Sammy Phillips, 47, shot his elderly mother in the kitchen and then his father, who was in a wheelchair in the living room, before killing himself — leaving his sister the sole heir to a two-story house on property near the golf course in upscale Gulf Hills, just north of Ocean Springs.
It was a tragedy from eight years ago, but what has happened to the property since is more than a nuisance and had neighbors calling for action by the county.
On Monday, Jackson County supervisors voted to declare the property a menace to public health. It has grown up, attracted rodents and snakes and developed a sink hole that is at least eight feet deep, washing out a driveway on the property and threatening the roadbed of nearby Shore Drive.
Shore Drive is the main road into the subdivision that winds between Fort Bayou and the golf course with its resort hotel. Most of the traffic in and out of the major subdivision uses this road.
Once the property is cleared, which could take at least a month or two with legal wrangling, Supervisor Randy Bosarge asked county code enforcers to take a look inside as well. He had heard vagrants might have broken into it.
It has taken years for the county to move on the property — which means the county will clear it, repair the sink hole and assess the cost to property taxes. But that is the way it must be, said Planning Director Michele Coats. “We have to give the property owner a certain amount of time to get something done.”
It appears now the house is in foreclosure and a bank takeover is either under way or eminent, planners told the board.
Taxes are being paid, county officials said. But the property had gone down in recent years. It’s the number one priority of the Gulf Hills Homeowners Association, even with Hurricane Katrina properties still lingering.
On Monday, Supervisor Melton Harris said, “Sometimes a homicide creates a problem with neighbors, like it’s sacred ground. You don’t want to go on it, but there’s no doubt something should have been done with this a long time ago.”
Picking up the pieces
The surviving daughter tried to manage the estate. After a time, she moved in and began working on the place, neighbors say, but the house had liens. The parents had taken out loans that she was unable to pay back, county planners said.
Sammy Phillips was living at home at the time of the murder-suicide, the Sun Herald reported, and he struggled with alcoholism.
Neighbors had become concerned about the parents. Some of these same neighbors still live there. They remember the father, Jimmy, as a gifted builder of yachts. He was a paraplegic and Joann, his wife, took care of him and had done so for years.
Sammy Phillips was their youngest son, neighbor Jeanette Lindsey told the Sun Herald years ago. She said Jimmy Phillips had made a living building yachts even though confined to a wheelchair. She described him as determined, and said he loved music and enjoyed having people over to hear his magnificent sound system in the den.
On Monday, Lindsey told county supervisors that the property was dragging down home values in the neighborhood.
Neighbors have estimates it would cost $100,000 or more to repair the house.
The yard is the problem now, but in the future, it could be the house as well, county officials said.
It could kill a child or vehicle
The sink hole is on the Phillips’ private property, so supervisors don’t want to be accused of improving it to help it sell.
The county will recoup the cost when the property sells.
In the meantime, Louis Askin, a few doors down on Shore Drive, told county supervisors that the biggest problem is that it’s taken so long to remedy this eyesore.
“The hole is gigantic and eight feet deep,” he said. “It has broken concrete ... it would kill a kid if they fell in.”
“You can’t fill it, it’s a drain way,” he said. “We’ve been putting up with this thing, just praying some kid or motorcycle doesn’t run up in there.”
The garage door has collapsed, but the driveway is urgent, neighbors said.
Supervisors warned them that even with the vote to declare a menace, the fix will take time.
“You have to let the property owner make the decision,” Coats said. “The woman tried.”
What the county likely will do is take some trees down, clear the property and fix the drain way that has the sink hole, she said.
But nothing will happen before at least the third Monday in November, when the Board of Supervisors meets again and will receive recommendations.