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Nondescript home provided disguise for house of horrors

BLACKSTONE — From the outside, the home on St. Paul Street is the very definition of nondescript: small, gray, sided with aluminum, a grill and some chairs on the front porch. a hula-hoop and a basketball in the yard.

Beyond a roof that sags slightly, some weeds that need pulling, and a rank odor that neighbors say would sometimes waft from the home, there seemed to be little indicating the horrors authorities found inside this week: three dead infants and four other children living among vermin and feces.

Erika Murray, 31, the matriarch of the home, is now charged with a host of crimes in a case so profoundly disturbing that neighbors in this small town about halfway between Worcester and Providence are consumed with questions. How could this happen here, especially in a house just a few dozen yards from the town police station? How could this happen anywhere? And one question has been rising above the rest: Couldn't something have been done earlier?

Residents all over this town and especially those who live nearby wonder if there were clues that should have been heeded, some kind of action that should have been taken.

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"That's the conversation everyone is having," said Sarah Martin, 29, who lives around the corner from the home with her husband and 2-year-old daughter. "We walk by that house almost every day."

They had noticed that the house was a little run down, she said, but that's not uncommon in this blue-collar former mill town. "Now, I think a lot of us feel like there must have been signs. There must have been something we could have seen, but we weren't looking for anything like that. If we were to go around looking for things like that, it would be a sad way to live. But we need to because they can happen, and they did happen."

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Christine Ramla, 30, who is the co-owner of the Emmanuel Mart, about two blocks from the house, said customers have been streaming in with the same questions: Why didn't the neighbors notice anything? Why didn't anyone say anything about the smell? And is there anyone to blame?

"Every house has a story, but who knows" what goes on inside? Ramla said.

Dennis Willis, who lives a few blocks away on Main Street, said he walked by the house all the time and invariably smelled an odor that reminded him of dead animals. "Sure, I wish I could have done something," he said.

Jacqueline Castaldi Boudreau, who grew up in Blackstone and now lives in Rhode Island, came with her husband Friday to see the house and ask, "Why?"

"It's easy to think, 'It's not our concern,' " she said. "But it is our concern. People knew that house. They knew that odor. This is a wake-up call. If there is a concern, take that extra step and go to the authorities."

Doug Boxold, 27, who lives on the same street as the house, said his 13-year-old sister went to school with the oldest of the children seized from the home. "They hung out, and I know that the parents never let anyone come inside the house."

Several people said the school-age children always wore the same dirty clothes and smelled, and they questioned why that did not set off alarms.

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"The little boy would always wear a red shirt and walked up and down the street," said a neighbor who lives a few houses away and declined to give his name.

Kristin Smith, 25, moved in next door in May with her 5-year-old son. She said she frequently saw the family's dog in the backyard and occasionally saw Erika Murray smoking on her front porch while her children played on the sidewalk.

"She seemed quiet. She kept her head down," Smith said.

Nothing ever seemed out of the ordinary.

"Now I feel embarrassed," Smith said. "I feel like I was a part of it."

On Friday, car after car passed the home on a main thoroughfare in town, just steps from the municipal complex and athletic fields, as people came to see the house of horrors. Many took photos, including one woman in a minivan who accidentally drove up on the curb and nearly crashed into the house next door.

Several neighbors who live nearest the house posted "No Trespassing" signs on their homes as reporters and TV trucks descended on the area Friday. A teenage girl who lives next door walked through a crowd of cameras with a T-shirt pulled over her face.

At 3:30, a school bus dropped off kids a few feet away. Parents hugged their children. Cars came and went. And the house sat quiet, the definition of nondescript, save for the red caution tape on the door, reporters camped outside, and the horrible history of what happened inside when no one was watching.

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Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.