In early 2001, according to interviews and court documents, stepbrother Frederick Myers Jr., approached the siblings with a plan: He would help them form a company to manage the house and another property they had inherited, an undeveloped Lake County parcel.
Myers asked them to transfer the two deeds to the new corporation, which he would helm for them. Taylor said he agreed at his sister’s urging, believing the three of them could profit from development of the Lake County parcel.
But Myers suddenly sold the Berkeley house to Thurman, pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars and disappeared, court documents say, catching Taylor and Alexander completely off guard.
“I felt I had been cheated,” Taylor said, adding that he believes Thurman and Myers worked in concert. “Fred Jr. took the house and sold it to (Thurman) and it’s been downhill ever since. He sold it out from underneath us.”
Myers could not be located. Thurman, asked if he remembered Taylor, refused to answer as he climbed into a Cadillac Escalade outside a home in the Oakland hills.
Alexander’s son, Tony Cole, expressed disgust at the way his mother and uncle were played. “That property slipped right out from underneath them,” he said in a phone interview. “They didn’t have the business sense to know what was going on.”
Taylor and Alexander in 2004 sued to reclaim the house. Myers never appeared in court, but Thurman – represented by Githaiga Ramsey – responded by filing his own suit, claiming he had legitimately bought the property for $374,388 and demanding that Taylor pay $1,500 in monthly rent or get out.
Taylor and Alexander eventually settled the case for $55,000; it took Thurman 10 months to pay them, court records indicate. Taylor’s attorney, Frederic Harvey, refused to discuss the case.
The two-story, beige stucco house with a large garage has steadily appreciated in value. Public records show Thurman sold it in 2004 to Madeeah Bey – the same relative who used the Chicago D&P house in Hercules as her address – for $520,000; she sold it for $850,000 less than a year later. The house is now assessed at $867,000.
Alexander died last year. Taylor lost most of his possessions including photos of his mother when he left the property.
“I’d like to tell him to go (screw) himself,” Taylor said of Thurman, his legs twitching quietly under the blanket.
University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism students Lisa Pickoff-White, Robert Lewis, Nick Kusnetz, Vianna Risa Davila, Marnette Federis and Lucie Schwartz contributed to this story.
Thomas Peele and Josh Richman are staff writers for the Bay Area News Group; A.C. Thompson is a free-lance reporter working for New America Media and Bay Area News Group-East Bay; Bob Butler is a freelance reporter and president of the Bay Area Black Journalists Association.