Alex Miller’s spare room had been on Craigslist for two weeks when, last March, she got the call she’d been waiting for. The man at the other end identified himself as Jed Creek. Creek was a lawyer from New York, but he had grown up just outside Philadelphia, only a few minutes’ drive from Miller’s apartment in the city’s well-to-do neighborhood of Chestnut Hill. Creek explained that he needed a place to stay while he tended to family matters — his mother was old and frail and his older brother was suffering from complications with hepatitis C, he said — and he’d been looking for a place without much luck. “I find Philadelphians to be very difficult,” he said. “A lot of flaky people.”
“I’m not flaky,” Miller, then 31, assured him, “so you’re off to a good start.”
Creek was tall, slim, and handsome, with hair as black as squid’s ink. Though he was 60, he looked to be in his late 40s. When he came to visit the apartment, he brought his dog, a 13-year-old Border-collie mix named Zachary, so that he could meet Miller’s arthritic black Lab, Cosimo.
To Miller, Creek’s arrival felt like a godsend. She was dealing with the sudden departure of a roommate, a looming lease renewal, a bank account kept precariously afloat by part-time work at a juice bar and at a nearby law firm filing paperwork. Here was a courtly gentleman, Miller thought, as she walked Creek through her cluttered apartment, an experienced lawyer who’d lived in Europe and the Middle East. At the end of the tour, they settled on her couch and fell into a deeper conversation. Creek shared his interest in Buddhist meditation; Miller told him about recent romantic troubles and Creek offered advice. The sky outside was turning dusky blue when Creek said, “I like the place, and I like you. If you like me, I could just do this now”—move in, he meant.
His abruptness surprised Miller, but Creek said he could pay her on the spot. He pulled a check from his pocket and made it out for $800. Miller noticed that the upper-left corner of the check was blank, and in the space where his name and address should have appeared, Creek wrote “219 E. Willow Grove Ave” — her own address now made his. He did not write his name. He signed the check in a messy scrawl, the only discernible letter an enormous, looping J. Then he and Zachary hailed an Uber, with a promise to return that evening. Miller asked if he needed any furniture. “No,” Creek said. “I have everything I need.”
Everything Creek needed, Miller saw when he returned, fit inside six Rubbermaid bins and a cat carrier. (It turned out that along with Zachary, he had a desperately shy tabby named Abigail.) He brought no mattress: For a bed, he dropped a heap of comforters on the bedroom floor. It struck Miller that someone who slept like this might not have much in the way of a proper bank account. But the following afternoon, she deposited his rent check and it cleared.
The two quickly fell into a comfortable routine. Creek rose early in the morning and took the dog for a run. He tended carefully to his pets. He spoke to Zachary exclusively in Dutch, which he said he’d learned while living in the Netherlands in the 1980s. He fed the animals well: for Zachary, brand-name kibble; for Abigail, a mix of dry food and organic chicken, which he diced with a serrated silver knife. They spent the nights together on the couch, drinking wine and watching The Rachel Maddow Show, one of Creek’s favorites. One evening, an old hookup overstayed his welcome, refusing to leave despite Miller’s requests. Creek barged into the room and said, “Buddy, I’m living here too. She’s asked you to go, I’m asking you to go. I’ll ask you one more time, or I’ll remove you myself.” The guy left.
Then, on April 5, their 11th day of living together, Miller showed Creek the utility bills and asked for his half, $140.80. Creek refused. The bills, he noted, covered a period before he’d moved in. When Miller pressed him, he texted, “We can handle this in court if you would prefer.” At first the escalation in tone jarred Miller. Looking at the dates, however, she second-guessed herself: Maybe Creek was right.
Strange things began to happen. One evening, Miller came home to find the living-room lights wouldn’t turn on — Creek had taken the bulbs and screwed them into lamps in his bedroom. A few days later, the six chairs at the kitchen table disappeared. Miller knocked on Creek’s door, and when he opened it she saw he’d fashioned them into a desk. Miller had assumed Creek spent his days in court, but neighbors said they saw him loitering on the property throughout the afternoon. He began sprinkling his speech with legalese. When they argued, he accused her of breaking “the covenant of quiet enjoyment,” a technical phrase Miller recognized from her days working for a real-estate agent. When he found a cigarette butt in the toilet bowl one afternoon, he told her flatly that he would not be paying the next month’s rent. As a paralegal, “you should know about the warranty of habitability,” he texted her.
