SEATTLE — A couple in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood found a stranger living in their basement and eating their food. The suspect managed to stay hidden from the homeowners for nearly two days and even told police “that he could hear voices and footsteps coming from upstairs,” according to court documents.
The couple only made the discovery after they heard a strange noise and called police, suspecting a burglar. Officers did a search and found a man inside – who had brought in his belongings and made a bed in the basement.
This has rattled the people living there because they say this is at least the second time in a year that an intruder has been found inside someone’s home.
The neighborhood is adjacent to Discovery Park, which is how some neighbors believe the intruder discovered the home.
It is the talk of affluent, tight-knit Lawtonwood, a 56-year-old Minnesota man discovered in the basement of a house.
“Well, we saw it, my wife saw it on the internet,” said Joseph Huber. “There was an email from the house association here.”
Huber has lived in Lawtonwood for more than 30 years. He says it is rare, though not unheard of, that an intruder has found his way into a house in this neighborhood in the very big shadow of Discovery Park.
“It is a surprise,” Huber said. “Yeah. But it can happen. It can happen.”
What happened, according to the homeowner’s association email, is that relatives living in the house heard a noise just after midnight, early Monday morning. So they called Seattle police.
That’s when officers discovered Thomas Gene Lewellen in the basement. He told officers he was hungry, got into the house through an unlocked side door on Saturday morning, found food and settled in.
Court documents say Lewellen told investigators he just got out of jail in Texas and arrived in Seattle on March 10. “He said that he just served a 6 month sentence in Texas for Assault and Criminal Trespass,” the documents read.
In an online post, the Seattle Police Department said the suspect told them “he was provided with a one-way ticket to Seattle.” SPD said it did not have details on who or what organization provided that plane ticket..
KIRO7 looked into Lewellen’s criminal history and found he was last an inmate at the Cameron County Jail and released March 9. A jail employee told KIRO7 that he was not aware of any program that would provide someone homeless a one-way ticket out of state. He said they do have services to escort someone to nearby homeless shelters if needed, once they are released from jail.
After Lewellen arrived in Seattle, he said “he was staying in the Exhibition Hall in lower Queen Anne but he was then kicked out.” It’s not clear how he found Discovery Park, but Huber and his neighbors say there is a homeless encampment nearby.
“They come around in the park,” said Huber. “They stay in the park. And they say, ‘Well, nice, nice area. Check it out.’ "
The suspect was being held on a burglary charge, but it was reduced to criminal trespass.
Lewellen has been charged in Seattle Municipal Court, where the judge ordered him to have an evaluation to determine if he is competent to stand trial.
Meanwhile, he has been released from the King County jail.
Some cities like Portland and San Francisco have programs where the city will buy a ticket for someone unsheltered who wants to get home -- say to Seattle, or anywhere else. Usually an employee first verifies the individual has a place to stay wherever they are going. On a smaller scale King County also has a program like that - to help pay for a bus or train ticket to get someone unsheltered who is from out of town, back home.