Of all the home-remodeling horrorstories there are to tell, few can top the tale of a Magnolia homeowner's $20,000 bathroom renovation that became a $200,000 repair job–and turned his $1.5 million waterfront home into a strange, spray-painted crime scene. The alleged vandal, Todd Michael Wagner, a home-remodeling company employee, was nabbed red-handed, literally: Red was one of the colors of paint he was covered with when police arrested him.
"It was truly a bizarre scene," reports Seattle police Detective John Crumb.
The homeowner, Robert Gregory, who was on vacation at the time of the incident, couldn't be reached for comment last week at his Perkins Lane residence, where a subpoena to appear at Wagner's upcoming trial was taped to the door. But police say he was stunned when he received a call from a second worker at the site who discovered the damage. The 41-year-old Wagner gave officers a statement, but didn't explain his motives. What investigators were able to piece together was that instead of putting a few finishing touches on Gregory's nearly remodeled master bathroom, Wagner allegedly drove to Home Depot at 6 a.m. on Oct. 26, rented a paint sprayer, bought five 5-gallon buckets of paint, and, using a key the owner had entrusted to him, entered the home and laboriously sprayed much of the walls, floors, and furnishings with layers of black paint.
Wagner, who is slated to go to trial next week, is also accused of tearing out new kitchen cabinets and throwing them, along with bedding and other property, off Gregory's deck onto the Puget Sound beachfront below. Police say Wagner then returned to Home Depot to buy seven more 5-gallon cans of black paint, but when he drove up to the home again, officers were waiting. A police investigative report notes that Wagner "was covered with black and red paint from head to toe...[and] appeared high on some sort of drug."
King County prosecutors have charged Wagner with malicious mischief and, due to the damage they peg at more than $200,000, have added an aggravated factor to seek a longer sentence. Wagner has been unable to make $2,500 bail and is being held at King County Jail. The owners of Home Dynamics LLC, the small remodeling company Wagner workedfor, couldn't be contacted last week. But Detective Crumb described one owner as "visibly shaken" when he arrived on the scene, saying the vandalism and resulting costs "would likely put his small company out of business." Up until the day the vandalism is alleged to have occurred, Wagner had been a reliable and valued employee, his bosses told police.
Police say Wagner, though initially dazed, was rational and polite during questioning, and would neither admit nor deny responsibility. But Laurie Morris, Wagner's public defender, has now asked for a trial delay so Wagner can be psychologically evaluated.
"Michael suffers from paranoid schizophrenia," says a family member who asked not to be identified. "And he refuses to acknowledge it, even now, in jail." Wagner recently lived with this relative, who has cared for Wagner most of the last 20 years. "He seems fine. Then, once or twice a year, he has an episode."
In the weeks before the alleged vandalism, Wagner was asked to move out of his relative's home. "It broke my heart, but I have kids; I didn't know what else to do," the relative says. "He had bleached his truck three days in a row, removing the paint. Then he brought the bleach inside and began bleaching the house."
After his eviction, Wagner ended up living in his truck, which he meticulously repainted red. Worried that someone might put something in his gas tank, he rigged up several gas cans in the truck cab, attaching a hose to the carburetor, and punching air holes in the cans.
"That's why he seemed high that day in Magnolia: gas fumes," says the relative.
Wagner is intelligent and creative, says the relative, but "he's been getting progressively worse, and when he'd have an episode, he'd just take off and drive across the country until he snapped out of it." In addition to the bleaching and other acts, he'd also been hunting for dynamite in the woods and showing other signs of increasing mental stress.
"Michael is so adamant that he's not mentally ill, and he wants me to bail him out," says the relative. "I just can't. I feel really bad for the people he did this to. He's truly a wonderful human being, but he's sick and needs help. I hope the judicial system figures that out."