Last Day At Chapman’s House


chap tricycle

Whether ‘Old Man Chapman’ will finally be swindled out of his house is no longer up for debate.  Last Monday a red 8” X 6” legal notice was taped to his door at 221 Petronia Street.  It read:  “Final Notice of Eviction” and directed the Monroe County Sheriff to remove any person from the premises on Tuesday.

“It’s tomorrow. Tuesday is tomorrow,” said Chapman on the phone,  “Where am I going to put my things?  My clothes?  My wife’s clothes?  Our grandson’s clothes?  What am I going to do?”  It was 9:30 am.  The beginning of a long day – which was going to involve Sheriff’s deputies, pro bono attorneys, a Judge, New York bankers, someone known as “Coconut Man,” and Mr. James Matthew Chapman.  Mr. Chapman, the one-man-lighted-parade, who has been photographed thousands of times by tourists as he rides his Christmas-tree-like tricycle, blasting soul music, up and down Duval Street.

IMG_1985What was to be the last afternoon in Chapman’s yard was quite emotional.  “My mother was born in that house across the street,” said Chapman pointing at an abandoned house on the other side of Petronia,  “It was a clinic for colored folks.  They made diapers out of flour sacs.”

He didn’t mention the second floor door, but everyone else sitting in the yard did.  The door on the upstairs porch had mysteriously opened during the night.  “That door has been closed for twenty years,” said Leroy, “there are no stairs to get up there – the house is all boarded up and the stairs are destroyed.”

“My ancestors are watching over me,” agreed Chapman.

In the late 1990’s, after having difficulty paying property taxes, Chapman made a deal with local businessman, Norman Moodie.  Since Moodie had helped him pay off a $ 10,000 tax lien, Chapman would let Moodie put his name on the deed to Chapman’s house.  Moodie thereafter borrowed $ 588,000 on the house, never made the loan payments, didn’t pay the new $ 20,000 mandatory insurance either, and, according to Chapman, only ever gave him about $ 10,000.  Moodie’s mortgage mushroomed into a million dollar debt that resulted, last month, in a final decree of foreclosure on Chapman’s house – the house where generations of Chapmans grew up – on Chapman Lane.

The story we reported a few weeks ago has inspired many locals to offer support.  Well-known event organizer Jeff Salzman is putting together what he calls a ‘Stone Soup Concert” fundraiser to help the Chapmans relocate.

“We always have to take good care of our neighbors, but I didn’t know I had so many neighbors,” said Chapman when he learned about the fundraiser,  “But I guess in Key West we are all neighbors.”

“Toko Irie, who plays the steel drums, C.W. Colt, and the Doerfels are already onboard,” says Salzman, “we also hope to have one of the best Reggae bands come down, but that’s not finalized yet.”

Details came out about how Moodie got the best of Chapman. Moodie rode into town in the eighties, fresh out of the Coast Guard.  At the time Ed Swift and Norma Jean Sawyer were making efforts to bring tourism dollars into Bahama Village.  That’s when the sign over Petronia Street was installed.

Moodie saw great opportunities.  He launched several businesses including a sex club just next door to Chapman’s house, where Fire Fly is now located.  He liked Chapman’s knowledge of folk history and his story telling ability.  He was going to make him the “Bahama Village Ambassador.”  He even bought him a colorful uniform made for a Bahamian official.  The problem was Chapman’s wife.  She had a secret weapon.  Unlike her husband, she had learned how to read and she didn’t trust charming Norman.  This was solved by a “business trip.”

chapman house“He told me to meet him at the Circle K in Islamorada,” said Chapman, about the fateful trip where Moodie had his name added to the deed to Chapman’s house, “I drove up there with my uncle Frank who had a car.”  Chapman, 75, had left school to become a shoe-shine boy.  “When we got there I got into Moodie’s car,” says Chapman who signed documents which might as well have been written in Chinese.  He had removed his childrens’ names from the deed and added Moodie as a co-owner.  On Monday morning on the phone, Moodie, who now lives in Miami, was still promising to somehow keep Chapman in his house…

In the meantime, Chapman’s friends were making all the moves of a cat desperately trying to escape rising waters.  Pro bono attorney John Hogan rushed to the courthouse to look at the file hoping something could still be done.  The bankers and Sheriff were called in vain.  In the end, when all else had failed, what did it was an eloquent plea by “Coconut Man” to Judge Sandra Tayor.  She granted Coconut Man’s “motion” and gave Chapman another week to move out.

