Who, age What Where When Last Known Address
Michael Geier, 28 12+ animals die

Abingdon, IL

Knox County

July 3, 2009  
Rebecca Johnson Geier, 28 12+ animals die

Abingdon, IL

Knox County

July 3, 2009  
Type of Crime Other Crimes #/Type of animal(s) involved Case Status Next Court Date /Courthouse
Misdemeanor

child endangerment

20 animals - 3 kittens, a boa constrictor, 2 other large snakes, 2 pitbull, 6dogs, 6 cats, Convicted

Knox County Circuit Courthouse

June 2010

Abingdon Police responded to a domestic disturbance call and instead found what one veteran officer called “the most disgusting thing I have ever seen in my life.”

Police entered the white, two-story residence of Rebecca Johnson-Geier, 28, and Michael Geier, 31, at 606 Monmouth St. after Johnson-Geier called in a domestic disturbance complaint against her husband.

  (Photo courtesy of Chris Mouzakitis/The Register-Mail-The Geier home, blocked off).

Johnson-Geier and her two children, reportedly ages 10 and 8, had fled the home, and she placed the call from a neighbor’s house. Initial reports said Michael Geier fled the scene, after reportedly tearing a cell phone Johnson-Geier was using to call 911 out of her hand in the couple’s front yard.

When a police officer arrived, he didn’t find Michael Geier in the family’s home. But the officer did find a home “filled with feces, flies and seven or eight dead animals,” according to Abingdon Police Chief Fred Andrews.

Michael Geier remains at large.

Police who entered the home said they found strands of fly-paper and a stairway covered with hundreds of dead flies, a white-laminated floor barely recognizable in color due to filth and feces, as well as a wire cage containing three dead kittens. Drug paraphernalia also was reportedly found.

The rooms that looked to be the children’s were in no better condition.

“It was hard to even enter the home,” Andrews said. “The smell was so bad, our guys couldn’t stay very long in the place. It’s toxic. You cant even step on the porch.”

Johnson-Geier, standing outside the neighbor’s home from where she placed the call, did not warn police about her home’s condition when they advised her they were going inside to look for Michael Geier.  “She didn’t say a word about the home,” Andrews said.

Johnson-Geier also refused medical treatment initially from the injuries received in the domestic dispute, although she was later taken to St. Mary’s in Galesburg. There, she reportedly remarked to a responding officer that they would likely be seeing each other again because of the house’s condition.

After receiving treatment at St. Mary’s, she was arrested on seven charges ranging from animal cruelty to two counts of endangering the health of a child, and spent the night in the Knox County jail.

She was released Saturday on $3,000 bond, Andrews said.

Geier was charged with similar crimes, in addition to the domestic battery charge.

Neighbors described the family living in the flea-infested Abingdon home as “keeping to themselves” and “never letting anyone in the door.” One neighbor, however, said animals clearly adored Johnson-Geier, who was often seen walking around the yard with a boa constrictor around her neck and two pit bulls at her feet, and that the couple’s two children appeared healthy and happy while riding bikes in the street.

Having never talked to the couple, neighbors were unsure how long the Geier's had been living in Abingdon. One said three years, while another said around a year and a half.

All were unsure where Geier worked but believed it was somewhere local.

Andrews said the family of four was living with at least eight live animals, including three large snakes. The live animals were taken in by the Knox County Humane Society, while the snakes are still in the home.

The Abingdon Police Department has cordoned off the house while they await decision from the Knox County Health Department on how to clean it up.

“In my 20 years on this job, this is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen in my life,” Andrews said.

The couple’s two children were placed in protective custody with grandparents.

Update 7/8/09:  Michael Geier turned himself in to police on 7/7/09.

  Geier was arrested on charges of aggravated domestic battery, endangering the health or life of a child, aggravated battery of a child, animal cruelty, interfering with a report of domestic violence, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, animal torture and aggravated killing or injuring of animals.

Police came upon the Geier residence after responding to a domestic battery call to police placed by Rebecca Johnson-Geier against her husband of eight months.

