A Weekend Getaway Turned Sour After An Internet Search Hid A Murky Truth

Staying at hotels when traveling is so a thing of the past. Now, companies like Airbnb offer people the opportunity to rent out actual homes for affordable rates, which is way more comfortable and homey than staying in another cookie cutter hotel room.

Of course, dealing with these companies means you’re working directly with a homeowner, not a staff of paid employees. As one group of girls found out after renting a farmhouse in Connecticut, it’s sometimes a nerve-wracking way to do business.

When families or friends planned a trip in the past, lodging was the most important part. You need a place to sleep obviously, so hotel research was a necessity. Nowadays, however, there are better options available.

Companies like Airbnb and HomeAway are pulling tons of business away from hotel chains. People can rent out totally unique homes at affordable prices, which is so much more enticing than being stuck in some lame hotel room.

So, when a girl named Nicole Mastrangelo wanted to escape New York City life for a few days for some much needed rest and relaxation, this was the route she intended to go.

She got home from a long shift that day and called several of her friends, asking if they wanted to join her and make the whole thing a fun ladies weekend. Everyone agreed.

After looking at home rental companies, Nicole opted to go through HomeAway as opposed to Airbnb. The pricing fell more within her range, plus she found the perfect spot in Connecticut.

It was a farmhouse just a few hours from the city, and it had the hot tub she craved. It was winter, and Nicole wanted to hang with her friends, drink some wine, and keep warm in some bubbly water.

The man renting out the home was Doug Spingola, and he greeted the girls upon arrival. He seemed nice, but Nicole had an uneasy feeling about him, which she shared with her mother over the phone.

Naturally, Nicole’s mom wanted to make sure her daughter and the rest of women were safe, so she looked up the owner online. As it turned out, Nicole’s unease was completely justified.

Spingola was a professional masseuse, as Nicole’s mom learned, but in 2009, he was arrested and sentenced to a year probation for conducting himself inappropriately around multiple women. Fear swept over Nicole and her friends.

The women no longer wanted to stay at the farmhouse, but with a snowstorm quickly approaching, they didn’t want to drive back to the city either. So, they called HomeAway and explained the situation.

HomeAway refunded the girls for the farmhouse, but they still had to pay to stay at a nearby hotel. How, the girls wondered, could HomeAway rent out a criminal’s house? It must’ve been something in their policy because, incredibly, this wasn’t the first time it happened

Patricia Smith, a 32-year-old lawyer from Atlanta, ran into a similar problem with HomeAway while trying to organize plans for a friend’s bachelorette party. Her group was also taken for an unexpected and frightening emotional ride.

After a lot of thought, Patricia chose to celebrate her friend’s special occasion in Panama City, Florida. The nightlife was booming, the food was fantastic, and best of all, she found an amazing deal for a quaint rental home.

For $117 a night, the ladies had an adorable home that wasn’t located directly in the heart of Panama City — that would have been a little too chaotic — but it was right on the outskirts.

The amenities it included were fantastic. It had a hot tub, a large deck, and a great view in the backyard. However, once they arrived, they, too, had an issue with the person renting it out.

The homeowner was supposed to be a woman, but when they arrived, 60-year-old Clifford Maloy was there to greet them. This normally wouldn’t have been an issue, but the fact that he kept making crass jokes bothered the women.

One of the aspects HomeAway prides itself on is not having to worry about homeowners bothering renters during their stay. Their commercial slogan even implies it. However, Maloy showed up unannounced every day the women were there.

Everything came to a head during their final night when a police officer showed up at the door and told Patricia that Maloy was a registered sex offender! The officer assured the women he’d watch over the house that night while they slept.

Luckily, nothing happened, but when Patricia called to complain the next day, she was met with several unacceptable roadblocks. HomeAway, Patricia learned, doesn’t vet their homeowners! Until they do, renters might want to look for other ways to stay in affordable dwellings.

Incredibly, while Airbnb and HomeAway help people rent out homely lodgings at great prices, elderly people in Japan are figuring out way to live completely free of rent. How they’re doing it is quite unconventional.

Toshio Takata struggled to make ends meet. After moving into a halfway house, it got to the point where the 62-year-old had trouble buying supplies for his beloved art projects. This old dog would have to learn some new tricks if he wanted to survive.

