Lying awake late at night in their new family home, Ben and Amber Sessions tossed and turned, unable to rest. The parents should have been happy and content in their dream Idaho abode, but sleep was eluding them. The reason? Strange hissing noises were emanating from the walls…
Everyone knows that housing is usually the single largest financial cost for any family. So when Ben and Amber shelled out less than $180,000 for their sizeable new home, they thought they were grabbing a bargain. The property had five bedrooms, and so easily met the needs of their growing clan. It all seemed too good to be true.
However, that’s exactly what this house proved: too good to be true. Now, you might think a home of this size at such a low price would come with disclaimers attached. But Ben and Amber said their realtor did everything he could to convince them of the building’s legitimacy, despite rumors the couple had heard to the contrary.
Nevertheless, after moving into what they believed was their dream home, the Sessions endured a living hell. Over the course of three months, their lives were disrupted by what was lurking in the walls. Contrary to their realtor’s claimed assurances, Ben, Amber and their two young children had a massive problem on their hands that rendered their dream property practically worthless.
Indeed, the couple were forced to abandon the house, as their daily lives began to resemble a horror movie. In fact, Ben feared for the health of his pregnant wife and children throughout their ordeal. What’s more, the expectant mom likened the situation to “living in Satan’s lair.” So just how did their dream turn into a nightmare?
Well, fairytales don’t always have a happy ending. For example, some may remember Brian and Susan Trost, who lived in Weldon Spring on the outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri. They bought their home in the suburbs for nearly half a million dollars in the fall of 2007. But it wasn’t long before things started to go wrong.
That the Trost’s house overlooked a golf course at the Whitmoor Country Club sounds idyllic. But there was something nasty in the walls of their new home that eventually forced them to flee, having lived at the property for only a few years. The couple lived in that house with some unwelcome guests.
The Trosts’s upscale home was infested with venomous spiders. Thousands of brown recluse spiders had taken up residency in the building, with the arachnids described as “oozing” from the walls and dripping from the ceiling. Susan got a shock one day as one fell from above her and floated down the drain as she showered.
Now, for the most part, brown recluse spiders are harmless. Usually they will only bite when forced into contact with human skin, for instance if it has taken refuge in a pair of work gloves. But, even when they do bite, symptoms rarely occur. However, for the few who are susceptible to the spider’s venom, the effects can be extreme.
Jamal Sandidge, a specialist in brown recluse spiders at the University of Kansas, explained to TV news channel KMOV-TV in October 2014, “It’s not going to kill you. But it will make you wish you were dead.” Those vulnerable to the spider’s venom, such as the very young or frail, may experience rashes, muscle and joint pain, nausea, vomiting and fever.
Indeed, soon after Brian and Susan Trost moved into their luxurious home, the eight-legged pests started to pop up everywhere. Sandidge believed there were anything from 4,500 to 6,000 of the critters around the house. And yet nothing the couple did ever successfully removed the spiders from their lives.
“[The spiders] started bleeding out of the walls,” Susan later described. And, although the couple called in exterminators to try and relieve them of the infestation, the eradication was unsuccessful on at least two occasions. Susan and her husband attempted to make a claim on their home insurance and sued the former owners for not revealing the problem.
The arachnid occupation was enough to drive the Trosts from their plush home five years after they moved in. And although they won their court case, they never recouped the cost of the house. In the end, the previous owners declared themselves bankrupt and their insurance company refused to pay out. Indeed, the Trosts’ predicament was similar to the one in which the Sessions found themselves.
The Sessions found their dream home with its affordable price tag in 2009. It was located in Rexburg, Idaho, just north-east of Idaho Falls. Part of the city’s population is made up of students attending the local Brigham Young University-Idaho. Although Rexburg is believed to be home to nearly 30,000, precise numbers are disputed due to student displacement.
A large number of Rexburg’s residents belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the organization which also operates the university. Indeed, Rexburg was the third Idaho city to open an LDS church in 2008. However, when the Sessions moved into their home a year later, their lives turned into a living hell.
It had all started so promisingly. The Sessions’ new home had about two acres of land for their two boys to explore. And if that wasn’t enough, located approximately 125 miles northeast of their property was Yellowstone National Park. There were plenty of opportunities, then, for adventures for Ben and Amber’s growing family.
Furthermore, a large portion of Rexburg’s nearly-ten-square-mile area was built upon a shield volcano. Now, when you think of volcanoes, you may envision large, mountainous craters like the U.S.’s own Mount St. Helens or Italy’s Mount Vesuvius and Mount Etna. However, shield volcanoes are not so majestic.
Now, Mount Etna, Mount Vesuvius and Mount St. Helens are all stratovolcanoes. Those types of volcanoes are formed from thick lava, which cools into solid rock before it has traveled too far. Over time, layers of the volcano’s lava and ash emissions build up to form a steep profile, like a mountain. Shield volcanoes are different.
A shield volcano forms from a more liquid lava which spreads further before it cools and hardens. Its profile is far lower than a stratovolcano. Indeed, it takes on the shape of a shallow dome much like a warrior’s shield, hence the name. And it’s this terrain upon which much of Rexburg stands.
In fact, the region is well known for its volcanic geography. The Craters of the Moon National Monument is just three hours from Rexburg, and offers an insight into the area’s varied volcanic activity. But what particular relevance does being built on volcanic terrain have to the situation with the Sessions’ home?
