Investigators believe a fire that burned through a house on Calle Angelo near Ranchos de Taos Saturday (Feb. 2) was intentionally set by the home’s prior owner.
Patricia A. Gootgeld told a Taos County Sheriff’s deputy, after she had been read her rights, that she intentionally set the blaze in an attempt to destroy it, said Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe.
As the fire burned inside the house Saturday, a neighbor found Gootgeld, 59, outside the home, soaked to the skin and freezing. She was transported first to Holy Cross Hospital in Taos and then to Albuquerque for mental health services, according to Hogrefe.
A Taos Magistrate Court warrant charging Gootgeld with one count of arson, a second degree felony, was issued Monday (Feb. 4). Fire and law enforcement investigators found multiple places where the fire had been ignited in rooms where papers, trash and other items were piled high.
Gootgeld lost the home in a foreclosure and was ordered by district court to vacate the property. A sheriff’s deputy served a final eviction notice on Gootgeld Nov. 13.
It was the latest chapter in a sad story that has unfolded for years.
A fire and a cry for help
Jed Noble was barely awake Saturday morning (Feb. 2) at 6 a.m. when he heard his dog Bear barking outside of his Llano Quemado home.
His wife had let the dog outside and couldn’t get her to come back in. “Normally she would come right back,” Noble said.
Suddenly his wife, Shelli, told him she could hear someone calling for help.
Noble got up, pulled on snow pants and a coat and grabbed a flashlight. He told Shelli to call 911.
He went outside into the still deep snow and headed for the voice. “Where are you?,” he called.
A woman’s voice just kept calling for help.
He finally saw her over the fence that separated their two houses on Calle Angelo. She was kneeling in the snow, calling desperately for help.
When he finally reached her, “she was dressed in winter boots, jeans. She was soaking wet and there was ice on her glasses,” he said.
The woman was Patricia Gootgeld, who had lived in the nearby house until November when she was evicted under court order after the bank foreclosed on her home.
Noble had never met her in the seven months he and his family had been renting their house. His wife, he said, had met Gootgeld once.
He didn’t know that she apparently had gone back to the house after she had been evicted and was living there off and on. He never saw her.
“I feel bad that I didn’t know she had been living there without electricity or water,” Noble said.
After he found her, Gootgeld kept grasping at his arm, Nobel said, “as though for comfort.”
A Taos County sheriff’s deputy arrived and helped Noble get Gootgeld to her feet and over to a the deputy’s warm car. His wife stood holding some coats to put around her.
Then Jed Noble smelled smoke. He could see smoke pouring out of what he thought was the home’s chimney.
He went to a door and could hear a fire burning inside. Thinking it was in the fireplace, he pulled the door open.
Flames licked the inside of the house.
“Better call the fire department,” he yelled at the deputy.
A troubled life
Until the fire, the inside of Gootgeld’s former house had cans and books and boxes and asundry other items stacked high, according to several people and photos of the home’s interior.
They were her belongings, the belongings of someone who, by her own account, had once lived a financially successful life.
Gootgeld purchased the home for $230,000 in 2007, according to court documents, a year before the economy crashed in the great recession. Her loan was held initially by Countrywide Bank and Countrywide Home Loans, companies later caught up in the subprime mortgage debacle that in part lead to the crash.
In an interview with The Taos News before December, Gootgeld detailed some of her problems, saying she had lost money after the 2008 economic crash, become ill, and fallen behind on her house payments, but kept intending to catch up.
Her last payments on the house were around 2011, she said.
Bank of New York Mellon, which by then owned the note on the house, foreclosed.
In an interview at the time, she told The Taos News, "I'm terrified to eat. I was squeaking by on $200 a month. When I got the foreclosure notice, I thought, 'this is it. I'm going to live in my car and die.' Then I got the letter about the food stamps."
Gootgeld had received a letter denying her food stamps because she was receiving Social Security disability for a medical condition.
She said she had been in and out of treatments for cancer, which meant long drives to either Santa Fe or Albuquerque. She thought the bank had been unfair and thought she might have a chance of convincing a court of the same.
That didn’t happen.
A realtor given the responsibility by the bank for selling Gootgeld’s house offered her money to get into another rental. Neighbors and Heart of Taos offered her hotel rooms. “I’d rather freeze to death in my car,” Gootgeld said in December. “It’s my house.”
She said she wasn’t prepared to back down, no matter what the court or the bank said.
She had a white hatchback piled high with her stuff and a cat in a kennel in the front seat when she stopped by The Taos News. She said Heart of Taos, a nonprofit Taos organizaton, had given her a warm sleeping bag.
Gootgeld had enough money to eat on and buy gas for the car, she said. But the main point for her, she said, was she wanted to be in the house, her house, that she loved.
She threatened to take her own life if she couldn’t live there.
Deputies checked on her welfare.
Sometime in the last few weeks, she apparently got back into the house on Calle Angelo and started living there again.
Then the house sold through auction.
The court and bank gave her 30 days to remove all her belongings from the house.
She asked for an emergency injunction in Taos District Court in early January. Her attorney withdrew as counsel. Her injunction request was denied.
The buyers were supposed to close on the house Monday (Jan. 4).
A big dumpster was parked outside of the house over the weekend, ready for someone to clean out the remnants of Gootgeld’s life.
And then, according to the Sheriff's Office, Gootgeld confessed to an investigator later: She set the house on fire.
A ruined house
Firefighters arrived not long after and fought to save the three bedroom, two bathroom, 1,600-square-foot house that sits next to a two car garage and a small studio apartment.
By the time they were done, the roof had several large holes from where firefighters had to break through and spray water.
The adobe walls didn’t burn, but were blackened by smoke and soaked.
Gootgeld’s belongings lay in ashes inside.
Correction: The original version of this story had the incorrect spelling of Jed Noble's name.