Hearing about Creek’s behavior, Alex’s mother asked her daughter for his phone number, then plugged it into Google. She found two articles and didn’t finish reading them before picking up the phone and calling her daughter. “Alex, we have a big problem,” she said. “Jed Creek is not who he says he is.”
Creek’s legal name was Jamison Bachman. In 2012, Bachman had shown up at the home of a woman across town named Melissa Frost, claiming to be a New Yorker whose home had been destroyed in Hurricane Sandy. Overcome with pity, Frost let him in — and nearly lost her house. In an expensive and frightening ordeal that dragged on for months, Bachman slowly laid claim to the space, using his intricate knowledge of tenancy laws to stay one step ahead of her. He scuffed up the floors, kicked down the doors, and clogged the toilets with cat litter. “He went from being this cordial, polite person who understood he was a guest in my house,” Frost said in one of the articles, “to someone who was approaching me aggressively and flat-out saying, ‘This is my house now.’ ”
I reached out to Frost this past summer, having read about her encounter with Bachman. Over the years, she told me, other roommates had written to her; working with them and with public records, I soon identified a dozen victims of Bachman’s, spread up and down the East Coast. Bachman, these stories made clear, was a serial squatter operating on a virtuosic scale, driving roommate after roommate into court and often from their home. But Bachman wasn’t a typical squatter in that he did not appear especially interested in strong-arming his way to free rent (although he often granted himself that privilege); instead, he seemed to relish the anguish of those who had taken him in without realizing that they would soon be pulled into a terrifying battle for their home. Nothing they did could satisfy or appease him, because the objective was not material gain but, seemingly, the sadistic pleasure of watching them squirm as he displaced them.
The roommates’ stories often start with a desperate arrival: Some emergency pushes Bachman to their doorstep; without a place to spend the night, he and his pets would be wandering the streets. For Frost, it was the hurricane, and for Miller, a sickly relative in need of Bachman’s aid. But for others, an alcoholic roommate or a sudden change in employment did the trick. Brash and confident, Bachman swaggers into their home, sizing up the place. He notes his education at Georgetown University (a master’s in history) and the University of Miami (where he got his law degree); he describes how he makes a living “doing litigation” and tutoring “youngsters” online; he promises that he’s clean and respectful and requires nothing more than a quiet room and a fast internet connection.
Some roommates took pity; others were desperate themselves. When Sonia Acevedo, a 49-year-old vet tech from Brooklyn, saw Bachman’s U-Haul pull up outside her beachside condo in Rockaway Beach, Queens, in the spring of 2012, she prayed to God in thanks: To a woman struggling to make mortgage payments, the $1,400 check Bachman wrote on the spot looked like salvation.
Things started off smoothly, as they always did. “Those first three months were perfect,” Acevedo recalled. She and Bachman ate breakfast together while the sun rose over the beach, talking about little things — errands, pets, politics. It even seemed, early on, like a friendship might be forming. Shortly after Bachman moved in, one of Acevedo’s cats died. When Acevedo returned from the vet that afternoon, Bachman met her at her car, tears welling in his eyes. “I’m so, so sorry,” he said, pulling her into a hug. Acevedo was struck by the tenderness of this moment. Eventually, she grew comfortable enough to invite Bachman to the beach at Jacob Riis Park, where she sunbathed topless. “He was very respectful.”
