This storyline surfaces in 1993, when Waas’ soon-to-be ex-wife petitioned D.C. Superior Court for a civil protection order against him. According to court records, the woman alleged a “pattern of harassment,” including an April 1993 episode in which Waas left “shredded money” in her mailbox. He made multiple visits to her office in the ensuing months, and on one occasion she was forced to call a security guard to escort him out.
In July, according to a court document, Waas also left a message with the woman’s divorce lawyer stating that he “had filed a lawsuit alleging defamation of character against [her].” In fact, the document states, “no such lawsuit had been or has ever been filed.”
According to court documents, the woman alleged that Waas’ incessant calls forced her to change her work number and get an unlisted home number. After Waas found her unlisted number and called her, she says, she’d had enough. Those calls landed Waas in court on Oct. 5, 1993, before Superior Court Judge Peter H. Wolf on contempt charges. The judge found Waas guilty of violating the stay-away orders between him and his wife.
Wolf sentenced Waas to two days in D.C. Jail. On his jail intake form, according to law enforcement records, Waas listed his occupation as clerical/sales.
Waas’ problems spilled out into his Adams Morgan neighborhood in the mid-’90s. Daniel Funderburk lived next door to Waas in a condo development on the 1600 block of Belmont Street NW. On a Tuesday afternoon in December 1994, he recalls that the reporter stopped him in his doorway. Waas ranted that Funderburk’s TV was too loud.
According to an interview and a letter filed in court, Funderburk let Waas into his apartment to demonstrate that his neighbor was mistaken. Once inside, Waas began demanding that the TV be moved. He asked Waas to leave.
About 20 minutes later, as Funderburk left his apartment to go to work, he found Waas standing in the doorway with “his fists clenched and raised in a fighting position.”
“It was as if he had been standing there the whole time,” Funderburk says. Funderburk wrote that Waas shadowed him for two blocks, to the intersection of 16th Street and Florida Avenue NW. The whole way, Waas “harassed and threatened” his neighbor. “It was unsettling,” Funderburk says. “He just said that I should be careful and that things might disappear.”
Waas eventually moved a few houses down the block. There, it was the sound of a door sticking that got him going. The offending noise came from the home of Anthony J. Roccograndi and a friend, who had plugged a crack in their door with felt. When they closed the door, it pinched the frame.
“He complained that we were slamming the door on purpose to bother him,” Roccograndi says. “He called, knocked on the door. I spoke with him several times. I assured him it was nothing intentional.…He’d accept it one time. And the next time he’d come up at me like he was my worst enemy. He’d start screaming and cursing.”
Roccograndi was in his early 60s at the time. “He encountered me on the street, and he put his fists up and said, ‘Come on! Come on!’” he says, recalling another Waas run-in. “I didn’t want to get into any trouble, so I stayed away from him—10 feet away. But he was bouncing around like he was in a boxing ring.”
From inside his imaginary ring, Roccograndi says, Waas shouted “every word in the book” and wished cancer on him.
Late at night, Waas would still be bouncing and stomping—this time on the floorboards above Roccograndi’s condo.
In a June 1995 letter, a manager for the condo complex fined Waas’ landlord $50 for his tenant’s “intentional harassment.” The letter read, in part: “Too many incidents of this type with too many of his neighbors have occurred over too long a period of time for the Association to doubt who is at fault in these continuing confrontations. They must stop.”
Roccograndi decided to try to placate his unruly neighbor. He’d go up to the reporter’s apartment and spend time with him. He’d wade through what he described as a “pigsty” strewn with piles of dirty dishes and papers and sit and talk. They’d discuss stocks and stories Waas was interested in.
The détente lasted about six months. Suddenly, the door’s noise roused Waas again. “Nothing had changed,” Roccograndi says. “We were closing the door the same way we had for the last six months.…[I] told him we’d been friends now, we haven’t changed anything.”
“‘I know what you’re doing,’” Roccograndi recalls Waas saying. “‘You’re trying to drive me crazy.’”
In an affidavit filed in Superior Court, another neighbor stated: “One Christmas day [Waas] engaged in a two-hour tirade in my home about noise from [Roccograndi’s] unit. I informed him that no one was at home in the unit.”