“We talked to her (Johnson-Geier) and she said she’d try to contact him. I think she pretty much talked him into surrendering,” said Abingdon Police Chief Fred Andrews of Geier’s surrender.

  Johnson-Geier was booked on animal cruelty and child endangerment charges and spent the night in the Knox County jail. She was released on $3,000 bond.

One dead dog and five dead cats were removed from the house, as well as live animals which were removed to Prairieland Animal Welfare Center.

Knox County Humane Society officials removed five live dogs and one live cat from the flea-infested residence. All were euthanized at PAWC, which the KCHS operates, due to health concerns.

“It’s really a terrible situation all around. They were so sick, malnourished and emaciated we couldn’t salvage them,” said Prairieland Administrator Erin Buckmaster.

After examining the dead animals taken from the house, officials said some appeared to have died quite a while ago. One was almost mummified, according to Prairieland animal control officer Randy Moore.

Meanwhile, the home remains cordoned off and inaccessible to police who are seeking a court order allowing them to re-enter the property. “Right now, it’s in the hand of the judge and attorneys. We can’t do anything but wait,” Andrews said.

Andrews hopes the court order will go before a judge within two days because he has reason to believe there may be other dead animals still on the property, and is concerned about the possible health risks to be found in the house.

“We’ve got a yard and garage full of trash that needs to be searched, but can’t do anything legally,” he said. If the judge OK's the request as expected, Andrews does not know who will coordinate the cleanup efforts. “Whoever does it will need a haz-mat suit,” he said after his original experience entering the house.

  (Photo courtesy of Chris Z. Mouzakitis/The Register-Mail - Abingdon city officials and police fear what they will find in the backyard and garage of the Abingdon home where animal control officials removed seven dead animals)

Knox County Health Department officials went through the house and said they have sent a statement regarding its condition to Abingdon city officials and police.

The KCHD declined further comment until the city of Abingdon decides what it will do about the house.  “We’ve done all our jurisdiction allows at this point,” said KCHD public information officer Michele Fishburn.

The two children have been placed in protective custody with the Department of Children and Family Services.

Update 7/9/09:  Geier was released from jail.  Both neighbors and police reported that Geier and his wife, returned to their home at different times after his release from jail.

“The crime scene tape is down and they have been back inside,” said Jennifer Schisler, who lives across the street from Geier and Johnson-Geier. “The neighbors are getting real hot.”

Schisler said she has seen both Geier and Johnson-Geier remove items from the home.  “I saw him (Geier) walk out with a box,” she said.

Abingdon Police Chief Fred Andrews also was upset.  “I was told we can’t keep them out of the house and can’t re-enter,” said Andrews. “We believe there are still dead animals in there and they (Geier and Johnson-Geier) are removing evidence.”

Andrews is awaiting word from Abingdon City Attorney Jack Ball on a court order that would allow the police to re-enter the property.  “The matter is in Jack and the judge’s hands now,” Andrews said.

During the hearing Judge James Stewart set bond for Geier at $500 cash. Johnson-Geier, who was in the gallery during the hearing, bailed her husband out of jail.

Johnson-Geier asked Stewart if he would waive the 72-hour stay away law that requires an accused abuser to stay away from and have no contact with the victim for 72 hours after being released. “I don’t need the 72 stay away,” Johnson-Geier told Stewart. Stewart said he did not have the authority to waive the law and she would need to arrange alternate transportation for her husband after he is released from jail.

Johnson-Geier also indicated she wants to have the domestic violence charges dropped.
Following the bond hearing, Johnson-Geier said “the whole thing had been blown out of proportion.”

While paying Geier’s bond minutes later at the Knox County jail, Johnson-Geier said she had not been in the family’s home for five days when police arrived.

Geier is charged with all Class A misdemeanor’s punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. He also is charged with inhumane treatment of animals, a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

Geier’s next court appearance is Aug 14.

Update 7/10/09:  Before five volunteers of the Abingdon Fire Department trudged up the steps leading inside the house, they were greeted by a pair of six-inch-high, green ceramic frogs holding a “Welcome” sign.

Call it a lone grace note. Or an absurd sentiment hiding a horror the residents of this small town are struggling to understand.