Traditionally speaking, the Japanese treat their elders quite well. Old-fashioned standards oblige younger people to not only care for their parents and grandparents, but to treat them with the utmost respect.

EPA

In the modern age, however, more and more senior citizens like Toshio are feeling left behind. His family has more or less dissolved, and he’s grown estranged from his brothers, two ex-wives, and three children. Toshio only has himself.

Across the country, older Japanese citizens are unable to find a support system. There’s just so many of them. Over a third of the national population is now 60 or older, and the senior citizens have outnumbered the children for years.

Asia Society

With the number of seniors only increasing, Toshio saw some of his contemporaries lose just about everything. Even with pensions and benefits, they couldn’t afford food and housing. Some were even put out on the street. But Toshio found a solution.

Business Insider

Nowadays, Toshio lives comfortably. He’s got three square meals a day, plenty of staff on hand to provide for his every need, and plenty of similarly aged friends to spend time with. It all started with a bicycle.

This bicycle didn’t belong to him. Toshio found it parked on a street corner in Hiroshima, and he just rode off with it. But this was no mere joy ride; Toshio knew exactly where he was headed.

Flickr / Nicolas Raddatz

He rode to the nearest police station. Approaching the front desk, the old man calmly informed the authorities that he stole the bicycle. With no other choice, the police cuffed the seemingly harmless senior and brought him in.

Japan Times

The court sentenced him to one year in prison for petty theft. Did Toshio have an uncharacteristic lapse in judgment? Had he been hit with a wave of remorse once he hopped on the bike?

BBC

Nope. The theft, the arrest, the sentence — it had all been part of his plan. With no criminal history, in the Japanese prison system, he enjoyed the stability behind bars.

Kiyoshi Ota / Bloomberg

So he served his year worry free for the most part. Then, once he got out, something peculiar happened: Toshio threatened women in the park with a knife.

He now claims that he didn’t mean any harm, he simply wanted the police to lock him up once again — this time for a longer period of time. A single year wouldn’t cut it anymore.

Now 69-years-old, Toshio wakes up in a cell every morning, but he does so with a purpose. He has a place where he belongs and all the time in the world to work on his art. Strangely enough, he’s not the only one to enjoy life behind bars.

BBC

In a trend that no social scientist saw coming, one in five Japanese inmates is 60 years or older. And these aren’t hardened criminals either.

Financial Times

The police nab nearly all these gray-haired cons for minor offenses. Many shoplift from stores, either as a means to feed themselves for free or to get caught on purpose. With Japan’s relatively severe penalties for theft, they all end up incarcerated.

This is no short-term solution for seniors, either. Roughly a quarter of them commit another offense soon after their release, leading to an even longer sentence. But why is prison such an attractive place for them to spend their golden years?

BBC

Like Toshio, most older inmates will claim economic reasons. Besides living for free behind bars, they can still continue to collect their pensions. They’ll have some nice savings once free. However, this may not tell the whole story.

BBC

According to Kanichi Yamada, director of a rehabilitation center, elderly inmates’ real motivation may be loneliness. He theorizes that they usually have lost their loved ones and fail to rediscover their places in mainstream society.

BBC

Regardless of why Japanese seniors are seeking out cells, jails have drastically evolved to accommodate them. Facilities and events have become more accessible to older demographics, and specialized guards have joined to help care for these prisoners.

CNN

For now, prison life remains more comfortable than freedom for Toshio and his ilk. They feel certain that there’s nothing for them outside the jail walls. However, a large segment of senior inmates do have one key difference from Toshio.

Bloomberg / Shiho Fukada

An increasing number of them are women! Although women across the board are statistically less likely to commit a crime than men, female seniors who live alone are particularly affected by poverty and isolation.

The Seattle Times

Prison offers struggling women a way to escape their burdens and anxiety, though none of them process their strange path the same way. While some freed inmates admit they feel guilty, others look back on their incarceration with nostalgia.

With the population of senior citizens on the rise, Japan will have to find a more efficient way to care for them. If they do not enact radical reforms, the Japanese will find themselves in a prison of their own making. Unfortunately, loneliness and isolation drives seniors to act out all over the globe.

As he walked across the Redding, California, soil for the first time, Kevin Burns’ heart filled with anticipation. He thought about new friends, career prospects, romantic possibilities. But it was his elderly neighbor that won most of his attention.

