Scene of the Crime

How an unsolved murder in Lynnfield sparked a war over Airbnb.
lynnfield airbnb

Photograph by Tony Luong

It was destined to be the party of the year. Several men from the South Shore had rented a Lynnfield mansion, away from the usual chaos of Boston’s clubs and bars, where there promised to be a pool, a hot tub, DJs, and an open bar. Thirty-three-year-old Keivan Heath couldn’t wait. He’d heard about the party from a friend, and for days his excitement bordered on anxiety—he even texted his inner circle to ask what shoes to wear. Options included a pair of blue high-tops and floral-patterned sneakers. The verdict was unanimous: the blue ones. Heath was ready to go.

A stout 5-foot-7 with thick biceps and a muscular chest, Heath pulled on a black shirt, a pair of black pants, and a blue-and-red baseball cap. It was hours before sundown on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend when Heath’s ride arrived at his mother’s home in Randolph. Once they hit the road, Heath lit a blunt and took out his phone to film himself and the driver, Anthony, getting roasted on their way to an epic bash.

They arrived around 7 p.m. and walked up the long driveway, which was already lined with cars. At first glance the party lived up to the hype—a row of foil-covered catering trays resting over Sterno burners, a booming sound system, and a patio full of men and women having a good time. Heath hit the bar for his go-to cocktail, Patrón and pineapple juice. There were 50 or 60 people at the party, and it seemed like a dozen more trickled in each hour. At one point, Anthony, whose name has been changed at his request, says Lynnfield police showed up and chatted with one of the hosts in the driveway to make sure the parking situation wasn’t going to get out of hand. The visit did nothing to dampen the mood. Throughout the night, Heath took several grainy videos on his phone featuring thumping bass lines, crowds of people, and the illuminated frame of a luxury home in the quiet suburbs. All evening long, Heath marveled at the house and how much fun he was having. “He literally said, ‘This is the best night I’ve ever had,’” Anthony recalls.

Laid-back mansion parties were not a regular part of Heath’s life. He’d grown up in poverty, born to a teenage mother, Sharon, who immigrated to the U.S. from Honduras. For six months they lived in a shelter before finding subsidized housing in Dorchester’s Uphams Corner neighborhood. Heath did not graduate high school and was often in and out of jail, arrested for selling drugs, disorderly conduct, assault, resisting arrest, and trying to break into a T-Mobile store. At age 28, tragedy hit when his younger brother, who’d been diagnosed with lupus as a teenager, died from the disease. Heath, who prided himself on being his brother’s protector, was devastated. Not long after, he found his mom crying alone at the kitchen table. When he tried to console her, she admitted to feeling ashamed that she couldn’t afford a proper headstone. She’d tried to borrow against her retirement and looked for ways to get a loan, but was repeatedly denied. “Don’t worry, Mommy,” Heath told her. “I’ll figure out what to do.” A few days later, Heath was arrested while holding more than an ounce of cocaine and nine small baggies of crack.

Heath’s struggles likely felt a million miles away as he sipped his cocktail on that warm spring night. Now in his thirties, life seemed to be getting back on track—he had earned his GED, had two healthy young sons, and was in a loving long-term relationship. “He didn’t have any enemies,” Anthony says.

Like so many parties, the longer it lasted the rowdier it got. By 1 a.m. more than 100 people sprawled throughout the home, and carloads more kept showing up. Within an hour, it was “wall to wall” people, Anthony says. “It hit social media and it seemed like everyone who was leaving the clubs in Boston made their way up to this house.” By 2:30 a.m., Anthony decided to call it a night. Heath wasn’t ready to leave. He walked Anthony down to his car, grabbed a bag of belongings, and said he’d catch a ride with another friend. Driving south toward Boston, Anthony called Heath and could still hear the party in the background. They joked the way drunken friends do in the wee hours of the night.

Minutes later, gunshots rang out in Lynnfield. Police received the call at 3:04 a.m. By the time officers arrived two minutes later, partiers were driving away and running through the street, fleeing the scene. Emergency responders administered first aid to the gunshot victim, but Heath could not be saved. Later, Anthony was told that someone had insulted a female friend of Heath’s, a drunken fight broke out, and bullets started flying.

Despite dozens of potential witnesses, a year has flown by and no arrests have been made. The last time a murder rocked Lynnfield was in 2010. It was a messy, multi-victim murder-suicide. “That case solved itself,” Lynnfield Police Chief David Breen says. Heath’s murder is proving far more challenging. “I’ve never had a case that had so many witnesses who either refuse to identify themselves or refuse to cooperate,” Breen says. “It’s extremely frustrating.”

Meanwhile, Lynnfield residents responded to the murder by closing rank. Immediately following the shooting, the town seized on the fact that someone in their midst was renting his home to God-only-knows-who and clamped down on all short-term rentals. Within days, Lynnfield’s building inspector drafted a cease-and-desist letter claiming that the homeowner, Alex Styller, had violated the town’s bylaws. The letter, which makes no mention of the shooting, notes that “a review of the ‘Airbnb’ web site” showed that Styller was renting his home on a short-term basis, which the letter claimed was a violation of local zoning ordinances. Styller, though, had no intention of rolling over. Instead, he phoned his lawyer and set into motion a fight that could have repercussions far beyond the tony suburb, providing a blueprint for towns everywhere that want to ban Airbnb—and the strangers who come with it.

 

Alex Styller’s home is not visible from the street. It sits atop a small hill, nestled behind a miniature forest. In an advertisement on Airbnb, Styller bills it as a “Super Modern European Mansion” and charges $1,500 for the privilege of staying the night. “Total privacy!” the ad promises. Amenities inside the 5,000-square-foot home include five bedrooms, an in-ground pool, and a bar, all set on 3 wooded acres behind a gated driveway. Marked by giant windows, sharp angles, and mixed building materials, the estate is decidedly out of step with Lynnfield’s predominant Colonials and ranches.


Chris Sweeney Chris Sweeney, Senior Editor at Boston Magazine csweeney@bostonmagazine.com