When the sun shines on the 4700 block of 18th Avenue Northeast, the coeds welcome it with bare legs and midriffs; the frat boys go shirtless. They huddle around volleyball nets or lounge in their front yards. By nightfall, alcohol enters this tableau, and it's not uncommon for the drunk and disoriented to stagger into the wrong home, or for the dawn to find a young reveler passed out on a lawn.
In the midst of this rowdy strip, one house is conspicuous for its relative quiet and its tightly drawn shades—if not for its mostly middle-aged tenants. This is where the registered sex offenders live.
Their landlord is Carol Clarke, a 68-year-old born-again Christian conservative who has a liberal's attitude toward criminal rehabilitation. Though her tenants have assaulted women and molested children, Clarke has an unwavering faith they won't do it again. She seems to worry more that vigilantes would harm the sex offenders.
For this reason, Clarke is upset to be hearing from a reporter. "I don't want the neighborhood to know sex offenders are at an address," she storms. "What for? So they can come and shoot them like they did in Bellingham?"
Clarke is referring to Michael Mullen, who researched sex offenders' addresses on an internet database, then shot two of them in the head. "I want to protect the guys that are trying hard to change their lives," says Clarke.
But what about protecting the potential victim of a registered sex offender? Clarke rents other boarding houses in the area to students—including the one next door. I asked her whether she informs these tenants of the offenders nearby. She doesn't answer directly, saying only that the information is "public knowledge."
Aura Bailey, 35, moved into a boarding house on 18th Avenue Northeast in April 2005. Clarke was her landlord, and Bailey says that neither Clarke nor anyone else told her that there were sex offenders living nearby.
She only noticed a middle-aged man who seemed to always be on the front porch next door. "He looked hungry enough to eat me," says Bailey. When the man waved to her she didn't wave back. "Once I got inside," she says, "I forgot about it."
On July 4, Bailey's housemates talked her into helping them throw a party. While Bailey cooked, her housemate toured the neighborhood recruiting guests. She says she was too busy to even recognize the man from next door.
His name was Luis Castanes and Bailey says that he, along with one of his own housemates, wanted to know whether she had a boyfriend. She remembers saying, "Don't have one. Don't need one."
As they were saying goodbye to their guests, Bailey says Castanes grabbed her with a "vice grip" and kissed her on the neck. She learned soon thereafter that Castanes was a sex offender, and in mid-July she filed a police report.
Bailey says her complaint helped send Castanes, 53, back to jail. (He'd previously been convicted for the sexual assault of his friend's girlfriend.) He has since been released and is currently registered as living homeless in Seattle.
Bailey harbors no grudge toward Castanes. "I don't really have an issue with the sex offenders," she says. "I have an issue with Carol (Clarke) being the caretaker. If she is going to rent to sex offenders, she should say, 'Sex offenders live in the neighborhood. Here they are.'"
Clarke and the home's property manager tell a different version of the incident. "She invited him to her house and told him all sorts of personal things," says Clarke, who claims to have heard accounts given to her by other witnesses. "I would call that entrapment."
A tenant, who lived in the house during the time of the incident (and only agreed to speak on a condition of anonymity, trusts Bailey's version, including her claim to not have known there were sex offenders next door. The tenant claims not to have been told of the neighbors' histories, either.
University of Washington Assistant Chief of Police Ray Wittmier says his department gives talks at sororities and fraternities in the area, during which officers inform residents of sex offenders in the neighborhood. But a member of the fraternity at the corner of Northeast 47th Street and 18th Avenue Northeast claimed not to know. Members of a sorority on the same corner refused to talk.
No one answered a knock on the door at the home where the sex offenders reside, and none of the tenants with listed numbers responded to phone calls.
Clarke refused to say how many registered offenders are in the house and a search of public databases isn't entirely clear. The listing on the Seattle Police site differs slightly from the King County Sheriff's site.
The sites list the current tenants' offenses, which run the gamut between a man convicted of raping a comatose 38-year-old woman in a rehab facility, to a man who raped a 4-year-old boy and took nude photographs of a 4-year-old girl. There's an offender convicted of the rape of an adolescent girl, and another who was caught trying to lure an underage girl through an online chat.
But considering the histories of the men who have lived there, it seems that Clarke has had some success keeping these tenants in check. A records request for police calls to the home over the last eight years shows only two reported sex crimes, both nonviolent: an offender's failure to register, in 2005, and the other for lewd conduct, in 2003.
Clarke trusts her tenants, and she says they want to reward her trust. She tells of one tenant from a broken family who cried at a Christmas party "because he was so unused to being in a normal situation." Last weekend, she got Mother's Day gifts and calls from her tenants.
I asked Clarke whether she would put me in touch with some of her success stories. She said that none wanted to speak.