'It needs a new beginning': Home where authorities say AJ Freund was murdered is demolished
A sad reminder of the tragic death of a 5-year old boy quickly was reduced to rubble Wednesday morning.
The Crystal Lake house where authorities say AJ Freund was killed by his parents last April was left in a heap just minutes after demolition crews began their work.
About an hour after work began at 7:45 a.m., scraps of wood and debris were being loaded into trucks and carted off. A big machine sat atop the heap as water was trained on the rubble to keep dust down.
Several neighbors watched under a bright blue sky as heavy equipment ripped through the little cottage-style house at 94 Dole Ave. And to a person, they were happy to see it go.
"Who wants a haunted house in their neighborhood?" asked Crystal Lake resident Randy Funk.
"Evil went on there. You don't want that. It needs a new beginning."
Most of the onlookers had a lot to say but didn't want their names used. They just wanted to see the physical end of the place that became a house of horrors for a little boy and an indelible stain on the community.
Huntley resident Jeff Berggren last October took part in a march in Crystal Lake for what have been AJ's 6th birthday. Berggren said he's seen pictures of a smiling AJ and chooses to focus on the happy days the boy may have had in the house.
"If I lived across the street or next door, I would want this to disappear," he said of the house. "It's closure to a lot of people."
Media members appeared to outnumber onlookers Wednesday morning as Green Demolition Contractors Inc. of Chicago began its work, which the company donated.
That was a far cry from the hundreds who gathered on the front lawn late last April for a candlelight vigil in tribute to AJ's short and tragic life. His body was recovered April 24 from a shallow grave several miles away in rural Woodstock. His parents, Andrew Freund Sr., and JoAnn Cunningham, had reported him missing six days earlier but were charged with first-degree murder and other felonies after the discovery.
Cunningham, 36, pleaded guilty to a murder charge in December and faces up to 60 years in prison when sentenced April 30.
Freund Sr., 61, last week requested a bench trial and is scheduled to return to court April 24, the anniversary of his arrest. Both remain held in the McHenry County jail on $5 million bail.
Funk said he knew Freund as a teenager and as a younger man. But the once popular Freund cut himself off from his friends many years ago, according to Funk.
"It hit me personally because it's a guy I've known all my life," he said. "We couldn't believe this happened."
In any case, Funk said he is part of a group that raised about $54,000 to help AJ's siblings. That included a scholarship in the name of AJ's college-aged half brother, and furniture and other items for two younger siblings. The latter two, including one born in jail to Cunningham, have been staying with relatives and are doing well, Funk said.
The house has been vacant since the arrests and subsequently was boarded up. The city of Crystal Lake, citing 41 code violations, was granted court approval in November to tear it down.
Years of reports released by Crystal Lake police before AJ's body was recovered detailed dilapidated conditions unfit for children inside the home and several contacts between the family and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Demolition is scheduled to continue Thursday. The city's preferred use of the site is a new home, but the immediate future of the lot is unknown.
The former mortgage holder in January relinquished his interest in the property, reverting responsibility of the property to Freund Sr., who has owned the home since the early 1990s, and Cunningham.