‘Fake’ deed used to take dead man’s Daytona Beach home, sister claims

News 6 investigation prompts state attorney to review closed case

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Days after her brother’s unexpected death, Carolyn Shank believes someone forged a deed to his home and fraudulently transferred ownership of the property to a neighbor who is unknown to their family.

That neighbor, Javon Renard Walden, later sold the house for $70,000 even though Shank claims it should have remained in her family after her brother died.

At the very same time police were investigating Walden for possible forgery, News 6 has learned a different family accused Walden of attempting to take possession of their dead relative’s home using a fraudulent deed. It does not appear that matter was reported to law enforcement.

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The state attorney’s office announced earlier this month that it would not prosecute Walden for the way he obtained the home of Shank’s brother. Prosecutors did not provide a reason.

But after News 6 contacted the state attorney’s office inquiring about new information uncovered as part of this story, prosecutors said they would review the allegations against Walden.

“I was shocked,” said Shank, who has done extensive research into the questionable real estate transaction. “I’ve got to find this little rascal and put a stop to it.”

News 6 has been unable to reach Walden for comment despite repeated attempts to contact him through a family member and his business associates.

“You just can’t take someone’s property like this, and then sell it to someone else,” Shank said.

WALDEN OBTAINS DEAD MAN’S HOME FOR FREE

Charles Gadson, Shank’s brother, has been listed as the owner of a modest three-bedroom ranch on Lewis Drive since 2011, Volusia County records show. Their late mother purchased the home more than three decades earlier.

In November 2020, Gadson was found fatally shot inside the house. Authorities ruled the 70-year-old’s death a suicide.

About three weeks after Gadson died, his sister drove by the home to check on the property. As Shank approached, she said two unidentified men exited the house.

As one of the men took off running down the street, Shank said the other stayed behind to lock the front door.

“The guy says to me, ‘We were paid to come here and clean out the house,’” Shank said. “He said Javon is the owner of the property.”

Shank, who claims she did not recognize the name Javon and does not know how the men obtained keys to the house, said she called the Daytona Beach Police Department to report the intruders.

But just before she called, Javon Walden also contacted law enforcement.

“(The police) told me, ‘We talked with Javon Walden. He’s the owner,’” Shank said.

When Shank returned the next day, she discovered a U-Haul truck in the driveway and workers hauling away appliances, furniture and clothing that once belonged to her late mother and brother.

“Who hired you to come to my mom’s house?” Shank asked the workers as she recorded video with her cell phone.

“The homeowner. His name is Javon,” replied one of the men. “I have the deed in my pocket with his name on it.”

Shank later logged on to the Volusia County Clerk of Circuit Court website and viewed a copy of the most recent official records associated with the home.

That is when she discovered a recently filed quitclaim deed that indicated her brother had transferred ownership of the Lewis Drive property to Walden.

“No one in my family knows who Javon Renard Walden is,” Shank said. “I have no idea what his connections are to my brother.”

She found it suspicious that, according to the deed, her brother did not receive any money in exchange for the house.

“Charles is not a saint, but he would never give away anything like that,” Shank said.

In her opinion, Gadson’s apparent signature on the deed does not resemble the way the Army veteran signed his name on his driver’s license, military records and banking documents.

But what troubled Shank the most about the deed were the dates written on it.

The hand-written deed indicated it had been executed on Sept. 11, about two months before her brother’s death.

But the deed was notarized on November 20, exactly one week after Gadson’s body was found.

“It’s impossible for him to come back from the dead to sign a deed in front of a notary,” Shank said.

Florida law requires a property seller, known as a grantor, to sign a quitclaim deed in the presence of a notary public and two witnesses.

The notary who certified the deed now acknowledges that Gadson was not present when she certified the document. She also claims portions of the deed were blank when she notarized the signatures.

“(Walden) inserted Charles’s name. Charles’s name was not on there,” Alfrenecia Perkins told News 6.

Once the deed was submitted to the court clerk, Volusia County Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett said the document appeared to be legitimate and did not contain any obvious red flags.

“We get deeds from the clerk’s office all the time that looks like this,” said Bartlett. “When you look at it, nothing says, ‘This is a fraudulent deed.’”

After researching how real estate transactions are supposed to work, Shank filed a fraud report with the Daytona Beach Police Department.

While police were investigating Walden, he sold the home to a real estate investment company.

Around the same time, Walden attempted to take possession of a different home that reportedly belonged to a dead person, News 6 has learned.

FAMILY ACCUSES WALDEN OF USING FRAUDULENT DEED IN EVICTION CASE

In early January, three tenants living in a home on Hillcrest Drive in Daytona Beach said Walden stopped by the property and instructed them to move out.

Walden claimed he had recently purchased the home from the Internal Revenue Service, court records allege.

The tenants received a written notice later that day, signed by Walden, ordering them to vacate the property within three days.

When the tenants failed to leave, Walden retained an attorney and filed a formal eviction complaint in Volusia County Circuit Court.

As evidence that he owned the home, Walden attached a copy of a deed that appeared to show he had recently purchased the property for $100.

The tenants, who described the deed as “fraudulent” in court papers, hired their own lawyer to fight the eviction.

County records show that Judith Hanger Swindle had owned the Hillcrest Drive property since 2012.

