MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A woman found out her childhood home no longer belonged to her after the county processed a fake deed.
It’s what she did about it that landed her uncle behind bars.
To Adrienne Lewis, it’s not just a boarded-up house on South Parkway. This place means something. It’s where her mother grew up and raised her.
“This is a family home. I wouldn’t dare get rid of my momma’s house,” Lewis said. “My mom was getting ready to move back in. She ended up passing.”
Her mother was laid to rest in August 2019. A year and a half later, Lewis and her cousin, Chandra Robbins, say they heard something had happened to the house.
“I called one of my cousins and she was like, ‘Oh I talked to Darrell and he was like, he got the house back in his name.’ I said that’s impossible,” Lewis said.
It was impossible because the property records they had on file didn’t show their uncle, Darrell Murphy, as the property owner. They listed Lewis and her mother.
“So I went online, Bam there it is! Darrell Murphy,” Lewis said. “I pull it up and am like, how did he do this?”
The Shelby County Register of Deeds’ website shows on February 25, 2021, the property was transferred to Murphy, their uncle who lives in Texas, through a quit claim deed. Records include signatures from both Lewis and her mother, signed February 10, 2021, approving the property transfer.
He had taken ownership of the South Parkway home. The document was even notarized.
“It’s impossible for my aunt to sign a quit deed, because she’s been deceased since 2019. Adrienne was at work at FedEx,” Robbins said.
Two weeks after the deed was processed, they notified the register’s office and police launched an investigation.
Earlier this year, WREG Investigators told you about quit claim deeds. It’s a fast way to transfer property, but they come with problems that the Register of Deeds office has pointed out.
The form just has to be downloaded, printed, filled out correctly and notarized. Per state law, if those boxes are checked, the register’s office must accept the deed.
They can’t ask for ID or question it, even if they think the form looks fraudulent.
That’s apparently what happened in this case. Despite the scribbles and Murphy’s name misspelled, the form met the requirements when he reportedly turned it in. That’s why it was processed.
“In the midst of that, I got a video showing him in the house, pretty much bragging, throwing away everything in the house,” Lewis said.
Lewis says that included sentimental items from her childhood and her mother’s belongings. She told us she turned that video over to police, as well as proof that her mother passed and couldn’t have signed that deed.
They ended up charging him with theft of property over $10,000 and forgery, she said.
The property was put back into Lewis’s name.
The register’s office says fraudulent filings are on the rise, but there’s little they can do about it until the law is changed.
State legislators have promised to bring it up next session.
Until then, the register’s office is asking people to sign up for its fraud program, which will send a property owner an alert when any document, like a quit claim deed, is recorded.
It doesn’t stop it from happening, but rather makes the owner aware before the property continues to change hands, making it harder to get the property back.
“A lot of people need to be aware because it happens so much. It takes so many years for people to find out their home is gone,” Lewis said.
WREG Investigators also contacted the Texas Secretary of state about the notary. A spokesperson told us that state law says the notary must witness every person signing the form, either “physically or virtually.” If the law isn’t followed, they can “suspend or revoke a notary public’s commission for good cause.”
Both women say they know those rules well — they’re both notaries. They say they will be filing an official complaint about notary in Texas.
Now they offer other homeowners this advice: Check on your property periodically to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
Murphy is due in court next month.