Well, maybe none. Nor, necessarily, did the great flood of June 1976 have a large bearing. A Rexburg museum tells the story of how the city was devastated by a flood when the nearby Teton Dam burst with much of the area submerged for days following the disaster. But perhaps a combination of these geographical factors helped to created the root of the Sessions’ problem.
Ben and Amber Sessions moved into their new home in the late summer of 2009. And although there was plenty of space for their two boys to run around in, it wasn’t long before the parents realized they didn’t want them roaming far unattended. From the start something seemed off about the property.
For starters, there seemed to be something wrong with the water; it gave off a putrid smell. Then there was the grass in their yard, which moved as if it had a life of its own. It wasn’t an inviting place for the Sessions’ kids to play. But they really didn’t want to be indoors either.
When as an experiment Ben struck the house’s roof with a length of wood, it appeared to spark a distinct if unseen commotion inside. Doubtless, the noise of this movement against the aluminum was unsettling. But worst of all was the hissing at night which kept the couple awake, the sound of unwanted lodgers pervading their home.
Ben was undertaking some yard work one day, building a chicken run. Pulling up a sheet of metal, he got a shock as a couple of snakes glided away. In the next few days, the homeowner noticed more and more of the reptiles around the grounds. He’d put them in buckets, gathering dozens at a time.
As it turned out, the Sessions’ new home was infested with garter snakes. So heavy was their presence in the yard that sometimes that the grass would appear to move of its own volition. There were literally hundreds of the reptiles scattered around their property, from its lawn to its roof and crawl spaces. Some snakes had even taken up residence inside the property’s walls.
As previously described, when Ben had bashed the roof overhang with a piece of wood, the noise he had heard was the sound of the snakes’ scales brushing against metal as they slithered away. When he popped the siding, it revealed dozens of the reptiles resident inside the walls. The homeowner also bravely entered the crawl space to investigate the extent of the problem: yes, the critters were everywhere.
“It was like living in one of those horror movies,” Ben described to news agency Associated Press in June 2011. Indeed, the infestation was a lot for anyone to endure. But for the couple’s two young boys the effects were especially traumatic. The situation affected their sleep, and the situation also had an impact on their leisure time.
Amber described to a local news station how her kids started to have nightmares about snakes. When they settled into drawing, the result would be pictures of the reptiles pouncing on them around the house and as they slept. The whole family feared walking around the property barefoot in case a snake bit them.
Indeed, garter snakes are common to North America, and although they will bite when they feel threatened, the reptiles are non-venomous. At their most aggressive they will coil and strike, but usually, they tend to protect their heads and instead thrash their tails to ward off threats. However, they also possess a secret weapon.
The garter snake can also emit a foul-smelling secretion to ward off its enemies, and it’s a stench with which the Sessions family grew all-too-familiar. The musky odor permeated their water supply, forcing the family to eat out regularly. The house earned a reputation among locals. Indeed, it seemed that the Sessions were the only people who didn’t know about the infestation.
The house had been previously owned by Denise and Neal Ard. A few years earlier they allowed in news crews to report on the snakes they were collecting around their home – buckets full of them. One video available on YouTube garnered more nearly two and a half million views. However, it disappeared right before the couple fled the property.
Locals came to refer to the property as the “snake house.” The Sessions’ neighbor, Dustin Chambers, told daily newspaper The Seattle Times that he had sympathy for the family. “I felt bad,” he said. “By the time we knew someone had bought it, they were already moving in.” So how were its new residents the last to know?
Well, the Sessions maintained that their realtor played down rumors of snakes on the property. In fact, the family said he insisted the whole thing was made up by the home’s former owners as a ploy to get out of a mortgage arrangement. Furthermore, Ben and Amber may not have seen any snakes during their viewing due to breeding patterns.
During the spring and summer months, garter snakes tend to disperse. However, as summer turns to fall, which is about the time of year the Sessions moved in, the reptiles seek refuge in a den. Hundreds of them gather in what’s called a “hibernaculum,” which is what it’s believed the house was built on.
The Sessions figured that they could deal with a few, non-venomous snakes if they ever showed up. They even signed a disclaimer stating they were aware of a snake problem. It’s possible that they might have even had the situation under control for a while. That was, until they didn’t.
Every morning Ben would get up before his wife and kids. He would perform a “morning sweep” around the house to check if any snakes had got in during the night, removing any offenders. But as the numbers increased heading into winter, the situation grew intolerable for the Sessions family.
Things came to a head when Amber, who was heavily pregnant, was doing the laundry. Ben heard her scream as she nearly stepped on an unwelcome guest. “I was terrified she was going to miscarry,” her husband explained. With the number of snakes increasing – recently Ben had tackled 42 snakes in just one day – he realized things couldn’t go on like this any more.
The Sessions eventually left their so-called dream home just three months after they moved in. However, with their newborn daughter only one day old, there was nothing they could do: there was a document with their names on saying they had known about the problem before they bought the house. They were forced to declare bankruptcy.
“It was just so stressful,” Amber recalled. “It felt like we were living in Satan’s lair. That’s the only way to really explain it.” The house was taken over by J.P. Morgan Chase and briefly returned to the market for the reduced price of $114,900 a year later. Ben developed a form of P.T.S.D. (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) caused by their ordeal. His view remains simply, “It’s not right to continue to sell this home.”