Homeless Elgin man who blogged about his life is presumed dead

Doug Henke, an Elgin homeless man who wrote a blog that fascinated people with his eloquent musings and tales of living in the woods, is presumed to have died.

Henke, whose 58th birthday would have been June 12, had a Facebook blog called, “Arthur: Notes from the edge,” where his last entry was May 23.

A body was found by Elgin police around noon June 11 on the floor by the bed in Henke's dwelling in the woods along the 700 block of Big Timber Road after the Daily Herald contacted the police department about Henke's welfare, police spokeswoman Kristie Hilton said.

Police reached Henke's family and asked them to contact Kane County Coroner Rob Russell and a police investigation remains open, Hilton said. Russell said his office is working on identifying the body. A preliminary autopsy is pending the results of the toxicology report, and there were “no overt, outward signs of homicide,” Russell said.

Henke maintained he chose his life, calling himself “houseless, not homeless.”

“It's true there's challenges in this kind of existence, a lot of challenges. But they are not different from any other challenges,” he told the Daily Herald in 2018. “The biggest difference is that the challenges out there are challenges that I choose. Not challenges that are forced on me.”

Henke said he was estranged from his family. Kane County court records show his mother's estate was disbursed April 23 among him and his three half-siblings, who couldn't be reached for comment.

Henke said he grew up in South Elgin, left home as a teenager and served in the U.S. Navy for a little over a year in his 20s. He worked in accounting but either quit or lost jobs over time. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration in 2012 from Columbia College Missouri, which has a remote campus at Elgin Community College.

He was candid about suffering from alcoholism and bipolar disorder, and sometimes having difficulties in taking direction and getting along with others. He was also HIV-positive.

Henke moved in April 2017 to Tent City, Elgin's outdoor homeless encampment on city property in the woods along the Fox River. Two years later, he moved to another location, also in the woods in Elgin, saying he sought more solitude after tension with some residents of Tent City. After being told he was trespassing on Fox River Water Reclamation District land, he moved to his last abode in January.

Henke painstakingly built his dwellings with a frame of wood beams and layers of heavy blankets, tarp and plastic. Inside he had a bed, clothes and various possessions, and kept warm with candles and a propane-fueled heater, enough for him even during deep winter freezes. He enjoyed listening to the birds and being immersed in nature while sipping his morning coffee.

He ate at soup kitchens and visited food pantries in Elgin. He was a regular at Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin and liked to keep informed about news and community happenings, attending meetings of the city council and initiatives for the homeless.

“He was an intellectual,” said Tammy Wheatley, who met Henke about four years ago when she was a leader for an emergency winter shelter in Elgin. “Good conversationalist. Opinionated. Good sense of humor.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the habitual gatherings and routines of the homeless community and likely contributed to Henke's absence not being noticed sooner, Wheatley said. Also, he periodically ran into conflict with others due to his bipolar disorder and would end up isolating for a time, mostly by choice, she said.

Henke went by Arthur in his blog and called his second home Camelot after the legendary castle of British King Arthur.

His last dwelling along Big Timber Road, where the body was found, was called Aerthindell, a play on Arthur and Rivendell, the fictional valley in the “Lord of the Rings” book series. He had a black cat Mayhem, who had full freedom to roam and followed him there, much to his great joy.

“Freedom, it's very subjective,” he told the Daily Herald in January. “I feel I have freedom out here in a way that I don't report to anybody. I still have obligations. I have to go and do stuff — I have to make doctor's appointments, I have to pick up prescriptions. There's still responsibilities, but they are the ones I choose. Not the ones that are chosen for me.”

• Daily Herald staff writer Harry Hitzeman contributed to this report.

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  Doug Henke is shown in January preparing his morning coffee on a single-burner propane stove in his dwelling in the woods along the Fox River. John Starks/
  Doug Henke is shown in January preparing his morning coffee on a single-burner propane stove in his dwelling in the woods along the Fox River. John Starks/
  Doug Henke is shown here making ramen noodles in 2018 in his dwelling at Tent City, Elgin's outdoor encampment for the homeless. Rick West/
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