The new buyers of a rundown graystone on the South Side showed up Jan. 9 to look at the house they won at a foreclosure auction. They took the plywood off the front door and went inside to make sure the utilities had been shut off. Then they called the police.
Sitting upright in the corner of a bedroom off the kitchen was a human skeleton in a red tracksuit. Next to him lay a dead dog. Neighbors told police the corpse was almost certainly Randy Johnson, a middle-age man who lived alone in the North Kenwood house.
The cause of Johnson's death has not yet been determined, but it is just one of the mysteries about 4578 S. Oakenwald Ave. Somehow, Johnson's house was transferred three times to new owners without anyone noticing he was inside. It's a story involving forged deeds, a corrupt title company and a South Side family that has been under investigation for mortgage fraud.
The intrigue surrounding the Oakenwald house offers a glimpse into the strange and murky world of mortgage fraud. Lenders duped into making loans have every incentive to unload the properties, and almost none to blow the whistle on wrongdoers. If borrowers or government watchdogs fail to cry foul, the same home can change hands again and again before anyone is the wiser.
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