The day Beverly Carter disappeared after meeting a supposed prospective buyer at a vacant home in rural Scott, Ark., will be remembered by REALTORS® around the nation as a horrible one — a day when the real estate industry lost a star in its constellation.
But Susan Vaught chooses to remember what was good about that day — a day full of joy for Carter, 49, who was expecting to have one of her grandchildren visit for the weekend. It was around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, just hours before Carter’s fateful showing, when she and Vaught, whose offices were side-by-side at brokerage Crye-Leike’s North Little Rock branch, were talking about family.
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“She was talking about how excited she was,” recalls Vaught, executive broker of Carter’s Crye-Leike office. “Her grandchildren were the highlight of her life. … It was a happy day. [Carter] had won $100 at an open house raffle — it was just a good day.”
Later that evening, Carter went missing and didn’t show for two other appointments she had scheduled. A massive search involving hundreds of volunteers ensued for four days, only to end in tragedy Tuesday morning when Carter’s body was found in a shallow grave in a rural area outside Little Rock. Arron Lewis, 33, a suspect in Carter’s death, reportedly admitted to police that he kidnapped Carter from the home she was showing him on Thursday. However, he did not admit to killing her and pleaded not guilty to capital murder charges in court. He told reporters that Carter was targeted because she was a “rich broker” and a “woman who worked alone.” If he is found guilty in Carter’s death, Lewis faces the death penalty.
“We have a very empty feeling in our hearts,” Vaught says of Carter’s colleagues, friends, and family. “We carry with us her memory, her love, everything she was to us.”
A Love for Real Estate
Vaught remembers Carter as one of the most highly skilled real estate professionals she had ever known. Carter came to the business 10 years ago, delving into it as a means to move on from the death of one of her three sons, who was killed in a car accident one year prior.
“Real estate was the avenue for her to get busy,” Vaught says. “But her faith as a Christian woman was her rock.”
Carter quickly became a top producer in her office, Vaught adds, calling her “the epitome of a REALTOR®.”
“She was very caring and very, very professional in dealing with every client, every colleague, every affiliate,” Vaught says. “This is a job that she loved — it wasn’t work to her. When she got to know a client, they really knew her. It was a lasting relationship that carried on for years. It was forever.”
She became very successful in real estate and was known as “the one to beat” in the office, Vaught says. “We all idolized her. Her secret was that warm, friendly person that she was.”
Despite the circumstances surrounding the end of her life, Carter took the safety of agents seriously, Vaught says. She remembers a sales meeting years ago where Carter told everyone, “Never, ever, ever get in a prospective client’s vehicle.”
“Safety is the No. 1 thing in our office, and we are always looking out for each other,” Vaught says. “Whatever happened to [Carter], it wasn’t because she wasn’t being careful.”
‘A Smile for Everyone’
John Cohen, a former neighbor of Carter’s, knew her for 24 years, and she was the first to welcome him to the neighborhood when he moved to the small town of Sardis, Ark. (Carter’s family has since moved.) He remembers parties in their front yard where they would talk about their children.
“Beverly was an angel on earth,” Cohen says. “She always had kind words for everybody and a smile for everyone. … The only way we’ve been able to cope with this is to know that she’s not in any pain anymore and she’s with her son now.
“The way that she treated her children — those boys grew up to be great young men,” Cohen continues. “She was always doting on those boys.”
Though Cohen says he didn’t know much about her professional life, he says that it was clear her personality was the key to her success in real estate.
“You automatically wanted to trust her, and you knew she wanted to do the best for you,” Cohen says. He adds that he never knew Carter to be weary or afraid of any circumstances she faced in the field. “I never knew her to be scared of anything. She trusted everybody. I guess she never really thought there was evil in people.”
Death Not in Vain
Carter’s death has sparked a nationwide debate among real estate professionals about how to be safer on the job. Several commenters on a REALTOR® Magazine story about Carter relayed concerns about current practices and even told of their own personal cautionary tales.
“After reading this news, I understand what happened to me at an open house this past Saturday,” writes Maribell Cruz, an agent with Watson Realty Corp in Kissimmee, Fla. “I went to the second floor to close the windows and forgot to lock the front door. I hear somebody calling, and when I start going downstairs, I see this guy blocking my pathway at the end of the stairs. I got so scared, and he started saying, ‘Why do you leave your stuff on top of the counter alone with the door open? Do you know that you can be kidnapped? Do you have a firearm with you?’ And then he said, ‘You are lucky. I am just a home inspector who wants to leave you my information.’ He was giving me a lesson.”
The news of Carter’s death prompted Jeff Keehfuss, SRS, broker-owner of Montrose Real Estate Group in Montrose, Colo., to rewrite his firm’s safety procedures.
“When this all happened, I spent my morning updating the policy,” he says. “We had a sort of boilerplate policy that said, you know, be careful, notify someone else about where you’re going — it was pretty standard language that would be in most people’s policies. But after the Beverly Carter case, we realized that we had to be much more specific in the language.”
His new policy instructs all agents to conduct the first in-person meeting with a prospective client in the office, where agents should make copies of the clients’ photo IDs and document the make, model, and license plate numbers of their cars. The policy also directs agents to use their own vehicles when going out on showings and to call the office when arriving and leaving listings using certain safety code phrases. For example, saying “I am having a problem getting in the house” would be the code phrase to indicate to office personnel that they should call authorities.
“We need to be overly cautious to start out,” Keehfuss says. “Everybody’s going to have to change the way they do things. We can all do right by Beverly by playing it safer when we’re on the job.”
Vaught says her and Carter’s local board, the North Pulaski Board of REALTORS®, is drawing up new safety procedures for members in light of Carter’s death. The Arkansas Association of REALTORS® also says on its website that it will be implementing statewide safety procedures in the coming weeks.
“It’s got to be a big, loud voice so that never, ever, ever will Beverly Carter have died in vain,” Vaught says. “We won’t be Pop-Tarts anymore. Practitioners need to do things more from an ‘on-my-schedule’ kind of way, and John Q. Public is just going to have to understand that.
“We want to carry the torch on for Beverly. She was a landmark.”