The second visit from city officials was just as disturbing for those who entered the house and others who watched from a safe distance across the street.

   (Photo courtesy of Kent Kiegshauser/The Register-Mail - Thirty-one minutes after entry, the firefighters — clad in yellow, disposable Level-1 haz-mat suits complete with oxygen tanks and face masks — finished removal of three live snakes housed in glass aquariums, the bodies of five dogs and a bag of what one volunteer described as “the assorted body parts of dogs, cats and snakes.”

)Police and city officials had not been back in the home since the disturbance call, awaiting a court order allowing entry into the two-story house. Abingdon Police Chief Fred Andrews finally received the go-ahead to re-enter the home.

“Jack Ball, our city attorney, was able to get with a judge this afternoon and he got ahold of me,” Andrews said. “I called our fire department and they were good enough to offer to come over and take the rest of the dead animals out of the home.”

Andrews’ desire to find out what was left in the house was prompted by a conversation the chief had with Geier after he turned himself in to police Wednesday. Geier fled the scene last Friday and the Abingdon Police Department’s initial search of the home he shared with his wife was a part of the effort to locate him.

“Michael Geier told me he thought there could be as many as nine dead dogs in the basement,” Andrews said. “We already knew there were live snakes in the home, so we felt like it was really important to get back in there.”

  (Photo courtesy of Kent Kiegshauser/The Register-Mail - Bill Peacock, left, animal control officer for the city of Abingdon uses flea and tick spray on an Abingdon firefighter after the firefighter exited the Geier house. Five firefighters in hazardous materials suits entered the home and removed the animals)

  (Photo courtesy of Kent Kiegshauser/The Register-Mail - An Abingdon firefighter, dressed in a hazardous materials suit, throws a bag containing the remains of an animal into the back of a dump truck)

“I never thought I would see anything like this,” fireman J.R. Hanks said. “You look at the house from the street and it’s not that bad. You’d never guess what is behind those walls.  “I never guessed I would be doing anything like this when I became a fireman.”

Hanks was joined by Heath Gibbons, Tom Marshall, Scott Links and Brian Knox. All four said they never imagined the home — located on a quiet street across from former Alderman Dale Schisler’s house and sharing a backyard boundary with city clerk Sheila Day’s property — could mask the stench and inexplicable filth.

After the firefighters finished the removal, they moved the aquariums containing the live snakes back into the house. Andrews said Johnson-Geier wants to keep the reptiles.

“I guess they are planning to live in the house,” Andrews said. “I don’t know that for sure, but hopefully they will get it cleaned up.  “I don’t see how anyone could live like that. You can’t raise children in that situation.”  Andrews said he isn’t sure there is anything more the police or other city officials can do.

Geier’s next court appearance is Aug 14.

Update 7/11/09:  Geier and Johnson-Geier reportedly considered themselves animal lovers. But charges of animal cruelty and child endangerment against the Abingdon couple indicate Knox County may be getting its first taste of a different kind of crime against animals.

Last month, as neighbors cleaned up after an early morning thunderstorm, Jennifer Schisler, who lives across the street from the couple, saw Johnson-Geier out in her yard playing with two puppies. Schisler approached her to pet the puppies.

Of the incident, merely strange at the time, but shocking in retrospect, Schisler said: “I asked her where she got the animals, and she (Johnson-Geier) said, ‘I’m rescuing them.’”

If Johnson-Geier or Geier ever did in fact rescue any animals, it appears to have been in spite of the many other animals that suffered at the couple’s hands.

Hoarding explained - Without commenting on the Abingdon situation, which she was familiar with only through a reporter’s synopsis, director of shelter services for the Humane Society of the United States and national animal hoarding expert Kim Intino said there are three traits that characterize animal hoarders.

1.  “Animal hoarders own what most people would consider an unreasonable number of animals,” Intino said. ‘Unreasonable’ doesn’t necessarily mean X number of animals, Intino said, because the number of dogs one person can take care of is different from the number another individual can take care of, depending on factors such as age and physical or psychological well-being.