In December 2020, a quitclaim deed was filed with the court clerk indicating Swindle had transferred the property to Walden.

The notarized document suggests Swindle signed the deed on December 12.

But Swindle died in March 2017, more than three years earlier, court records show.

After Swindle’s death, the tenants said Swindle’s son informally took possession of the house as her heir.

The tenants, which included Swindle’s niece, said Swindle’s son allowed them to live in the home while he was in prison.

“I feel like I should not have to move due to the fact that I was given permission to stay at the home and help take care of the home until my cousin comes home from his incarceration,” Amanda Lee Butler wrote in court papers.

In a court motion seeking to dismiss the eviction, the tenants’ attorney, Steven R. Robinson, attached a copy of Swindle’s death certificate.

Less than 90 minutes after that motion was filed, Walden’s lawyer voluntarily dismissed the eviction complaint and quit the case.

“I would never accept any further work from that client,” said attorney Christopher W. Wickersham, Jr. “Our job is to argue a client’s case within the bounds of the law. No ethical attorney would continue forward with something like that.”

The eviction case was closed, and the tenants continue to reside at the home.

There is no indication in court records that anyone related to the eviction dispute contacted law enforcement about the matter, and Daytona Beach police have no record that a complaint was filed.

Volusia County Circuit Court Judge Wesley Heidt, who handled the eviction case, did not immediately respond to questions from News 6 inquiring about the questionable deed Walden filed in court papers.

At the same time Walden unsuccessfully attempted to evict the tenants, Walden was in the process of selling Gadson’s former home.

WALDEN SELLS GADSON’S FORMER HOME

Jeroen Reidel said he first met Walden in November 2020 through the owner of a body shop where he takes his cars for repairs.

Reidel, the director of a real estate investment holding company, was told that Walden was selling a property he had recently inherited from a family member.

“He said that Gadson was his uncle who left him the house,” Reidel said.

Shank insists Walden is not related to her late brother.

Reidel made an offer to purchase the Lewis Drive property on December 8, about a week before Daytona Beach police launched its forgery investigation into Walden.

The real estate investor said he was unaware of the police investigation until contacted by News 6 for this story.

Reidel was also unaware of Walden’s failed attempt to evict tenants from the Hillcrest Drive home.

“It took over four months before they were able to clear the title before we were able to close. Since then I have not been informed of any other issues prior to your email,” Reidel told News 6.

Reidel’s company, Petronas International LLC, purchased the property from Walden on April 23 for $70,000.

In the week following the sale, records show Walden paid off more than $3,000 in outstanding court costs that dated back to 2004 related to his prior convictions for cocaine possession, illegal firearms possession, resisting arrest and four misdemeanors.

Walden also paid an undisclosed amount related to two confidential family court support cases, records show.

Jeffrey P. Brock, an attorney who prepared the deed transferring the Lewis Drive home from Walden to Petronas International, said he was unaware of any questions about Walden’s right to sell the property.

“This was the first I heard of this and I have no further information on that allegation,” Brock said.

Likewise, a lawyer who represented Walden during the sale of the property said he did not question Walden’s status as the owner.

“His explanation about his relation to Mr. Gadson and background regarding his acquisition did not cause me any concern or skepticism,” said attorney Walter Snell.

WALDEN UNREACHABLE FOR COMMENT

Despite numerous attempts, News 6 has been unable to reach Walden for comment on this story.

News 6 has been unable to locate any attorneys who currently represent Walden, and voicemails left with Walden’s partners in his window tinting and music production businesses have not been returned.

On three occasions a News 6 reporter visited the home Walden has listed as his home address, but he was not present.

Roberta Sessoms, the owner of that home who identified herself as Walden’s grandmother, declined to provide Walden’s phone number but said she would contact her grandson on behalf of News 6.

Sessoms, whose home sits across the street and five doors down from Gadson’s former house on Lewis Drive, said she did not know Gadson.

Sessoms claimed she was unaware that her grandson had obtained her former neighbor’s home for free and then later sold it.

STATE ATTORNEY TO REVIEW CASE AFTER NEWS 6 INVESTIGATION

Nearly six months after Shank filed a complaint with police, the state attorney’s office filed a court document stating it would not prosecute Walden for uttering a forgery.

A spokesperson for State Attorney R. J. Larizza did not explain why the office declined to file criminal charges.

But after News 6 began inquiring about the closed case, the state attorney’s office announced it would take another look at the allegations against Walden.

“I can’t guarantee what the result of this will be, but we are going to review it again,” said state attorney spokesperson Bryan Shorstein.

“Wow. Thank God,” said Shank when told that her complaint would be re-examined. “At least they’re taking a second look at it.”

Meanwhile, Shank is still hoping to get her late brother’s home returned to the family.

For that to happen, Shank will likely need to retain a lawyer and file a lawsuit challenging Walden’s deed, according to attorneys familiar with her situation.

“I haven’t had a moment to even mourn the death of my brother,” Shank said. “I’ve had relatives say, ‘You can’t let that house go. It’s been in the family way too long.’”


About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades. Mike joined News 6 just as Florida officials began counting hanging chads in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election. Since then, he has covered some of the biggest news events in Central Florida.