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'House of horrors' sits in limbo in McHenry

Published: Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 5:38 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 2:19 p.m. CDT

McHENRY – The house at 2811 Myang Ave. has sat vacant since Jack Leo Smith was arrested in March 2010 on decade-old sex crimes.

The windows have been broken, the roof is pocked with holes, and the inside is filled with debris. A camper trailer sits on jack stands in the driveway.

Smith was found guilty July 18 of all the charges filed against him, including three counts of predatory criminal sexual assault and aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

But the house where the crimes were committed — called a "house of horrors" by Assistant State's Attorney Sharyl Eisenstein during closing arguments in Smith's stipulated bench trial — has sat in limbo.

The McHenry County Health Department was called to the house the day of Smith's arrest to document a "hoarding situation," according to the county's file on the property.

Besides the items that clogged the house, making it difficult to move from room to room, the inspector noted the kitchen light hung from wires, ceiling panels were missing, and the remaining ones were water-stained.

The county opened a file on the property, starting a stop-and-go effort to get the property cleaned up.

The usual option of working with the owner wouldn't work.

The Myang Avenue home was owned by Mary Smith, Jack Leo Smith's mother who had died without a will, Assistant State's Attorney David Mellem said. Other family members said they had no interest in the property.

McHenry Township also has an ongoing enforcement file on the property for weeds and tall-grass violations, Supervisor Donna Schaefer said in an email.

While the township can step in, mow properties and then levy a lien when necessary, that's not an option in this case because it does not have the authority when it comes to abandoned structures.

For a while, it looked as though a new owner, a tax purchaser, would take over the property, but that fell through after the purchaser filed a sale in error and won.

That brought the county back to square one, so in January — before the tax purchaser officially won the case in March — the county filed a request with the McHenry County State's Attorney to demolish the building, said Matt Hansel, the county code enforcement officer.

The move is an unusual one. The county has demolished fewer than half a dozen buildings in Hansel's 12 or so years with the county.

"My hope is that from this point forward, this should be moving more quickly," Mellem said. "It's a complicated process, but we have a renewed attention to it. We hope we get something done soon. I just don't want to make any promises [on when it will happen]."

The State's Attorney's Office is looking into solutions, finding who would need to be informed and investigating whether an owner to work with can be found or a case needs to be filed, Mellem said.

But for Vince Kaminski and his fiancee, Christine Foote, who have lived on Myang Avenue for 14 years, the lengthy process has been frustrating.

Their concern had been renewed recently after Kaminski saw kids skulking around the place.

"At least if the windows that are broken were boarded up, we wouldn't have to worry about kids getting in and it being a danger to the community," Kaminski said. "It's frustrating that nothing can be done."

It's a common misconception that the county boards up damaged or vacant homes, Hansel said. That usually is done by the owners.

For the county to board up the property, it would have to go through a legal process and go out for bid, costing the taxpayers money, something that didn't seem necessary with a buyer in the wings, Hansel said.

Kaminski doesn't understand the reticence.

"That's why we pay taxes," he said.

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