The house where two parents allegedly beat Crystal Lake boy AJ Freund to death was demolished Wednesday, nearly a year after the 5-year-old was reported missing.
About 8 a.m., the home began to be torn down starting with the top of the structure on the south end. A crowd of onlookers gathered on the sidewalk across the street from 94 Dole Ave., Crystal Lake, as a large excavator truck tore into the roof of the house. The hole exposed a child’s bedroom, where photographs and drawings still hung on the wall.
The Chicago-based company Green Demolition Contractors Inc. donated its services to demolish the house. The house originally was slated to be demolished Feb. 28 and 29, but the work was delayed in favor of drier conditions.
Although workers used a hose to spray the demolished wood and keep airborne debris at bay, dust and a musty odor could be smelled throughout the area. Cunningham and Freund were given the opportunity to have someone retrieve personal belongings from their home before it was demolished. As the excavator dug into the house, however, dragging with it an adult-sized mattress, bookshelves and general clutter, the structure appeared to be filled with the family’s personal items.
Neighbors on Tuesday said they were happy to see the house come down and hope the neighborhood will “go back to normal.”
“When you walk by [the house], drive by it, everything comes back,” neighbor Gary Burden said.
Another neighbor, Florence Whitman, looked on Wednesday as the house crumbled into a pile of rotted wood and debris.
“It’s been horrible tragedy for all of us who live here, but I think it’s time to move on,” Whitman said.
She and her husband have lived in the area for decades, but never met AJ, she said.
“I used to wonder because the doors were open all winter, the curtains were flying. … Maybe I should have called too, I don’t know,” Whitman said.
AJ’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, and his father, Andrew Freund Sr., lived in an otherwise tidy, quiet neighborhood. Over the years, however, the house and lawn became cluttered with debris, resulting in multiple ordinance violations and costly liens against the property.
Cunningham pleaded guilty Dec. 5 to first-degree murder in connection with AJ’s death. She is scheduled for sentencing April 30.
Once the demolition is complete, the property will be worth an estimated $28,000, said Frank Harrison, the Woodstock-based consultant who appraised the land. The city filed its petition to demolish the house in July on the basis that it would cost less than making the necessary repairs.
Demolishing the house and eliminating the mold inside would have a cost an estimated $17,000, according to the city’s petition. Repairs to bring the property within city code, on the other hand, would have cost about $103,290, according to one Crystal Lake construction company’s estimate.
Among other repairs, the house would have required a new roof and gutters, toilets and sump pump, according to the estimate. The house was boarded up May 2 and on May 16, a cleanup crew removed biohazardous material from the property, including needles found on the lawn, invoices show.
An inspection of the property last summer revealed the presence of black mold in the basement at more than 11 times the “elevated” rate, lab results show.
In July, a yearlong foreclosure dispute concerning the Dole Avenue property came to an end. Lenders Home Sites LLC filed a foreclosure petition in 2018, citing defaulted payments in the amount of $98,909.
The lenders subsequently backed out of the proceedings when a private real estate investor, William Progar, bought the mortgage from Home Sites. Progar went on to place the winning bid on the property during the foreclosure auction in November, but has since vacated the sale and dismissed the foreclosure. The decision means that Cunningham and Freund are once again responsible for the more than $100,000 worth of liens and unpaid property taxes attached to the home.
It was unclear Wednesday how city and county officials would go about recovering those funds while Freund and Cunningham are in jail.
Source: The Daily Chronicle