FRANKLIN, Mass. – You see those Fourth of July decorations that line the walkway to Building A at the Ledgewood Apartments?
Carol Bailey put those out. And it’s no coincidence that the best-kept gardens of the property surround the three-story brick building where she lives because she pulled the weeds.
If there’s anything going on in and around the courtyard at 599 Old West Central Street, she’s watching. At 67, the former college biology professor still has the keen eyes that could scan a classroom and spot a troublemaker in an instant.
So, when police said that Carlos Ortiz told them that “other football players” besides Aaron Hernandez crashed at the apartment next to hers, Bailey shakes her head.
She believes she would know – first because nothing escapes her as the unofficial neighborhood watchdog, and also, well, she would know a football player when she sees one. She rattles off New England Patriots players’ names and talks about OTAs (offseason training activities) and workouts from beneath her Red Sox cap.
“I never saw any other players around here,” Bailey said Wednesday, the day after Ortiz’s statements were revealed in an affidavit for a Florida search warrant. “It was mostly just Aaron Hernandez and George.”
George, she said, is Ernest Wallace, who used his middle name when he introduced himself to her when he moved into the apartment in May. Wallace, who “was always smiling,” never divulged his last name, she said, and told her that he was moving into the unit “with his cousin,” whom he never named.
The “cousin” turned out to be Aaron Hernandez.
Hernandez and Wallace, held without bail, have been charged in connection with the June 17 killing of Odin Lloyd, Hernandez’s associate and a 27-year-old semipro football player. Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to murder, and Wallace had pleaded not guilty to being an accessory after the fact.
The third defendant, Ortiz, is cooperating with police and has been charged with possessing an illegal firearm on the night of the murder. He, too, is being held without bail.
According to the Florida documents, Ortiz told police that Wallace told him that Hernandez killed Lloyd while the three men were urinating in an empty industrial park about a half-mile from Hernandez’s home in North Attleborough. Ortiz said he remained in the car, heard shots, but didn’t know who had shot Lloyd.
Bailey said she quickly realized the “cousin” ruse but figured Hernandez wanted privacy. After all, whenever he was at the complex, Hernandez had the hood on his sweatshirt pulled over his head. Hernandez’s presence, Bailey figured out, usually coincided with the Patriots’ OTAs.
On those days, Hernandez and Wallace would arrive between 4 and 4:30 p.m., she said, in a white Chevy Suburban, driven by Wallace. They would park next to the building and hang out in the apartment, but they were quiet tenants. Occasionally, they would sit on the small balcony and drink beer, said Chris Mongillo, who said he doesn’t remember seeing women at the apartment.
“It was more of a bachelor pad,” he said, but he doesn’t remember seeing any other Patriots on the complex’s small campus, tucked back into the woods.
Bailey said the unit was for sale for about a year, then slipped into foreclosure and was bought by a real estate company that rented it to Hernandez.
Mongillo guesses that the two-bedroom unit rented for roughly $1,200 a month. Most of the people who live in the apartments – 48 units in all, split evenly between one- and two-bedrooms condos – are owners, he said.
That’s why he bought his unit: Owners take better care of their places.
Ortiz told police that he and Wallace crashed at the apartment the morning that Lloyd was shot, but Bailey said that while she recalls activity at the apartment June 17 for the first time in two weeks, their behavior did not raise a red flag.
Still, when Hernandez, Wallace and Ortiz were arrested, Bailey kept wondering, “Who is George?”
When police came to the complex and showed her mug shots of Wallace, she said she didn’t recognize him, because he always was scowling in the photos and because they were old photos. He had an afro, and there was no gray in his hair. Smiling George had short salt-and-pepper hair. But when she saw footage of Wallace’s arraignment in Florida, she sat up.
“‘That’s him! That’s George!’” she said to herself. And then she told police.
Christine Matheson lives with her boyfriend in the unit below the one Hernandez rented, and she said the couple and her two children barely heard a peep: “No noise, no nothing,” she said.
Mourad Rokk, another tenant and a soccer fan, said people had to point out Hernandez to him. The apartment, he said, never was home to parties or rowdiness.
Pete Swenson, another condo owner, said the only thing that bugged him about Hernandez was when the player’s Suburban spilled into two parking spots.
The apartment is empty again, and when the investigation is over Bailey is hoping for neighbors who are just as quiet as Hernandez but haven’t been charged with murder. She can handle the attention, she said, but the neighbors are getting a little irritated by the swarms of cops, media and curious drive-by fans.
“We’ve had enough excitement,” she said. “We want the quiet back.”
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