‘He wanted to play doctor on us’: Terrifying stranger secretly lived in our home

It was the bike sitting outside that tipped off Brittany and James Campbell that something was amiss.

The couple and their two young sons had been away from their Honolulu home for about a week. They returned home on September 20, 2019, to find something terrible.

James went to open his home’s front door, but found he couldn’t. A stranger was inside, pulling it closed.

“There is a man peeking through the door. He’s trying to hold it shut and the man says, ‘this is not your house’ just very calmly,” James, 36 and who is in the US Navy, recalls in the new Lifetime true crime show, “Phrogging: Hider in My House.” “I am just floored.”

The show, which premieres July 18, examines the crime known as “phrogging,” in which a stranger sneaks into someone’s space and secretly lives there for days, weeks or even months. The first half of the series’ premiere focuses on the Campbells’ harrowing ordeal.

“They’re lucky to be alive, frankly,” Jessica Everleth, the show’s executive producer, told The Post.

A man has been accused of living in James and Brittany Campbells’ home while they were away.
James and Brittany Campbell
James and Brittany Campbell were newlyweds and living in a typical suburban community in Honolulu when a man allegedly lived in their home, observed them and detailed surgeries he wanted to perform on them in a journal. Their ordeal is featured in a new Lifetime show, “Phrogging: Hider in My House.”
credit: Lifetime

James grabbed a sledgehammer for protection and managed to get the man out of the house while Brittany called 911. Once the intruder was in the front yard, James says, “We notice he’s wearing my clothes. Things are getting crazier by the moment.”

The police arrived and arrested the man, a 23-year-old named Ezequiel Zayas, KHON2 reported. But, after he was hauled away, the nightmare was just beginning.

The inside of their home was in utter chaos. Pots and pans were piled on top of each other. In the living room, James’ musical equipment had all been taken out. Their bedroom was in complete disarray.

It was “just trashed,” Brittany, 37 and a stay-at-home mom, told The Post.

James and Brittany Campbell
James and Brittany Campbell knew each other in high school and then reconnected later on when James was a single father with two sons. They married in 2018, according to “Phrogging: Hider in My House.”
credit: Lifetime

What they found next was much more upsetting.

Someone had used one of their old laptops to record disturbing diary entries and details about the family.

“There [were] all these typed notes called ‘The Omnivore Trials: A rehabilitation for Ratlike people’,” James says on the show.

“This is when we realized this person had been in our home a lot longer,” Brittany told The Post.

Brittany noticed knives that had been laid out next to the computer. And she found a typed “manifesto” about gruesome plans for the Campbells — including surgeries such as “sexual reconstruction” and a “hand transplant.”

“He wanted to play doctor on us — and not in the cute little kid way,” Brittany said. “[He wrote about] how he could make us into perfect people.”

The Campbells' home after a man allegedly lived there while they were away.
The Campbells’ home, above in still from a KHON2 report, after a man allegedly lived there while they were away.
The Campbells' kitchen.
The Campbells’ kitchen.

She also found a video that the intruder had made on her computer, apparently while in the nude.

“This guy had been sitting naked in my chair — that’s disgusting,” she says on the series. “I just felt terror.”

Suddenly the family regarded strange occurrences in the home in recent months — a computer’s webcam turning on in the middle of the night, doors that were left open or unlocked, the dog barking — with fresh horror. Such is often the case with phrogging victims.

“It starts out slowly — things go missing,” said Everleth, adding that people are more apt to believe they are living with a ghost than a long-term trespasser. “You think it’s an urban myth, but it’s more common than you think.”

"Phrogging" — the act of sneaking into someone’s space and secretly living there — is examined in a new Lifetime show.
“Phrogging” — the act of sneaking into someone’s space and secretly living there — is examined in a new Lifetime show.

Mysterious origins

The term phrogging, which is said to originate from frogs leaping from place to place and is pronounced “frogging,” has only been coined in recent years. But the crime itself has been occurring for decades.

A&E’s true crime blog notes a 1986 case in which Daniel LaPlante, 17, found a hiding spot in the home of Tina Bowen, a teen with whom he was obsessed. LaPlante taunted the family by doing things such as drinking leftover milk, which escalated to taking Tina and other members of her family hostage, according to the blog. Tina eventually escaped and called for help.

“[Sometimes a phrogger] has parasitic attachment to the homeowner or home itself. It’s terrifying,” Everleth said.

Unlike squatters, who look for empty, abandoned spots, phroggers aren’t deterred by occupants. It takes until the moment the owner or renter sees something such as a hand or footprint, comes face to face with the intruder or catches them on some sort of surveillance camera to figure out what is going on.

It is still unclear how Zayas got into the Campbells’ two story house or how long he lurked there. But the journal mentioned very personal details about them, such as the fact that Brittany was undergoing fertility treatments, which the couple hadn’t shared with anyone.

“The strangest thing is that he knew medical information about us,” she told The Post. “It’s really bizarre.”

Ezequiel Zayas
Ezequiel Zayas has been charged with burglary and murder in the first and second degrees.

Crimes and punishment

After his arrest, Zayas was charged with burglary and released. Shortly after, he was arrested again, this time for allegedly vandalizing a Buddhist temple.

In 2020, while in a correctional facility for that crime, Zayas allegedly killed a fellow inmate, 62-year-old Vance J. Grace.

He was charged with murder in the first and second degrees in the fall of 2020 and pleaded not guilty. The man was “found unfit to proceed” and is currently at the Hawaii State Hospital, according to court records, awaiting trial.

The Campbells, meanwhile, are still recovering from the strange, harrowing ordeal and have since moved out of their Honolulu house and away from Hawaii.

“This is an incident that has really affected us psychologically as a family. It’s uprooted our entire lives,” Brittany says. “Recovering from this has been really difficult.”

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