As new doubts have been raised about the veracity of the Balloon Boy saga, the family in question's former L.A. landlord says the Heenes skipped town in 2007 owing $6,000 in rent and damages.
Photographer Carrie Cavalier describes the family of 6-year-old Falcon Heene, who was believed to be adrift in a runaway weather balloon yesterday, as "weird." She says the clan, in town for a year to follow its Hollywood aspirations, left her Burbank rental property in filthy condition: White carpet was blackened, roaches roamed, mold festered and dog feces lined the yard, she said.
"They're weird people," Cavalier told LA Weekly. "I feel bad for the kids."
The photog revealed her experiences with the family as new questions were raised about the veracity of Falcon's improbable journey yesterday -- a story that went viral as television news stations broke in with live coverage of the silver flying saucer as it drifted above Colorado, where the Heenes now live. The boy was later found safe hiding at home -- he had never been aboard the contraption.
In an interview today with CNN's Wolf Blitzer the reporter asked the boy why he didn't emerge when family members frantically called his name to see if he was on the balloon. "You had said we did this for a show," he said to his father in response to the query. This led to speculation that the family is shopping for a new reality show outlet. It also led a local sheriff in Colorado to re-double his inquiry into the matter.
The five-member family had appeared twice on the ABC's Wife Swap, and Richard Heene had longstanding acting aspirations. That's how he met Cavalier, who first did head shots for him in 1993. They kept in touch and, in 2006, she asked Richard Heene, a sometime handyman, if he could do some work on her Burbank rental. He asked if he could rent the place, and she said yes.
"That was my first mistake," she said. "When he was first moving in, the kids were in the back of the car without a car seat. The kids were not very well supervised, Very scary."
A year later, when the family planned to move out, Cavalier said she brought a male friend with her to do a walk-through evaluation of the property because she was afraid of Richard Heene. At the time, she says, the actor threatened her and had his wife videotape the walk-through. She says the family left owing her about $6,000 in back rent and damages.
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"He has anger issues," she says of the father, "and the kids are afraid of him."
She described wife Mayumi Heene as submissive to her husband -- so much so that when she tried to give her clothes to dress her up in contrast to her usual uniform of sweats, he intervened and denied the gift.
Cavalier says that the family skipped town owing money not only to her but to others, including an actor who's a mutual friend. She believes the Balloon Boy episode was a publicity stunt.
"He's a shyster," the photographer says. "I know he really loves his kids. But I think he's an opportunist."