ELECTRA, TX (KTVI) – Paul Appel is packing up his tiny home located in north Texas’ massive Waggoner Ranch.
Appel didn’t want to leave Lake Diversion, but he’s stuck in a tangled web. Every pile left in his home is a memory he’s ready to flush and forget.
“I want to get what I want out of here and I never want to see it again,” he said.
But out of sight doesn’t always mean out of mind.
“I’m retired. I have no savings. I live on a fixed income,” Appel said.
FOX 2 News first met Appel and his fellow Lake Diversion residents in September, a few weeks after they received a letter from their new landlord – Stan Kroenke.
"My first reaction was fear and panic. It just hit me like a ton of bricks. What am I going to do? I’m still wondering what I’m going to do," said Annette McNeil.
The crushing correspondence informed the Lake Diversion residents they had until February 1 to move off Kroenke’s newly purchased property. Kroenke didn’t give the people of Lake Diversion a penny for their properties; legally, he didn’t have to. For decades, Lake Diversion residents lived on the Waggoner Ranch under an unusual agreement: they owned their homes, but leased the land.
Though obviously odd to outsiders, most who lived at the lake said leasing their lot was a family tradition they seldom second-guessed.
"My grandmother had lived out there until she was 95 years old,” lake resident Rick Ellis said at the time.
Ellis wouldn’t match that milestone. Frustrated by the fate of his eventual eviction, he took his own life in October. In his suicide letter, he wrote, “Stan stole my home.”
“I’ve cried. I’ve been mad. I’ve yelled, ‘F-U, Stan Kroenke,’ across this lake at the top of my lungs, shaking my fists in the air,” McNeil said.
The home she and Rick shared has been now gutted; a gut-wrenching symbol of the profoundly personal impact Kroenke’s handling of the ranch had on folks who called this place home.
The changing seasons brought no change of heart for Kroneke. Most everyone who lived on Lake Diversion left long before they were locked out. Appel hopes moving out makes it easier to move on.
“Now I’m at the stage where I have just several more loads in my Tahoe to get out of there and I feel completely comfortable turning my back and walking away,” Appel said.
These days, the road home leads Appel to Wichita Falls. He’s settling in to his new surroundings, but remains uneasy about what led him here.
“Stan Kroenke is a horrible human being. This is a habit for him. He’s obsessed with money and doesn’t care who he steps on or hurts. What he did to the people of Lake Diversion is criminal. It’s just criminal.” Appel said.
The court of public opinion judges not in legalities, but in legacies, and Stan Kroenke's legacy will forever be frayed among those he evicted from the Waggoner Ranch.
With Lake Diversion now out of sight, the people who once lived here are a step closer to peace of mind.
It still remains a mystery as to what Kroenke has planned for the 800-square-mile Waggoner Ranch.
Over the last several months, Fox 2 News has reached out to him through his associates for a comment on this story and our previous report. To no surprise, "Silent Stan" continues to live up to his reputation.