Bankruptcy, Butchery, Buzz-Sawed Palms

De Hull battled hurricanes, code enforcers, and banks. Then he ran into a steamroller of a neighbor.

On a recent weekday, clad in the same sweat-stained work clothes he wears every day — a turquoise "River Kwai Thailand" T-shirt, brown slacks, and white tennis shoes — Hull sits in front of a humming box fan in his humid, musty living room. He hasn't been able to afford air conditioning since everything spiraled out of control.

The home is packed with extraordinary — and extraordinarily dusty — antiques: wooden Thai birdcages with fantastical spires; Tiffany lamps; bird sculptures hewn from chunks of quartz and granite. Most of it belongs to his partner of nearly 30 years, a man who asked not to be named for fear of losing his job over his sexual orientation.

The bizarre episode with the police helicopter was just one of more than a dozen visits by authorities after León headed for more expensive digs in the Gables last year, Hull says. He blames León for the code enforcement spree. "I've been here 35 years and never had a single issue. I just don't understand why else it would start now," Hull says. León refutes the accusations. "Why would you even consider anything this man says about me?" he questions New Times. "He lied before, and it's in writing. I'm not interested in Mr. Hull. I didn't even remember that he existed until you asked me about him."

Five hundred varieties of palms grow on Hull's acre.
Michael McElroy
Five hundred varieties of palms grow on Hull's acre.
Dozens of threatened lories live in Hull's aviary.
Michael McElroy
Dozens of threatened lories live in Hull's aviary.

Hull says he is doing better. He is well medicated and is trying to return to both physical and financial health. He will find out after a hearing in December whether he can keep his house. In the meantime, Hull looks to his father's example for inspiration in these dry times. "I'm a farmer. You go through droughts, through bad harvests and bad crops," he says. "You tighten your belt and move on."

León, meanwhile, made national news earlier this year by giving Florida International University a $10 million gift — one of the largest in the state's history — to help establish a geriatric research center at the new medical school. He wishes his former neighbor no further ill will. "In life, you get back what you put into it," León says, gesturing at his office wall like he's throwing a tennis ball. "It's like throwing a rubber ball against the wall — it comes right back at you. Only faster."

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