Back porch

Marilyn Hanks leads a reporter onto her back porch, explaining all the stacked items, trash and debris that cover the entire porch. A narrow path between piles leads inside the home.

A sad situation involving the plight of a woman and her condemned property at times is made even worse by some on local social media pages by certain individuals and groups spreading misinformation and making false claims.

It happened again during Tuesday's Mineral Wells City Council meeting when Mayor Christopher Perricone called Lann Murphy to the podium to speak about the city's case against Marilyn Hanks and her home and property on S.W. 14th Street.

This is a copy of the permanent injunction obtained by the City of Mineral Wells against Marilyn Hanks, signed by 29th State District Court Ju…

With the Index's live broadcast of the meeting airing, Murphy argued and made a false claim that 29th State District Court Judge Michael Moore ordered the city to turn Hanks' water service on and that the city was refusing to comply with the judge's order. Murphy demanded answers from council as to why his questions sent in an email to city officials and council members about the pending litigation went unanswered.

In fact, in April hearings before Judge Moore, attended and covered by the Index, the judge never ordered her water turned on and therefore no such order exists in writing – something Murphy did not and could not produce at Tuesday's council meeting.

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The living room

Marilyn Hanks explains why her living room is covered and stacked nearly to the ceiling with possessions. She said much of it belongs to her lifelong friend, Clay Smith, who lived with her until recently.

Moore upheld and made permanent an injunction filed by the City of Mineral Wells against Hanks and her property citing numerous code violations for trash and debris, lack of city utility service, occupying a residence without a certificate of occupancy and finding her manufactured home damaged beyond its value from the storage of junk, a rat infestation and lack of water service and areas of human waste in the yard. A neighbor claimed Hanks was pouring buckets of human waste along a fence line – a claim Hanks denies.

Hanks, 77, has had more than 50 citations filed against her regarding her property and was even jailed once for contempt of a municipal court order.

The judge at one point asked Hanks why she never had water service at her residence. Hanks, an elderly woman in poor health and with a hearing impairment, told the judge – as she had previously explained to the Index and to others – she voluntarily went without water service for years out of concern that if there was a leak in her plumbing she would not hear it.

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Under the carport

More scrap, trash and other items are piled under a carport next to a storage building on Marilyn Hank's southwest Mineral Wells property. Somewhere buried in there is a vehicle. This photo was taken in December 2017.

Moore granted city its requested permanent injunction in full, giving the city permission to remove all structures and items from Hanks' property. That decision was appealed to the Texas 11th Court of Appeals in Eastland. However, the appeal was recently dropped and the city continues to contemplate its next steps on enforcing the injunction.

"With all due respect to Mr. Murphy, the judge never ordered the water to be turned on," said City Finance Director John Moran, who oversees the city's code enforcement and building compliance department. "All he said is, 'Why haven't you tried to turn the water on?' I have the order right here. I am not going to debate with Mr. Murphy but that is not what the judge ordered."

Murphy wanted to know why his email inquiries, which reportedly included a video, to city officials went unanswered.

"I didn't respond because lawfully I could not," said Councilman Doyle Light, referring to the case being in ongoing litigation. Council has continued to meet in closed sessions about the case, including a 90-minute executive session Tuesday.

Councilwoman Tammy Underwood said she was unable to open the attached video in Murphy's email.

A group of citizens led by Vyncent Hemphill and Carole Rice led a clean up effort outside Hanks' home which made tremendous improvements in the property's appearance. Hanks also made efforts to clean and remove mounds of junk and debris inside the home.

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The bathroom

Marilyn Hanks shows her bathroom and commode to show she is not as messy as some might think. She said her commode is kept clean with bleach. She flushes it when used with rainwater she catches outside in barrels. She doesn't have city water and sewer service, and officials say she and her roommate have used the bathroom and dumped human waste in the backyard.

Despite the property's cleanup, issues cited go beyond the massive collections of junk and detail the condition of the residential structure and plumbing and electrical issues that happened over five years of the conditions in which Hanks lived there along with her friend, a deaf mute who was removed from the home by adult protective services.

Supporters of Hanks say her home is in good condition – better than many others in her neighborhood that are occupied.

Hanks said she felt she was not treated fairly throughout the legal proceedings, going through most of them without legal representation until a request for a new hearing was heard by Judge Moore, and denied. Moore arranged for a hearing impaired translator to assist Hanks.

Brian Shoemaker asked Murphy if an email from council members saying they were unable legally to respond about the case would have satisfied him.

"Or would you have just gone on social media saying we won't respond," Shoemaker asked.

"Any communication is better than no communication," Murphy responded.

Murphy asked council to suspend its rules and have the city attorney allow council to discuss the case publicly.

"With all due respect I am going to have to discuss this with you after the meeting," said City Attorney Andy Messer, of the private firm Messer-Rockefeller-Fort that contracts with Mineral Wells for its legal representation.

Messer suggested the exchanges between Murphy and city officials was in possible violation of Texas' open meetings laws since the topic was not a posted agenda item and was raised by Murphy during the citizens comments portion of the meeting.

Perricone allowed the exchanges to continue, stating at the end, "I would just say whether the judge ordered it or not, it would be wise to turn the woman's water on."

Currently the general manager and editor for the Mineral Wells Index, I have worked as a writer/editor/photojournalist since the late 1980s.