Often, the first signs of trouble were easy to downplay: In many cases, roommates came home to find a chandelier removed, a bookshelf filled with unfamiliar books, a couch or potted plant shifted slightly this way or that. These incursions, almost imperceptible, seemed calculated to unsettle. Suspecting Bachman was entering her room while she was at work, Acevedo once placed an empty wine bottle behind her bedroom door, so anyone going in would knock it over; when she returned, she opened the door without thinking and then braced herself, but the bottle did not fall, having been moved several inches away. Michael Oberhauser, a 31-year-old composer and music theorist living in northwest D.C., welcomed Bachman into his apartment in the fall of 2016. Almost immediately, tensions arose around a red bath mat of Oberhauser’s, which Bachman picked up and tossed away in the corner every time he used the bathroom. “I asked him about it, and he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I was going to clean it,’ ” Oberhauser told me. “So I put it back, and he kept on throwing it out.” Eventually, Oberhauser duct-taped the mat to the floor. Beneath it, he placed a note reading, simply: WHY?
If Bachman’s intentions were at first unclear, in most cases, by the time the second month’s rent came due, they became unmistakable. Time and again, Bachman’s roommates were informed that some minor discomfort they’d inflicted upon him (a dirty living room, a dish left in the sink) had voided their lease — and meant that Bachman wouldn’t be paying his rent. They considered him a guest in their home, but he made it clear that he saw it the other way around. “The effort he put into doing this was life-consuming,” Frost told me. “When things got bad between us, he stopped leaving the house, because he thought I might change the locks.” To her, Bachman appeared to function as if he were “at war.”
One Saturday, she told me, she unplugged his microwave and brought it upstairs to his room, telling him he couldn’t keep his things in the common areas. Bachman shouted that she had “no right to touch his things,” she said, and used the microwave to push her slowly backward, until she was teetering on the edge of the staircase. A friend intervened, and Frost called the police. Sometime after the cops arrived, a calico cat of Bachman’s named Emma disappeared, and Bachman wrote to Frost in fury: “YOU ARE THE PROXIMATE CAUSE OF MY CAT’S DISAPPEARANCE AND PRESUMED DEATH … DO NOT COMMUNICATE WITH ME AGAIN UNLESS IT IS THROUGH YOUR ATTORNEY.”
Yet even after all of this, Frost approached him to try to negotiate a peaceful exit. She offered to return the money he’d paid in November and to help him find a new place to stay. Hearing her entreaties, Bachman just laughed. When Frost burst into tears, Bachman pretended to comfort her, she said. “He goes, ‘You’ve got your whole life in front of you. You’re pretty, and you’re talented, and you’ve got this house — well, you don’t have this house anymore. This house is my house.’ It was like something out of a movie.”
It would not be accurate to call Bachman a con artist; his tactics involved relatively little artifice and even less artistry. What Bachman craved was a fight; the goal was to get his roommates to sue him. “I’m happy to have her file an eviction notice,” he told a reporter in 2013, while squatting in Frost’s home. “She files the filing fee, and then I piggyback on the filing fee and hit her with the counterclaim. That’s just tactics.”
Bachman’s legal training came late in life, after he’d returned from those years abroad. He got his law degree at the age of 45, and his instructors at Georgetown and the University of Miami remembered him as a “remarkable” student with “extraordinary talents,” a star researcher whose contrarian style made classroom discussions lively. “In 20 years of university teaching,” one Georgetown professor wrote in a letter of recommendation, “I have encountered very few people of his caliber.”
Bachman may have started his legal education late, but he wasted no time putting it to use, tangling with at least three people in housing disputes before he’d even graduated. Yet, bizarrely, he never took the final step in legitimizing his career: In 2003, he failed the bar exam on his first try and never bothered to take it again. His legal skills were thus limited to a single client — himself.
In his disputes with roommates, he cited precedent exhaustively and leaned confidently on legal shibboleths, but often undercut his own claims with personal jibes and snide remarks — wanting to demonstrate mastery and authority but also to bully. One woman, suing for the repayment of more than $36,000 in debts, became, in Bachman’s words, “bitter and a woman scorned”; alleging she’d given him herpes, Bachman countersued her for the “tortious transmission of an incurable venereal disease.” Another target, having pointed out Bachman’s tendency to clog his roommates’ toilets with cat litter, elicited the statement: “Correct me if I’m wrong, as I only have two graduate degrees, but my understanding was that the proper place for shit is in a toilet.”
