Crime & Courts

Charlotte landlord gunned down during eviction

Neighbors who watched as their landlord was shot to death expressed disbelief Wednesday about an eviction that ended in homicide in their Grier Heights neighborhood.

Jacob Massachi died Tuesday after trying to evict Shawn Howard and his pregnant girlfriend from a brick house off Monroe Road, police and neighbors said. The shooting ended weeks of turmoil between the men as neighbors looked on from their porches in the late afternoon sun.

Massachi, known to residents as “Mr. Jacob, the rent man,” had told the couple they had to move out and Tuesday was their last day. He'd left a note on their door weeks earlier because they hadn't paid all of their rent, neighbors said.

About 4 p.m. Massachi and an employee began hauling furniture, clothes and other belongings from Howard's home in the 3000 block of Zircon Street, they said.

Howard, 26, who was home at the time, left briefly and was seen talking with a friend down the street. He reappeared about 4:45 p.m. with a jacket draped over his forearm, neighbors said.

He approached Massachi, 53, who was sitting in the driver's seat in his parked mini van, they said. One neighbor told the Observer that she heard a man who was helping Massachi say: “Please, don't kill him.”

Moments later, one loud “boom” filled the street, a neighbor said.

Glass from the van's window shattered, spilling onto the sidewalk in front of Howard's house. Massachi slumped over the wheel.

“I ain't slept all night,” one resident told the Observer Wednesday. “I put my ice box up against my door in case someone wants to mess with me … It could happen to us.”

Howard was arrested late Tuesday night and charged with murder. He was being held in the Mecklenburg County Jail without bond.

Howard has no arrest record in North Carolina, but spent time in a New York prison on felony charges of second-degree gang assault, records show.

He had lived in the Zircon Street apartment for at least five months.

On Wednesday, friends and family erected a small memorial where Massachi died – decorating it with candles, flowers, a teddy bear and T-shirt with “RIP Jacob” written across the front.

“Jacob was a good man,” said Christopher Howard, a longtime friend (no relation to the suspect) who once worked for Massachi. “Just for someone to shoot him over a little bit of money is senseless.”

A married father of two, Massachi was born in Iran and emigrated from Israel in 1970. He will be buried at Hebrew Cemetery at 9 a.m. Friday.

Massachi had numerous rental houses in some of Charlotte's low-income neighborhoods.

Residents said he often worked deals and gave tenants breaks on their rent when they couldn't pay.

“He'd say: ‘Bring me what you can, we'll work with it,'” Christopher Howard said.

Documents show Massachi had been taken to court by the city in the past. But officials on Wednesday couldn't say whether he had been cited for housing code violations for 12 properties he owned.

But in the 1990s, neighborhood leaders called Massachi a slumlord and criticized him for being an absentee landlord in west Charlotte's Reid Park where he had owned about 10 percent of the property. Tenants had complained about leaking roofs, rotting floors and birds nesting in ceilings.

City officials at the time said Massachi mostly met minimum codes and he defended himself saying he worked hard to maintain his properties.

Grier Heights residents on Wednesday remembered the good things he did for them.

For Shawn Howard, Massachi had taken partial rent for July and had given him 10 more days to pay before he showed up on Tuesday.

“He worked with anybody any way he could,” Christopher Howard said.

-- Charlotte Observer

Staff writer Victoria Cherrie and researcher Maria David contributed.

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