On Sunday, July 26, 1998, at about 1:15 p.m., according to a letter Roccograndi sent to the condo board as well as interviews with two witnesses, Waas appeared at his neighbor’s door and tried to enter. His co-tenant’s niece, Roccograndi wrote, attempted to close the door, to no avail. “Mr. Waas pushed the door several times until he forced his way into our residence.”
Roccograndi went on to write that he and his fellow tenant “ordered Mr. Waas to leave the house. He refused several demands and finally backed out of the house and half way up the stairs leading to the walkway. He then proceeded to offer to fight me, which I declined.” The niece called 911.
Waas again offered to fight Roccograndi, according to an affidavit, bellowing obscenities and boasts “that no one could stop him.” At that point, other neighbors put their bodies in front of Waas to prevent him from going after Roccograndi. The police showed up and ordered Waas to stay away from his neighbor. The cops then pressed Roccograndi to file charges, but his female housemate feared Waas would retaliate.
“I wanted to go all the way, but I would never forgive myself if I went against her wishes and something happened,” Roccograndi says.
The next day, July 27, Roccograndi and two others filed paperwork for a restraining order against Waas in D.C. Superior Court. They asked the court to keep Waas from harassing them with “night and day” phone calls and confrontations, as well as “peeping” into their window. The court complied, granting a temporary restraining order against Waas.
Waas mounted a vigorous defense, arguing that Roccograndi had been the harasser. “In one twenty-four hour period alone, Mr. Roccograndi made more than forty-three telephone calls to the defendant’s residence,” Waas wrote to the court. Waas went on to state that he taped 27 of those calls and deposited them with the police department.
As to the Peeping Tom allegation, Waas denied it but noted that “the defendant’s windows oversee a public walkway.”
Roccograndi admits that he adopted a strategy of out-Waasing Waas. But he denies threatening him. “I called him 30 to 40 times constantly just to get his goat,” he explains. “This guy is capable of anything unless you confront him.”
On Sept. 24, 1998, a Superior Court judge signed off on an agreement that both sides had to stay away from each other: “No contact by phone, in writing or in any other fashion.” But by that time, Roccograndi’s efforts to get rid of Waas had been rendered moot.
About a year earlier, in October 1997, Waas’ landlord, Carlos Humud, had filed to evict the reporter, citing unpaid rent. Waas eventually reached a settlement with Humud under which he’d leave the condo in November 1998.
Soon after Waas vacated the Belmont Street dwelling, Humud found that he had left behind about 78 pieces of chewing gum spackled to the floors of the condo, according to Humud and work records.
“It was his way of getting back at me,” Humud explains.
Waas didn’t deny the events involving his ex-wife and his Adams Morgan neighbors, but he points out they took place a long time ago. “My divorce was thirteen years ago…the incident you allegedly write about something [on Belmont Street] is I assume eight to ten years ago,” writes Waas via e-mail. “Do you have any examples of any purported behavior recently? Do you have any example of anything like that within the last ten years? Even five?”
Waas hauled his conspiracy theories to a more prominent roost, settling on 30th Street NW in Georgetown. The house had pink bricks and a blue door, hardwood floors, high ceilings, and three bedrooms. The rent would be $2,900 per month.
From this headquarters Waas evidently planned to launch a book career, including a definitive take on President Clinton’s impeachment and a more personal narrative: the story of his fight against colon cancer and his malpractice suit against George Washington University Medical Center. Waas claimed that his doctors had misdiagnosed his condition, and a D.C. jury agreed, awarding him $650,000 in 1992. The ordeal convinced Waas that he had a duty to write about the hospital. In an e-mail to a colleague years later, Waas wrote, “I think there are undoubtedly a lot of patients whose lives are at risk at G.W., who are probably going to die before I finish my project. Those are human souls who are going to forever perish from the earth.”
Waas’ reporting materials filled the foyer, the empty dining room, the hallways, and kitchen of his Georgetown home, according to Bryan Keefer, his research assistant at the time. If he wanted to sit on his couch and watch TV, he’d have to share it with overflowing stacks of paper. If he wanted to sleep, he’d have to navigate through newspapers and legal documents.
Editor’s Note: Months ago, when this article was still a draft, it got Washington City Paper and its staff nominated as finalists for “Worst People of 2006” by Daily Kos. Our subject, Murray Waas, has complained publicly and privately that the authors are prejudiced against him, are incapable of writing fairly and accurately about him, and have acted unprofessionally and unethically in gathering their material. He has also disputed many of the facts presented in the article.