On February 15, 2021, a severe winter storm descended on Texas, one of several that battered the state and caused widespread power outages and hundreds of deaths that year. On or around that night, police allege, a resident of a Houston home murdered the landlord and took his place. Pamela Ann Merritt lived at the house at 605 West Clay St. with her boyfriend Michael Brown, he told police according to court documents, together with their 78-year-old landlord Colin Kerdachi. After Kerdachi's murder, his body was hidden under a set of stairs in the backyard, and Merritt and Brown immediately took over his duties renting the house to an unsuspecting tenant. Harris County records viewed by Motherboard even indicate that thousands of dollars in property taxes were paid in 2021 and 2022, after the landlord's death. The tenant, Tabatha Pope, was tricked into cleaning up evidence of the murder for a discount on her rent. Pope also discovered the former landlord's body and called police. Merritt was only just arrested last week, on August 18, more than two years after Kerdachi's body was discovered. According to court records, Pope was still living at the residence as of March 10 of this year. Pope told a local Fox affiliate that Merritt continued to live in the house until the summer of 2022. "It's still shocking. But I'm glad I was a part of it, or else she probably would've gotten away with it. Because nobody else seemed to care, at all," she told the outlet.
A listing for the Houston address on Apartments.com depicts a lovely multi-story home with flower bushes and a palm tree in the front yard. The listing advertises immediate move-in and references the deceased landlord as Colin and calls him a "helpful guy." The description of the rental unit states:
An affidavit filed by Houston homicide detective R. M. Watson details a disturbing and convoluted series of events leading to Merritt's eventual arrest. According to Watson, patrol officers responded to a burglary call at the residence on February 23, 2021. At that time, a resident identifying himself as Joe Guy said that he returned home for a trip to find Merritt in the residence, and that she would not leave. Merritt told Guy that she had murdered the landlord, he said, and he called police. A neighbor told officers that Kerdachi had not been seen since February 14. Merritt was taken to a hospital for psychological evaluation. Police were called again to the house on October 2 of that year—this time by Pope, by now a tenant. Pope told officers that "she had recently moved into the residence and was paying rent to [Merritt] and Brown." The pair offered her a discount on her rent if she agreed to clean the second and third stories, where she found "large pools and drops of blood," specifically near the bathtub. She also found a knife in the mailbox and a "bin with blood in it" in a crawl space, as well as personal items that belonged to Kerdachi. She told police officers that Merritt and Brown said that the previous landlord—"Colin"—had died at the hospital after falling on a sharp object. Pope called the police again months later, on December 6. This time, because she had found a body. The tenant told police in a later interview that she became suspicious that Merritt and Brown had something to do with Kerdachi's disappearance. She told the pair that they would have "more time in the house because the house would go to probate instead of foreclosure" if his body was discovered. Two days later on December 5, she said, Merritt and Brown began loudly discussing a dead dog under the backyard stairs. Merritt eventually led Pope to Kerdachi's corpse and pointed at it—she was "peppy," Pope told the local Fox affiliate—and both she and Brown maintained it was a dead dog. When she called police, Merritt and Brown went upstairs and began painting certain areas to hide blood stains, she said.
"BEAUTIFUL BIG ONE BEDROOM, WASHER DRYER, DISHWASHER, 26 CUB FT FRIDGE, HARDWOODS, GAS STOVE, CENTRAL AIR & HEAT! CEILING FANS, CROWN MOLDING, BIG BEDROOM, WALK IN CLOSETS, DOUBLE DOORS FROM BEDROOM & LOUNGE ONTO BIG WOOD DECK, OPEN BAR KITCHEN, CAN TALK WHILE COOKING! JUST A REALLY GREAT PLACE! ANOTHER SMALLER ONE BEDROOM AT REAR, SAME AMENITIES, DECK,FENCED IN, WITH LOCKUP GATE! SMALLER, ABOUT 650 SQ FT, BUT NICE! PLEASE CALL COLIN [HELPFUL GUY] MOVE IN STRAIGHT AWAY!"
After exiting the house "during the early morning hours" on December 7, Merritt and Brown were brought in for questioning by police. Merritt repeated the story that Kerdachi had fallen on a sharp object in February and was taken to the hospital, and that he told her to "take care of the house." She refused to acknowledge that Kerdachi was dead, saying he was probably alive in Africa, and that the corpse under the stairs was a dead dog. In his interview with police, Brown confirmed that he and Merritt lived at the residence with Kerdachi. He said that Merritt told him she wanted to "take over the house." He had heard Kerdachi leaving the house "the night of the freeze" on February 15, according to the affidavit, and he said that he had seen him with a stab wound, and that Merritt had taken him to the hospital. He maintained that the corpse was a dog. Both Merritt and Brown were released without charges. Two years later, on March 10, 2023, the affidavit states, detective Watson visited the house and learned that Tabatha Pope was still living there. She told her story to the detective, and a one-time friend of Merritt's also told Watson that she had confessed that Kerdachi's body was under the stairs. Police then obtained Kerdachi's phone records which showed that activity had ceased on the night of February 15, 2021, and bank records showed that his regular transactions stopped then as well. Kerdachi's cell phone, which was discovered at the residence in December 2021, was found in a cabinet but was waterlogged, indicating that it had been exposed to the elements. Brown was arrested on March 15, and he told police that Merritt had gone up alone to check on Kerdachi on that February night. He denied any knowledge of the murder or that he helped hide the body. On May 30, an arrest warrant was issued for Merritt.Merritt was arrested at a motel on August 18, the Houston Chronicle reported. She will return to court on November 1 and has been assigned a lawyer due to indigency, according to court records.
Property tax records for 605 W. Clay St. in Houston. Screengrab: Harris County