JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – First Coast News is on the side of neighbors who live next to the property that once belonged to murder suspect Russell Tillis. The body of Joni Gunter was found buried in his backyard last year.
Since the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office decided they are finished searching his property, it was condemned by the city and then demolished. Neighbors tell us, however, that created even more problems. For instance, they say the smell alone from the lot is more than they can handle.
Next door neighbor David Eichenlaub says they’ve been waiting for two months for the leftovers from demolition to be taken care of but it only seems to get worse.
“What they tore this house down with is a pickup, a chain and a sledgehammer,” Eichenlaub said. “The woman would not bring out a dumpster, bags, nothing to clean it up.”
The woman he’s referring to is the new owner of the property, Janis Eldridge, who was hired by Russell Tillis as a private investigator on the case. When he couldn’t pay the taxes on the property she took over the home from him for free.
The property is in the jurisdiction of Jacksonville City Councilman, Scott Wilson, who met us out at Tillis’ property on Wednesday. He is no stranger to neighbors like Eichenlaub. Earlier this month, he filed a complaint to code enforcement on their behalf.
Wilson says the property has a history of code violations and there is currently a citation for the current homeowner, Eldridge.
His predecessor, Don Redman, would often come out in the middle of the night to confront Tillis himself because neighbors felt unsafe.
“A couple of them filed injunctions for protections to keep him away. He would threaten them and yell at them and scream at them,” Wilson said. “At some point the police came to serve him warrants on that, that’s when he ran because the police chased him, that’s when he was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer.”
Those battery charges are what initially landed Tillis in jail and that’s the case the now-homeowner and also private investigator Janis Eldridge is working on for Tillis.
In response to all of the complaints, she tells First Coast News the process to clean up after demolition was a huge undertaking and is a long process but plans to have it all cleared out in the next week or two. However, by that time it could well be out of her hands.
Due to the recent citation, the city’s code enforcement division is soliciting bids for a contractor to take over the property and have it cleaned up within the next three weeks. The city would foot that bill and then place a lien on Eldridge’s property.
First Coast News requested the list of complaints for the property over multiple years. So far, the city has been able to provide reports from 2016 and 2017:
Code Enforcement has had 5 cases with a case year of 2016 or later, as follows:
- Complaint received regarding a hole in fence at rear of property. The officer was unable to view the violation on the 2/5/2016 inspection and the case was closed.
- Cited on 3/10/2016 for failure to maintain fence. The case was withdrawn and closed by the Zone Supervisor on 6/7/2016 upon confirmation that the violation was cited on the wrong enforcement track.
- Cited on 6/15/2016 for nuisance overgrowth and garbage/trash/rubbish/debris. Case was withdrawn on 2/7/2017 due to commencement of demolition of the main structure.
- Cited on 7/12/2016 for accessory structure vacant/open and not properly secured to the ground. Case is pending a hearing before the Special Magistrate, hearing date has not yet been scheduled.
- Cited on 2/8/2017 for garbage/trash/rubbish/debris. The case is pending solicitation of bids to clean the property.