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Hidden Makeshift Village is Scene of Stabbing - Woman Charged in Ex-Roommate's Death

June 30, 2002

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Hidden Makeshift Village is Scene of Stabbing - Woman Charged in Ex-Roommate's Death

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by Darla Carter, The Courier-Journal

For a handful of homeless people, it's been an oasis - several miles south of downtown Louisville shelters filled with men and women with no other place to go.

But Wednesday the wooded hideaway - where geese land by makeshift homes built well enough to resemble cabins - became a homicide scene.

Sylvia Knott, 43, was charged yesterday with fatally stabbing her former roommate, Terry Leach, 47, outside the gate of her home in the 4600 block of Poplar Level Road Wednesday night, Jefferson County police said.

Knott is in the Jefferson County jail and is scheduled to be arraigned this morning.

Knott told police that she stabbed Leach in self-defense with a pocketknife after he entered her home and attacked her, said Sgt. Robert Biven, a police spokesman. Leach died of a single stab wound in the chest, said Linda Miller, a deputy county coroner.

But after interviewing Knott and consulting with the county attorney's office, police decided to charge her with murder, Biven said. He declined to elaborate on the reasons.

Police learned of the stabbing after Knott called 911 about 8:10 p.m. Wednesday and said she had stabbed Leach. When police arrived at the agreed-upon meeting place, a nearby convenience store, Knott handed over the knife and led police to the site.

Biven said it was the first time that police had been called to the village, which includes at least three homes made of salvaged materials, such as wooden crates, cardboard and sheets of plastic. Some of the huts have multiple rooms, a clothesline, yards, small gardens, porches and fencing decorated with knickknacks.

"I was astonished that that was out there," Biven said. ". . . We were actually unaware that it existed."

The site is about 100 yards from any street, he said, and surrounded by thistles and other weeds several feet high that block it from the view of motorists and pedestrians.

Biven said Leach and Knott had lived together in one of the cabins until about six months ago when he moved out and built one of his own in the same village.

Police have not disclosed what might have caused the altercation. But John Webb, 49, who lives in another village dwelling, said Leach and Knott were friends of his who had been feuding in recent weeks over two dogs and a puppy.

When Leach moved out of the house, Knott kept the two older dogs, so Leach acquired a puppy that he soon grew to love, Webb said.

But he became enraged with Knott - and started making threats against her - after the puppy was mauled by one of the older dogs, Webb said.

"He loved that dog," Webb said.

The puppy, which was chewed up "pretty bad," died soon after the attack, Webb said, and is buried next to Leach's home. The grave is covered by neatly placed stones and marked with a cross adorned with roses.

"He was highly upset about that pup getting killed," Webb said. ". . . I guess he went over the edge."

Webb said he didn't understand the squabbling and tried to stay out of the pair's business.

"They've been together six or seven years," he said. "I never thought it would come to this."

Webb said he had met Leach at a shelter on Jefferson Street and had decided to move to the makeshift village to find some "peace and quiet."

The property has been a haven from busy homeless shelters and the city streets, where Webb had been harassed for being homeless, he said.

Leach had found the property, near the Camp Taylor Fire Department, more than a year ago, Webb said. Neither he nor police are certain who owns it.

"He found us an oasis here," Webb said.

He said Leach was illiterate and had a childlike quality that stemmed from mental illness. He also collected rocks and liked playing with toys, Webb said.

But Webb said his best trait was his sense of humor:

"He made me laugh every day. That's what I liked about him."

Webb is hoping to stay on at the property but worries that he might be forced to leave now that it's been disclosed. His cabin is about 5 weeks old, he said.

"If I have to, I'll move again," Webb said. "But I've got a lot invested here. . . . I'm not really homeless. I've got a home."

The first priority of the police is the stabbing, Biven said, but after that investigation is completed, "I'm sure they will check further into if the people are legally staying there and of course into zoning issues and things like that."

Meanwhile, the coroner's office is seeking Leach's next of kin. Relatives are asked to call 574-6262.

Staff writer Amy Bafumo contributed to this story.

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