A building in Crown Heights, known by some as the “house of horrors” – because of the homicides and abuse that occurred there – went up in flames on Wednesday morning.
The fire at 222 Brooklyn Ave. started just before 5 a.m. on Wednesday and quickly engulfed the entire building, according to neighbors and video on the Citizen app.
The FDNY said 130 firefighters responded to the two-alarm fire, with four of them sustaining injuries. By the time the blaze was under control at around 8:40 a.m., only the building's outer shell remained.
Decades before 222 Brooklyn Ave. drew attention for the fire, it made headlines as the home of the LeGrand family. The patriarch, Devernon LeGrand, was a self-described preacher who ran a cult-like church out of the building. He and his stepson were convicted of killing and dismembering two teenage girls in 1977. Dozens of people reportedly disappeared from the house and were never found.
LeGrand reportedly lured young girls and women to his home with promises of money and alcohol, and then forced them to panhandle for money, often making them pose as nuns.
On Wednesday afternoon, as neighbors passed by the four-story townhome, where workers were building scaffolding, many expressed fear about discussing the family.
Several locals who grew up near the house told Gothamist they did not want to speak on the record, because the family was powerful in the city. Others said the family’s influence and notoriety kept the area safe — no one looking for trouble dared to cross their path, they said. Some expressed relief that the building burned down.
Tracey, 57, who only shared her first name out of concern for her safety, has lived in Crown Heights most of her life. She remembers being warned to stay away from 222 Brooklyn Ave. when she was a child, and having to strategize her route to avoid walking too close to the LeGrand house on her way to her church, which is across the street.
“I just was like, OK, I will listen to my family and stay away like I'm supposed to because I didn't wanna go missing,” Tracey said. “I didn't know to the extent of what was truly, truly happening in there — it's all hearsay, I should say.”
Lauren Meyer has lived in the area for five years, and often walks her dog past the building. She said she noticed people living inside on and off, even while it was boarded up, but did not know who those people were.
Though she wasn’t aware of the building’s history, she said she’s always felt something was off.
“It's just spooky,” Meyer said. “It's just always been kind of like… very desolate looking, in an area that typically there aren't that many places that are empty like that and boarded up.”
The FDNY is investigating the cause of the fire.