On the day in 2015 when he faced off against Jill Weatherford, a South Carolina Realtor whose tenants had taken him in, he showed up in a sweat-drenched suit, having walked the four miles to the courthouse in the Charleston sun. He had somehow compiled a list of her past tenants and began rattling off the names, falsely accusing Weatherford of being a slumlord. “I said, ‘I’ve never met this man in my life,’ ” Weatherford told me. “I’ve been doing this for 33 years and never seen anything like it.” When he stepped before Judge Marvin Williams in Philadelphia, to accuse Melissa Frost of destroying his property, Williams told him, “I find you to be totally incredible. I don’t believe a word you say — and, frankly, you’re frightening.”
In most instances, the counterclaims and self-defenses Bachman advanced failed resoundingly — but the result seems to have been almost beside the point. He would eventually disappear, but never before the acrimony reached a crescendo. In 2005, he was hired to teach at the Thornton-Donovan School, a private school in New Rochelle. The headmaster offered him an apartment in a beautiful home on a peaceful street near campus. According to one former roommate, Bachman began boasting about how much he’d impressed the school — so much, he said, that they were already considering making him the school’s next headmaster. (On the website Rate My Teachers, the only student who left a review of Bachman wrote: “He scares me …”) In the spring, when the school informed him that his contract would not be renewed, he withheld his rent in protest and refused to move out of the faculty apartment, until, after two months, the school evicted him.
Arleen Hairabedian, a 43-year-old professional dog walker living in Queens, allowed Bachman to stay with her in June 2006, after his eviction from the school. At the time she took him in, Hairabedian and Bachman were casually dating, and Hairabedian lived in a railroad apartment above a hobby shop in Richmond Hill, in a building so close to the elevated tracks that the passing trains rattled the windows. Hairabedian made Bachman guarantee he’d stay no longer than two months, she told me, “and he promised.” But two months became six, six months became a year, one year became four. Bachman only ever paid one month’s rent to Hairabedian, but she was trapped by her own conscience: She knew that if she moved out, she’d be foisting Bachman on her landlord.
So she stayed, the tension slowly rising. In October 2010, more than four years after Bachman had moved in, she opened up the bills and “just lost it,” she told me. She turned to Bachman and demanded he pay for the cable. Bachman told her he wouldn’t. “I’m not a violent person,” Hairabedian said, but rage overcame her and she slapped him. In response, Bachman grabbed her throat; she pulled herself free and ran out to the street for help. Although they lived in the same home, they acquired protection orders against each other — which legally required them to remain 100 yards apart. The only way to satisfy that demand, Hairabedian decided, was to finally file for his eviction, so on a November morning she and her landlord went to the Queens County Civil Court and put in the paperwork. When Bachman learned what she’d done, he retaliated, filing a police report that claimed she’d come at him with a knife and persuading the police to arrest her (Hairabedian says she never attacked him). Hairabedian was forbidden to go near the apartment — which meant Bachman now had full possession of her home. Taking advantage, he began dropping off her cats at kill shelters.
Bachman’s outbursts were becoming scarier. Mark Gainer, a former principal oboist of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, told me that Bachman moved into his home in the spring of 2015 and promptly began walking around with a baseball bat over his shoulder. On January 10, 2017, Bachman arrived at the home of Neville Henry, a 40-year-old Bermudan immigrant living in South Philly. According to Henry, Bachman sent pictures of himself ahead of time, but when he showed up on Henry’s doorstep, “I didn’t even recognize who he was. I said, ‘Can I help you?’ Then he said he was in a relationship with someone for years and they took everything from him and he wanted a fresh start.” Henry let him in. A week later, Bachman came after him with the broken leg of a coffee table. Then Bachman abandoned the house and later sued Henry, trying to recoup his rent. Two and a half months after that, Jed Creek moved into Alex Miller’s apartment.
