In the hours of angry exchanges that led up to the stabbing in a Pittston home that left a landlord with fatal injuries and a tenant running for his life, Lucinda Albano tried to find someone who could intervene.

She made dozens of calls, looking for a safe place to stay or someone who could mediate the dispute between the tenants and landlord, but she found nobody available.

Afraid for her safety, Albano ultimately decided to seek help from police. That decision, Albano believes, may have put the final steps in motion that set up the deadly exchange.

“I think what angered him the most was we called the police,” Albano said in a recent interview. “I wouldn’t have called police if we’d had somewhere else to call. That was our frustration, just trying to find help somewhere, and there was just nothing.”

By the end of that day, Aug. 15, the landlord, 51-year-old Dale Clifford, was dead of a stab wound delivered by Albano’s boyfriend, 28-year-old Jeff Krouse. The Maine Attorney General’s Office announced Oct. 6 it would not bring charges against Krouse after an investigation determined authorities could not disprove his claim to have acted in self-defense.

The stabbing was reportedly the culmination of a tense day of exchanges that Albano said was sparked by Clifford’s demand that the couple move out of the boarding house Clifford ran with his wife, Debora Clifford, with less than 24 hours’ notice.

Albano still believes that the Cliffords’ attempt at a hasty eviction was illegal, a contention that highlights a murky area of law hinging on whether an establishment is operating as a motel or boarding house with tenants.

“Tenants should remember that only a judge can evict them,” said Katie McGovern, an attorney for Pine Tree Legal, which represents tenants in disputes against landlords. “The landlord can give a notice to quit, but that’s only the first step in the eviction process. Tenants should not feel intimidated to leave when they have not been properly evicted.”

FORCED OUT

The massive Queen Anne-style home that Clifford owned – known as Moody Mansion or Konig Villa – is a landmark in the village of East Pittston. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it was built in 1890 as a summer home for a rich New York City couple, one of whom grew up in Pittston. The Cliffords, according to a neighbor, bought the house a few years ago and had worked to renovate it since.

Debora Clifford, contacted at the house Friday, declined to comment for this story.

Albano said she and Krouse moved in July to Maine from Pennsylvania so she could take a job with Crisis & Counseling. Albano and Krouse moved into the Cliffords’ boarding house and reached a handshake agreement to stay until the house closed in October, paying $225 every week. The situation was ideal, Albano said, because it would give them time to find a permanent apartment.

A short time later, according to Albano, the Cliffords sent Albano and Krouse a letter indicating they were closing the house early and asking the couple to be out at the end of September.

“We were fine with the first notice,” Albano said. “We were actively looking for an apartment.”

That letter with the revised eviction notice was dated Aug. 10, Albano said. She and Krouse agreed to the new eviction date and the relationship between the couple and the Cliffords appeared as cordial as ever.

“There was nothing,” Albano said when asked if there were signs of trouble before the deadly Aug. 15 confrontation. “We couldn’t figure out what was going on.”

Four days later, on Friday, Aug. 14, Dale Clifford approached Albano as she was doing her laundry to demand that she and Krouse leave within 24 hours.

“We didn’t have a place to go,” Albano said.

She went online that night to find out if Clifford’s demand was legal. She landed on Pine Tree Legal’s website and determined that even though she and Krouse were staying in a boarding house, they were actually tenants at will, rather than guests of a motel.

“The rooms were furnished, but we did our cleaning and we did our own laundry,” Albano said. “The renting wasn’t by the day; it was by the week.”

McGovern would not comment specifically on the Pittston case, but said the conditions of the rental agreement described by Albano, including the agreement to stay until October, support a claim that they were tenants at will.

That situation “does not sound like a hotel relationship,” McGovern said. “In most circumstances, boarding houses are landlord/tenant relationships.”

The difference is key when it comes to the eviction process. While a motel can ask a guest to leave at any time for nearly any reason, tenants at will, even though unprotected by a lease agreement, cannot be thrown out of their apartments without a process that includes a notice of termination of at least seven days.

If a tenant refuses to leave, the process moves on to court. The tenants must receive a summons at least seven days before the hearing, McGovern said. If the tenant loses in court, or fails to appear, the landlord is given a writ of possession, which the landlord serves to the county sheriff’s office. That, McGovern said, is the final stage of the process.

Albano said the Cliffords followed none of those steps. Armed with the research she conducted that Friday night in August, Albano said she awoke Saturday morning and asked Debora Clifford to see her innkeeper’s license, indicating the home was a hotel rather than a boarding house. Albano said she knew the Cliffords had no license.

“She had no idea what I was talking about,” Albano said.

Later that day, Albano said, the Cliffords posted handwritten signs with different rules, indicating the home was a motel. Albano believes the notices were created in response to her question. If the Cliffords were not running an inn, Albano knew, they had to give the tenants more than 24 hours to leave.