2.  “Failure to provide minimum care — that is food, water, shelter and veterinary visits — for the animals defines a hoarder,” Intino said. If one’s dogs and cats are frequently sick or dying, then she’s likely failing to provide this minimum, Intino said.

3.  The final thing that characterizes hoarding is where the problem flouts conventional logic, and where hoarding earns distinction as a sickness.

“Hoarders fail to acknowledge that all this is happening,” Intino said of the supposed animal lover’s tendency to not clean up the dead animals while continuing to acquire more.

When told this appeared to be what was happening in the Abingdon case, Intino said, “As sick as it seems, in my experience, it’s actually a big part of the disorder for hoarders to keep live animals among the dead ones.”

Because there is no separate entry for animal hoarding in the DSM-IV-TR, the diagnoses manual for clinical psychologists, hoarding experts and the psychologists in charge of treating hoarders usually classify the sicknesses with other disorders it resembles or that often co-exist with it.

Knox College Professor of Psychology Frank McAndrew immediately admits being neither a clinical psychologist nor especially familiar with animal hoarding cases. However, in hoarders’ obsessive desire to keep getting animals, McAndrew recognizes a tendency he is familiar with through his considerable social and environmental psychology research.

To his mind, hoarders may fit the profile of those suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, or excessive “collectors.”

In these cases “your focus is on acquiring rather than caring for what you already have,” McAndrew said.

McAndrew believes hoarding research is in its infancy because it’s hard to study since hoarders are usually discovered after the problem has already developed.

What’s more, a profile of a hoarder is hard to develop because hoarders cross all social, education and economic barriers, and can be found in nearly any community, Intino said.

Because no national laws are on the books related to animal hoarding, most legislative prevention is done on the local and state level.

Galesburg has limited the number of cats and large dogs an individual can own to four. Just last month this ordinance was amended, however, with the City Council changing the word resident to residence. The amendment discourages family members living under the same roof from each acquiring the maximum number of animals.

Abingdon Police Chief Fred Andrews said it was unclear to him whether or not Abingdon had any similar ordinance although he and city attorney Jack Ball had been pursuing it throughout his busy week.  “We are trying to get the exact wordings of what’s on the books down,” said Andrews, as he seeks to increase penalties against Geier and Johnson-Geier for their home’s condition.

Beyond legislation, hoarding prevention falls largely on the neighbors and friends of possible hoarders.

From her office in Washington, D.C., Intino said most of the humane society’s efforts go toward promoting a “community approach” to preventing hoarding. This involves the education of individuals and coordination of state and local police and animal control agencies to follow up on individual complaints or suspicions.

She recognizes the difficulty in this, however, acknowledging that in her experience hoarders tend to be either really reclusive or good at painting a picture.  “They can appear quite normal,” she said, increasing the burden on already overwhelmed local agencies.

Back in Knox County, Prairieland Animal Welfare Center animal control officer Randy Moore agreed.

PAWC, he said, can do very little to prevent hoarding beyond relying on the neighbors and community to tell them what’s going on, while doing their best to track pets adopted from the shelter.

Of the Abingdon situation, which he believed to be hoarding, Moore said, “It wouldn’t surprise me if they cleaned up the animal waste in the backyard but didn’t clean up the dead animals under the couch.”

Moore continued: “If this terrible situation doesn’t give us anything else, at least it’ll give us a awareness of the hoarding problem.”

• There are no national laws limiting the number of animals an individual can own.

• Illinois is one of only eight states to have specific clauses in its anti-cruelty legislation to address hoarding.

• The city of Galesburg recently adjusted its ordinances related to the number of animals a household can keep. Previously it was four animals per resident; the reference was changed in June to “residence.”

Update 7/22/09:  Both suspects in the Abingdon animal cruelty case missed their first appearances in Knox County Circuit Court.

Judge Dwayne Morrison said he knew of no attempt by the defendants to reschedule the hearing. The matter will be referred back to the Abingdon Police Department.

Update 7/27/09:  Johnson-Geier said she was told she didn’t have to appear for the hearing. She said she was trying to get her home cleaned up.

A large trash bin sat in the driveway, not far from where she spoke. It looked crowded. The woman — now hated by many of her neighbors because of the deplorable conditions she kept children and pets in — said she had a lot more cleaning to do.