YouTube / KBurns

Though her house seemed like it could hold a full family, 68-year-old Ruth Ratliff lived next to Kevin all by herself. Odder still, she seemed to never spend any time inside the house. She was always in her parked car, eating.

YouTube / KBurns

It didn’t take long for Kevin to puzzle out the reason why: Ruth lived inside her car. She stocked up on all the necessary supplies and set up a bed of sorts in the backseat. She even kept her small dog in there with her.

YouTube / KBurns

But at the same time, Ruth’s car was totally broken down. Not only could she not drive anywhere, but she also couldn’t even turn on the heat during cold nights. Concerned, Kevin felt obliged to step in. Why didn’t she just move back into her house?

YouTube / KBurns

For a long time, Ruth remained coy about why she avoided her home like the plague. Kevin’s repeated questioning eventually brought the truth to light: “My home has become a dump,” Ruth admitted, “because my best friend died, and I lost my mind.”

YouTube / KBurns

Ruth then made a request of Kevin: could she go inside her home and find a misplaced photo of her parents? She feared she would forget what they looked like. Kevin accepted the quest. opened the house’s, front door, and…walked into an absolute nightmare.

YouTube / KBurns

“My home has become a dump” didn’t do justice to the abysmal state of Ruth’s house. While it clearly was a nice residence years ago, it was now unlivable. A rancid odor made it hard to breathe, and trash and human waste covered the floor of every room.

It became evident that Ruth was a hoarder, incapable of parting with any kind of object. Without some outside help, Kevin realized that Ruth could never return to a normal life. Just as he was about to give up and duck out for fresh air, a strange detail caught his eye.

A makeshift shelf leaned against one wall, and it looked like there was an entire room behind it. Was there a chance that this hidden room escaped the noxious effects of Ruth’s hoarding? Kevin slid the shelf over and entered the black space.

Curiously, as Kevin’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw what looked like a child’s bedroom. He peered at some old photographs taped to the wall. There was no sign of Ruth’s parents, but he did see a photo of some kids that looked like Ruth.

Kevin was about to give up when he spotted the corner of a photo sticking out from the cabinet — it was just the one Ruth asked for! He headed for the door to share the good news until he came across the biggest problem of all.

Gazing up at the ceiling, Kevin noticed many of the rooms were overrun with black mold. While trash could be cleaned up, this poisonous fungus made the house uninhabitable. There was so much of it, Kevin wondered if it could spread to other houses.

Ruth was heartbroken to hear about the decay of her once-beloved home, though she at least agreed to call the fire department. They soon arrived with a truckload of equipment. As it turns out, however, they were not aiming to save the house.

The fire chief explained that the black mold presented a toxic risk that they needed to wipe out immediately. As they set up a perimeter of flames around the condemned house, Kevin held Ruth’s hand and laid out a plan for the future.

Together, the neighbors watched Ruth’s house go up in flames. Although he knew it was for the best, Kevin felt her pain at all the memories burning inside of it. All the evidence of Ruth’s past was gone. Only the woman herself could reveal the truth now — if she wanted to.

Before he could delve into the mysteries of the strange photographs and the hidden room, however, Kevin needed to make accommodations for his aggrieved neighbor. He lacked the money to put her up in his own place, and so he set up a GoFundMe page.

YouTube / KBurns

Amazingly, the community rallied around Ruth, and a local non-profit reached out to Kevin. They ran a nursing home for the elderly, where Ruth could have a real roof over her head for the first time in years. Unfortunately, they couldn’t take in Ruth’s chihuahua.

But Kevin took care of that. He adopted the small dog, and the two of them visited Ruth each week. Over time, Ruth settled back into a regular enough life to regain her mental stability. She began to share the secrets that she was so desperate to hide from the world.

Over a cup of coffee, Kevin finally learned the truth behind the secret bedroom: It didn’t belong to a son or daughter, as Ruth never had kids. It was her own childhood bedroom! After her parents and husband passed away, leaving Ruth alone, she sealed it up. She couldn’t bear to face all the memories and dreams it represented.

Ruth could never go back to her old life; that much was clear. But in her new home, she rediscovered comforts and friendships that she would have forsaken if she stayed alone in her car. Thanks to Kevin’s foray into her house, Ruth’s hopes for the future are burning bright.

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