Notorious ‘Phony Nun’ house burns in Brooklyn
by: Mary Murphy
CROWN HEIGHTS, Brooklyn (PIX11) — Cheyama Legrand cried when she heard her childhood house at 222 Brooklyn Avenue was gutted by fire Wednesday morning, a place where teens and women were beaten or murdered in the 1960s and 70s—but still a place she called home.
“I was devastated when I got the call,” Legrand told PIX11 News Thursday. “We all grew up in the big house. My brothers and sisters. Daddy loved all his children, no matter what people say about him.”
Devernon Legrand, who called himself a bishop, went to prison in 1975 for stomping two teenage sisters to death and also for the murder of an ex-wife. But the mystery of what happened to about 20 other missing women was never solved.
It’s believed Legrand fathered between 50 and 70 children–with women that lived with him at 222 Brooklyn Avenue. Many were forced to dress in black habits to look like Catholic nuns and then beg at tourist spots or in the subway. Some were beaten when they got home if they didn’t make a certain quota of money.
Cheyama Legrand’s mother escaped from the house in the late 1960s, but Legrand and her sister remained. Legrand visited her father in prison until his death and said he deeded the house to her younger sister, Labrendas. Cheyama Legrand said the deed was forged in 2013 by the former head “nun,” Vivian Sannicola, who later sold the property to developers.
“I’ve been fighting so long to save my father’s property for my kids and grandkids,” Cheyama Legrand told PIX11 News Thursday, her voice thick with emotion. “When the property was taken from us, it was taken on a forged deed.”
In 2019, PIX11 News found the developer who had bought the property, who said Cheyama Legrand had lost a court fight to keep the house. But Legrand said the battle was ongoing.
Legrand said developers tried to give her $40,000 to walk away, even though the four-story property was worth close to $2 million back in 2019.
“$40,000? I told him, ‘Are you crazy?’” Legrand recalled.
The 2-alarm fire early Wednesday morning caused a partial roof collapse on the main property on Brooklyn Avenue and another roof collapse at an adjacent property on Sterling Place.