Bachman’s roommates described him as a man whose life had gone awry — and, in fact, it had. As a kid, Bachman had been groomed for greatness. His parents raised him in Elkins Park, an old, elegant neighborhood of close-clustered homes on the northern border of Philadelphia. His father owned a construction company, and his mother stayed at home; his brother, Harry, four years Jamison’s senior, was handsome and multitalented, juggling the varsity soccer team and the school productions of Camelot and Brigadoon. Where Harry was outgoing and humble, Jamison was ostentatiously self-confident. “He was the cockiest kid you ever met,” said Bob Friedman, one of Jamison’s closest childhood friends. Jamison harbored no doubts about his own abilities: He earned high marks, excelled at tennis, and spent his free time devouring books on the history of Western civilization. Unlike other students’, his high-school yearbook entry records just a two-line quote, attributed to Bismarck, that appears in retrospect like a mission statement: “Fools say that they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by others’ experiences.”
According to Friedman, Bachman had an almost unquenchable competitive streak and very little interest in a fair fight. Weekend after weekend, he forced Friedman to play an obscure, multi-hour board game called Midway, which simulated the 1942 Pacific Theater battle in which American airmen devastated the Imperial Japanese Navy. “The game was slanted toward the Americans winning,” Friedman said, “and he was always the Americans.”
Although by any reasonable comparison, his older brother would turn out to be the star, Jamison was supposed to be the golden boy. “His parents made him think he was the Christ child, that he could do no wrong,” Friedman told me. He remembered Jamison’s mother, Joan, as “a Carol Channing type,” an “ebullient” woman who pinched her son’s cheeks; his father, Jim, was more taciturn but “nothing but upbeat” when it came to his younger son’s prospects. “They doted on him. It was always ‘You’re doing great, champ’ or ‘You’re the best,’ ” said Friedman. It got to “the point where it was almost phony — it was over-the-top. It felt like they were both performing a role.”
For his part, Jamison had one model: his maternal grandfather, Abraham J. Brem Levy, a prominent attorney in the city. In the 1950s, Levy had co-founded a criminal-defense firm with Samuel Dash, who would go on to serve as chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Commission in 1973. As a trial lawyer, Levy became a fixture in the local papers, orchestrating theatrical rhetorical feats like arranging for an actress to walk into the room at the emotional high point of his closing statement in a murder trial. Bachman boasted throughout his youth of his grandfather’s success to anyone who would listen. Decades later, on his personal website, Bachman would note that his passion for the law extended back to childhood. “My grandfather started taking me to his murder trials when I was just a boy,” he wrote.
Bachman enrolled at Tulane University in the fall of 1975, but his time there was rocky and brief, ruptured by a horrific incident in January at the Sigma Chi house, just off campus. Although Bachman was not a member of the frat, he told Friedman he’d been hanging around the house with a friend from Elkins Park, a boy a year older named Ken Gutzeit. Suddenly, a man had appeared with a knife and slashed Gutzeit’s throat. “The word Jamison used was beheaded,” Friedman told me. According to news reports, Gutzeit was killed by a 25-year-old student librarian named Randell Vidrine. The two were said to have been feuding since the previous fall, after Vidrine called campus police on Gutzeit for eating a cheese sandwich among the stacks. (“I know it sounds incredible, but from what we understand they never argued about anything else,” a police spokesperson told a reporter at the time. “It was always about the sandwich.”) Gutzeit stumbled onto the frat-house steps and bled to death, surrounded by Bachman and some two dozen other witnesses. (A grand jury declined to indict Vidrine.)
After Bachman returned home in the summer of 1976, family and friends found him shaken. He appeared oddly paranoid. He ranted to Friedman about a rising tide of anti-Semitism and threats to the State of Israel. Those close to him worried that Gutzeit’s murder had served as a mental breaking point. (A therapist who later evaluated Bachman noted that he was “excessively dependent on the world” to take care of him and wondered if this indicated a personality disorder, but eventually concluded only that Bachman was depressed.) Clearly distraught, Bachman spent the summer getting high. And then he dropped off the map.