Stay tuned regarding the specific date and location of the Stone Soup fundraiser in support of Old Man Chapman, who in fact has truly been the ambassador and historian of Bahama Village.


NOTE:  Tentative date for the Stone Soup Concert fundraiser for Mr. Chapman is August 17 from 3-8 pm. Venue options are still being studied.  If you can offer a venue [preferably in or around Bahama Village] or if you are interested in participating or learning more about the event, contact Jeff Salzman at (305) 896-0961.

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  9 Responses to “Last Day At Chapman’s House”

  1. Why isn’t Mr. Moodie charged with mortgage fraud in addition to fraudulent dealings with Mr. Chapman?

  2. From the Public Records:
    12 Sep 1996: James gives his house to his three kids, retaining a life estate.
    23 Nov 1998: His oldest, Kenneth, quitclaims back to James his third.
    16 Dec 1998: James quitclaims this third to Moodie.
    5 April 1999: son Antonio gives back his third to both James and Moodie.
    20 July 2000: Daughter Ebony gives back her third to James and Moodie.

    During this time James and Moodie take out mortgages from a woman and the SBA which they pay back when they take out a $102k mortgage from Key West Bank modified to $142k which I cannot see being paid back.
    They then in 2005 take out a $562.5k mortgage which they quickly pay back when they take out the $588k mortgage in Jan 2006 which becomes the $1 million foreclosure judgment.

    During this time there are numerous judgments for child support and eviction of tenants.

    Who knows how much of this money James ever saw. But it is definitely not a case of a quickie signature in the back of a car in Islamorada.

    The real shame is James’ kids don’t inherit the house their dad got from their grandpa.

    The real stupidity is Argent Bank giving such a huge loan on this property back in the crazy days, and then Mellon Bank buying the mortgage and paying close to $200k in property tax and insurance payments on it.

    • Thanks Rick for the detailed research! Don’t know how much Chap got – he says $10,000 – but one thing’s for sure – we never saw him running around town in a fancy sports car and it sure didn’t go into the house [which has been condemned by the City – green notice in photo]

  3. So, what caused his property taxes to go from ~$500 to ~$5000 in the last decade?

    • In Florida we have something called a Homestead Exemption which basically restricts the amount of taxable value from year to year to a minimal increase if the home is your primary residence. You also get a $25,000 discount on the value. However, if you change the title in any way, even by removing someone from the deed, then the tax appraiser will begin all over again – as though a new entity owned the home and will base taxes on the current full “fair market value”. Looks like the property appraiser didn’t figure that out for a few years, but eventually they did and in 2005 taxable value went from 71,000 to 406,000 – and for some bizarre reason – Mr. Chapman no longer received the $25,000 discount on the taxable value from 2005 through 2012 even though he resided in the house…

  4. jeff you need to talk to tom hogan about lesion beyond moiety law on mr moodie

  5. jeff ck on the unjust enrichment law too.

    We are raising money for the Chapman family. To secure housing until we can get them back in their house on Chapman lane, where they belong!

  7. This type of scenarios has been playing out for years, decades, now in Bahama Village. The churches, nonprofits, bars and other businesses are under attack. After the Elks is closed which I predict is next, there will be nothing left to the heritage of the black folks that built this island with their blood, sweat and tears. Family, friends and family names used to mean something in this town. They don’t anymore.

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