gave it the equally unpleasant alternatives of either forcing a man out of a house he owned or allowing a dangerous situation to remain in obvious sight of all. Moser’s arrest away from his house made the process a little smoother; however, a question remains.
For years, Berry had asked, “What do you do with the man in the house?” Now, the question has become, “What will happen to the man now that his house is gone?”