Friedman didn’t see him again for 20 years, when Bachman called him out of the blue and said he was living in D.C. The two met at a bookstore in Crystal City, “and it was like finding a long-lost brother,” Friedman said. “We got very close, very quickly.” Bachman said he had been living in Israel, where, he claimed, he had served in the Israel Defense Forces. There, he had fallen in love with a Dutch woman, whom he had followed home. In the Netherlands, he had studied Japanese at Leiden University, a school that catered to international students. (The early 1980s marked the zenith of the Dutch squatting movement.) Shortly after the reunion with Friedman, Bachman broke up with his girlfriend, and Friedman invited him to stay at his family’s home in the suburbs out by Dulles airport. “He was never a problem, perfectly well behaved, a great guest,” he said, though after a while Bachman started to make Friedman’s wife uncomfortable.
In the two decades since that paranoid summer in Philadelphia, Friedman and Bachman had notably diverged. After a career in journalism covering the White House for PBS, Friedman had worked with Lee Atwater to launch an international barbecue-restaurant franchise called Red, Hot & Blue; Bachman said he was stocking books and writing copy part-time for a news program (sometimes he mowed lawns). Pitying Bachman, Friedman hired him as a manager at a local Red, Hot & Blue. Bachman showed up for his first day of work in a suit and tie, telling employees he’d been brought on as a consultant to turn the business around. Friedman fired Bachman and, not long after, asked him to move out. Friedman couldn’t help but feel perverse satisfaction: “I was the one supposed to turn out like him, and he was supposed to turn out like me — I was doing well and he was not, and it wasn’t supposed to be that way.” Bachman, he added, “was very jealous of the fact I turned out well. Proud but jealous. He would say, ‘You’ve done well for yourself; you’ve got a wonderful wife, wonderful children, you’re playing tennis …’ ”
Bachman’s brother’s success offered perhaps a sharper contrast still. Harry had earned a degree in architecture from Cornell, married a psychologist from Paris, and raised two daughters in a quaint, Colonial-style home on a quiet street in Elkins Park — a sort of suburban fairy tale of making good and sticking close to your roots. But Bachman’s parents, according to Friedman, were ashamed that their younger son hadn’t similarly flourished.
When Jamison talked about his family, it was often with resentment; sometimes he noted what he perceived as his parents’ better treatment of his brother, as if it explained his failure to launch properly in adulthood. He told one interlocutor that his father, Jim, had paid for Harry’s college education but had refused to do the same when he wanted to go back to school around age 40 — a sign, in Jamison’s eyes, of open and unforgivable favoritism. School-based status was a running concern for him: “He clearly had a competitive thing with me,” Frost said. “The fact that I had gone to UPenn was a point that he consistently brought up when he was trying to tear me down. He would say, ‘Oh, your Ivy League degree won’t help you with this, will it?’ ”
Bachman’s resentment toward his father festered so much that, as Jim lay dying of cancer in the mid-aughts, his son declared he would skip the funeral and had “no regrets” about it. And several roommates told me that Bachman expressed a deep-seated hatred for his mother. “Jamison would say, ‘At least you had a mother. I didn’t have a mother after the age of 8, because I had a mind of my own and she didn’t like that,’ ” Hairabedian told me. “I guess that’s when their relationship started to go downward.”
As he said he would, Bachman sat out his father’s funeral in New York. But shortly afterward, he returned home, where the fate of his father’s estate was being determined, expecting to receive a portion of the money. But, he told Acevedo, his mother claimed it for herself. “He was furious,” Acevedo told me. “He said, ‘She didn’t leave us one cent. Not one cent.’ ”
By the time he arrived at Alex Miller’s home in March 2017, the only consistent presences in Bachman’s life were his pets, Zachary and Abigail, whom he called his “children.” A few days after Alex and her mother, Susan, discovered his true identity, Susan Miller let herself into Alex’s apartment unannounced and Bachman came roaring out at her. “What are you doing in my home?” he said. “This is my daughter’s home, Jamison,” Susan said. Bachman’s face went pale: It was the first time either of the Millers had acknowledged they knew his true name.
Bachman had brushed off Alex’s demands that he leave with the mantra “I’ll see you in court.” So on April 26, Alex took letterhead from the lawyer she worked for and typed out a notice of demand. “Local police authorities have been alerted as to your previously recorded disputes as a tenant in sufferance,” she wrote. Bachman ignored the letter. Alex put out a listing for a new roommate, but when she brought one woman by to see the room, Bachman refused to open the door.
