Authorities investigating Monday's jailhouse death of a former police officer accused of trying to extort a local landlord believe the man hanged himself.
Gary Engel, 61, of Homer Glen, was found alone in his McHenry County jail cell hanging by a bedsheet, said McHenry County Sheriff Keith Nygren. One end of the sheet was tied to the top bunk and the other end was tied around Engel's neck, Nygren said.
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Nygren said the death appears to be a suicide.
McHenry County Coroner Marlene Lantz said Engel's cause of death is listed as "asphyxia due to hanging." There were no other signs of trauma to Engel's body, Lantz added. Toxicology results will take weeks, she said.
Nygren said Engel was not under a special watch and had not exhibited any suicidal actions. Engel was not under a doctor's care at the jail.
Guards at the county jail are tasked with checking inmates' cells every 30 minutes. Nygren said it had been less than 20 minutes between the time guards last checked on Engel's cell and when they found him hanging by the bedsheet shortly after midnight.
"You do everything you can do to prevent something like this," Nygren said. "If people are determined to harm themselves, it's often very difficult to stop. Especially if you're not aware of anything being wrong."
Engel's body was released to a funeral home in downstate Worth. Officials there said funeral arrangements were private.
Engel was being held at the county jail in Woodstock on behalf of the U.S. Marshal's office. He was transferred there on Oct. 31, Nygren said. He was due for arraignment on federal extortion charges Tuesday.
Engel, who was a Willow Springs police officer in the 1970s before being dismissed following a conviction on weapons charges, was arrested by the FBI Oct. 25 along with former Chicago police officer and former death row inmate Steven Mandell.
The pair had been secretly videotaped during a monthlong investigation plotting to kidnap and extort an area landlord out of cash and properties, according to court records. Federal prosecutors allege the pair planned to kill their victim after their demands were met.
Engel and Mandell -- who was formerly known as Steven Manning -- were also arrested and convicted of kidnapping drug dealers in the Kansas City area in the early 1990s. Both men would later have their Missouri convictions overturned. Engel was suing the federal government at the time of his death.
Mandell was also convicted of killing a mob associate in the late 1980s and sentenced to death. Mandell's conviction in that case was overturned, as well.
Mandell was arraigned today, federal authorities said. He pleaded not guilty and is expected back in court in December. Mandell is being held without bond.