“I knew that wasn’t what they were doing,” Albano said. “That’s why I asked to see that.”

CALLS FOR HELP

Albano said she made 42 calls on Aug. 15 trying to resolve the differences with the Cliffords. Those calls went to various agencies, including Pine Tree Legal and Gardiner police, but all of the offices were closed because it was a Saturday. Albano said she called the Bread of Life homeless shelter in Augusta, but it was full. She said she even tried her employer, Crisis & Counseling.

“Nobody helped,” she said.

One of those calls was to 211, the state’s resource directory. The counselor suggested calling Maine State Police.

Emergency dispatch transcripts of those calls, provided to the Kennebec Journal in response to a Freedom of Access Act request, indicate Albano made nine calls between 9:20 a.m. and 6:10 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 15. One of those calls, at 11:49 a.m., shows a call was made but there is no text indicating there was a conversation.

“The recording contains an incoming call that goes unanswered at the time indicated,” Christopher Parr, attorney for the Maine State Police, wrote in an email. “Therefore, there is no call text, but just the ‘time stamp,’ in the transcript.”

But Albano said she did talk to the dispatcher during that call, which she said she made after Dale Clifford threatened her and her boyfriend. The missing transcript, Albano said, describes that confrontation.

“He was literally punching the car window and yelling, ‘Someone’s going to be dragged out of here today,'” Albano said. “That was before police ever arrived. We knew after that there was danger.”

After Maine State Police Trooper Seth Allen responded to the initial calls and left in the early afternoon, the pace of the couple’s calls for help accelerated as they alleged the Cliffords had threatened them and wouldn’t allow them to retrieve their belongings.

The couple pleaded with authorities to help after being told by the trooper the dispute was a civil matter.

“Is there literally anyone that can protect us and help us? Because I have a feeling these people are going to hurt us,” Albano told a police dispatcher shortly after 5 p.m. Later in the conversation: “I mean, we just moved up here from Pennsylvania. I’ve never been in a situation like this in my entire life. And I have never met people like this, and I have never been in any other situation where no one will help.”

Albano said she asked the trooper, Allen, to escort her into the house to gather her belongings. Allen, according to Albano, said he couldn’t because he had to respond to another call.

“If he would have just done that none of this would have happened,” she said. “We weren’t planning on staying there. We had a cat in the house. We needed to get her and we needed our clothing.”

McGovern said there are no scenarios that allow a landlord to seize control of property without returning it to the owners. If the tenant leaves property behind, the landlord has to provide a notice to the tenant and store it safely for a time to give the tenant time to retrieve it.

“The tenant retains the right to reclaim the property even after they no longer have the right to be there,” McGovern said.

At 5:10 p.m., Albano called again to say Clifford was harassing them and told them “we have three hours to get out” – though the couple had paid rent through the next day, according to Albano.

During this call with a dispatcher, Albano says Allen “said there was nothing he could do because it was a civil matter,” but that the trooper also had said the landlords at least needed to let them in to retrieve their belongings.

When Albano said that Clifford had threatened them, the dispatcher asked if Albano had told the trooper about that. Albano said they had, but repeated that the trooper said it was a civil matter.

“OK, if that’s what he said, then there’s nothing else I can do either,” the dispatcher said.

“So, do you actually have to be physically assaulted before you can do anything?” Albano asked.

“Of course you don’t, ma’am, of course you don’t. But I mean, if this has been handled by the trooper … .”

Allen’s shift ended at 4 p.m., so the dispatcher said another trooper would call them.

DEADLY ENCOUNTER

Less than an hour later, Albano called 911. The call was received by a Lincoln County police dispatcher, who contacted the Regional Communications Center in Augusta to say the female tenant – Albano – was saying her boyfriend “was being choked” and had stabbed a man and run off. Albano “also had a scuffle with the female landlord, and she’s rather upset and needs some help as well,” the Lincoln County dispatcher said.

When Albano was connected with Augusta dispatch, she said Krouse “was being strangled by the landlord” and “pulled the knife out and stabbed him and then ran for the door so he could get away from him.” Albano said she barricaded herself in the bedroom after she got away from the female landlord “because she said she was going to throw me down the steps.”

Albano later adds: “We’ve been calling, literally, you can check the records. We feared for our life because this man is crazy.”

Albano said she and Krouse slept in their car that night. They borrowed enough money from a family member and friend to stay in a hotel until Albano got paid. They have since returned to Pennsylvania.

“There was no staying up there after this happened,” she said.

Albano said she and Krouse are “doing as OK as we could be” since the stabbing, but she’s still too shaken to go back to work. She and Krouse greeted the announcement that the state would not seek charges with relief, but not surprise.

“We were pretty confident that’s how it was going to go because of the evidence,” Albano said. “We knew it supported our side. We’re happy that’s all over and it’s behind us.”