By May 1, Miller had a plan. That night, a dozen friends, her mother, and a few neighbors arrived for a party that she described on Facebook as “a send-off … for the Serial Squatter Jamison Bachman,” meant to reclaim the space and signal he wasn’t welcome. She knew he started the online tutoring sessions he led to support himself in the evenings, so she told everyone to arrive at seven o’clock, prime time. She handed out mixed drinks made with Jameson whiskey. She blasted rap — which Bachman hated — from her stereo. She went online and found photos of Frost, which she printed and (“to psychologically fuck with him”) taped up in the bathroom above votive candles, so Bachman would see them. “I wanted him to know I knew his past,” she said, “and to have to face the people he’d harmed.”
The partyers could hear Bachman in his room, shouting into his computer. Around 11 o’clock, Bachman emerged with a box of cat litter and dumped its contents into the toilet. Then he huffed out of the apartment with a backpack slung over his shoulder, Zachary slinking along behind him. Emboldened by Bachman’s absence and whiskey, Miller’s friend took a drill to his bedroom door and removed the knob.
As the party wound down, friends implored Miller to stay with them for the night — Frost had warned the Millers about provoking Bachman. But Miller refused. She went to bed with her door open and slept poorly.
Before dawn the following morning, Miller heard Bachman rise unusually early and leave the house. She crossed the hall into the bathroom and was brushing her teeth, thinking she might be able to slip out to work while he was gone, when the front door opened. Bachman barreled down the narrow hallway and, with a fist, slammed the bathroom door open. He pushed her against the wall, his hand at her throat, but when she screamed, he retreated. She followed him to his bedroom.
Standing half in the doorway, she shouted, “Who the fuck do you think you are?” Bachman sat on his heap of quilts, dicing the cat food with the serrated knife — and then he was coming back at her, the knife in hand. He leaned against the door to shut it, and as she pulled back, her leg got stuck between the door and the frame. “You’ve made a grave mistake,” Bachman growled, jabbing the knife toward her through the opening. It sliced her thigh. Blood smeared the door. When it opened wide enough, Miller pulled her leg back and ran to her room to hide.
That morning, two police officers arrived from the 14th District. According to their report, they found Bachman polite, cooperative, and apologetic. But when they saw the cuts on Miller’s legs, they arrested him. Bachman was charged with aggravated assault and other felonies and sent to jail, and Miller obtained a protection order.
Without Bachman around, Zachary wandered the house aimlessly. Abigail, who had hidden in Bachman’s blankets since the day they moved in, emerged for the first time, her legs stiff, and took up a spot on Miller’s bed. Inside Bachman’s room, the heap of comforters still lay on the floor, and Bachman’s computer sat upon his makeshift desk of kitchen chairs. In folders, Miller found hundreds of pages of court filings against previous roommates, which she and her mother would use to track down other victims, and, in the back of his closet, she came across a blue box: a cleaning kit for a .380 caliber pistol and a box of bullets. Alex and Susan turned the house inside out looking for the gun. They cleaned out cabinets, peered into the air-conditioning vents, rented a metal detector and scoured the lawn. But the gun was nowhere to be found.
At one point, Harry and his wife, Caroline, had taken Jamison into their home in Elkins Park, only to learn what living with him could be like. Harry was not keen to experience that again, but it hurt him to know his younger brother was holed up in a jail cell. On June 17, Harry bailed him out. A few weeks later, the Millers arranged to meet Bachman at the local precinct to return his belongings. The morning of the exchange, Bachman stood outside the station, filming the Millers with his phone and narrating their arrival. As police observers hovered nearby, they handed him the Rubbermaid bins and Abigail. But Bachman was enraged when they declined to give back Zachary — they had sent him to live with a woman in the suburbs, and the judge had permitted her to keep him. As the Millers left the station, Bachman pulled up alongside them in a rented car and rolled down his window. “You’re dead, bitch,” he said, before speeding off. She turned around and reported him for violating the protection order, and a few weeks later he was rearrested.
Imprisoned again, Bachman grew frantic about his cat, which had been left behind in an Airbnb after his arrest. He called Harry, concerned about getting bailed out immediately so that he could get back the cat, but it had been fostered out to someone by an animal shelter while he was in jail.
On October 28, Harry bailed him out a second time. Jamison asked to stay at Harry’s house in Elkins Park, but Harry refused. Caroline Bachman was out of town to see their newborn grandchild, with plans to have Harry meet her the following week. But even from afar she feared what kind of argument might ensue if Jamison, now free, made an appearance at the house, and she asked Harry to stay elsewhere.
Shortly before seven o’clock on the evening of November 3, Harry stopped home on his way out of town. As he pulled up in Caroline’s red Ford Escape, an unwelcome sight confronted him. “Guess who just showed up just as I drove in,” he texted Caroline. “No, don’t guess.” It was Jamison.
Harry had been scheduled to arrive in upstate New York later that night, but he never made it. When Caroline called the police, an officer went to canvass the home and, at first, seeing that the red Ford Escape was gone, assumed he had left. But when police returned later that day they noticed a trail of blood leading from the sidewalk to the front door. When they entered the home, they found it in gory disarray: The dining room was blood-spattered, a “fresh” hole had been made in the wall, and shards of a shattered serving dish littered the floor. They followed “bloody drag marks” to the basement door, which had been blocked by a box. They opened the door and there, on the stairway, lay the body of Harry Bachman.
Soon, police discovered a red Ford Escape in the parking lot of a hotel up the road, bloody towels inside the car. Jamison had checked into Room 102 the night before, under the name Harry G. Bachman. Around 10:30 p.m., a SWAT team broke down the door, and what happened next is unclear: The police originally reported that Bachman submitted “without incident,” but an affidavit filed a few weeks later claims he rushed the swat team, swinging a lime-green campfire ax at them “in a figure-X pattern.” As the police hauled him before the camera for his mug shot later that night, his face swollen and his shoulders hunched, Jamison focused his eyes in a dazed squint. A thin streak of blood slithered down his left cheek.
Bachman’s preliminary hearing was set for the morning of December 11. At nine o’clock, I entered a low-slung district court building in Elkins Park, a few minutes away from the little stone house where Harry had died. The courtroom comprised just a few cheap stackable chairs and two wooden tables. The space was tiny, and it struck me how close Bachman would be — no more than a few feet away from me. After months of talking to those forced to live with him, I felt oddly nervous.
The room, however, remained empty. After five minutes, a clerk came in. “Are you here for the nine o’clock?” she asked. “It’s been canceled.” Jamison Bachman was dead. A few days earlier, he’d hanged himself in his cell at the Montgomery County prison.
The news of Bachman’s death rocked his former roommates. When I told Arleen Hairabedian, she burst into tears. “I wanted him to suffer,” she said. But she also sounded like someone who’d spent a lot of time trying to navigate around Bachman’s anger. “What if he just wanted somewhere to stay and he showed up and his brother said he didn’t want him there and it escalated? What if he was desperate? Here I am, making excuses.”
The deaths of the Bachman brothers left Alex Miller wracked by guilt. “I feel responsible for all of it,” she told me not long after. But along with guilt came relief: The trial was canceled, and she would no longer have to face him in court. There would be no more looking over her shoulder when she left the house, no more worrying about the gun. She was ready to move on.
In August, Miller and a friend — someone she’s known for half her life — finally settled into another apartment, in a quiet neighborhood just across the city line. On the January morning I last visited her there, the air was warm, and from the bushes issued the frenzied song of the common house sparrow. Inside, Miller was busy on the phone: Her roommate, she explained, had moved out a few weeks earlier, and she was fielding calls from potential replacements. I could hear her vetting them: “How old are you? What was your situation before this? What do you do for work? Do you have three references?” So far, only one visitor of four — a “no drama” restaurant manager who worked long hours — had caught her interest. And there had been a scare. “One woman showed up on a Sunday after church, and she had her purse, a miniature poodle, and a duffel bag,” Miller told me, as if to say, Can you believe it? As the woman stood on the front step, eyeing her expectantly, Alex shut the door.
*This article appears in the February 19, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!