Geier & Johnson-Geier will receive a summons from the court. It was sought by Abingdon city attorney Jack Ball and will be delivered by the Abingdon Police Department.

That summons will ask the couple to return to the Knox County Courthouse on Sept. 1 for a failure to appear and answer charges of ordinance violations.

Ball did not ask for a bench warrant, which would have resulted in the couple’s arrest. But the new summons warns if Geier and Johnson-Geier aren’t in court Sept. 1, a warrant for their arrest may be issued.

During the regular City Council meeting in Abingdon City Hall, Ball praised the efforts of Andrews, Mayor Roger Stegall, the city’s volunteer firemen and animal control officers in their collective efforts to get some kind of action on removing the dead animals from the Geier home.

But the attorney also clearly expressed the need for the community to try and move past the incident and accept the fact the couple has to be given a chance to clean up their home — no matter how revolting it is to residents. Ball didn’t ask for the couple to be granted leniency or special privilege. He simply acknowledged the fact they need time and the chance to prove they can live as part of the community.

Living in a town as small as Abingdon will never be easy for the Geier's. The stain left by their neglect and sickness will never be completely scrubbed, no matter how well they clean their house. Some people will always find them revolting.

But Johnson-Geier walked out on her porch. No band of vigilantes has driven her from town. And she faced some tough questions standing in the warm morning sun.

Perhaps she and her husband can face the even-tougher challenges ahead. The toughest cages to escape are the ones we make for ourselves.

Update 8/14/09:  Geier switched attorneys in Knox County Circuit Court.  Geier who was represented by public defender Daniel O’Brien, will now be represented by Tom Pepmeyer.   Geier gave no reason for the switch.

During her first appearance in court, Johnson-Geier also requested a public defender. When asked if she or her family had any source of income, she said, “My husband works but he’s keeping all his money for himself,” and stated all she had was unemployment money. Judge Dwayne Morrison appointed public defender James Harrell as Johnson-Geier’s attorney.  Given the domestic violence charge, the two could not be represented by the same public defender.

On July 9, during Geier’s first appearance in court following his surrender to police, Johnson-Geier indicated to the judge that she’d like the domestic violence charge against her husband dropped. The judge declined. Johnson-Geier later bailed Geier out of jail.

Following the home’s discovery the couple’s children were placed in protective custody with relatives.

Johnson-Geier will make her first appearance with counsel at 11 a.m. Sept. 21, while Geier will be back in court at 9 a.m. Sept. 4.

If found guilty of the Class A misdemeanors, Johnson-Geier and Geier face up to a year in jail and $2,500 in fines. A Class B misdemeanor carries a penalty of no more than six months’ jail time and fines of up to $1,500.

Update 8/7/09:  Judge Dwayne Morrison appointed Geier-Johnson a public defender in the misdemeanor case.

Johnson-Geier told Morrison her only source of income was unemployment.

“My husband works but he’s keeping all his money for himself,” she said of her husband, who is also charged in the case.

Johnson-Geier declined comment following her court appearance.

The couple missed their joint first appearance July 21 in their ordinance violation case, also related to the home’s reported condition.

If found guilty of the Class A misdemeanors, Johnson-Geier and Geier face up to a year in jail and $2,500 in fines. A Class B misdemeanor carries a penalty of no more than 6 months jail-time and fines of up to $1,500.

Update 8/14/09:  Geier switched attorneys in Knox County Circuit Court.

Geier, who was represented by public defender Daniel O’Brien, will now be represented by Tom Pepmeyer.

Geier gave no reason for the switch.

Update 2/19/10:  The Abingdon couple charged separately in the 2009 deaths of more than 12 animals will have bench trials, after Geier, waived his right to a jury trial in Knox County Circuit Court.

On March 19, both will stand trial.

Update 4/30/10:  The Abingdon couple have reached a negotiated plea with the state.

Attorneys for the Geier's announced the plea at the couple’s scheduled bench trial in Knox County Circuit Court.

  (Photo courtesy of Kent Kiegshauser/The Register-Mail - Rebecca Johnson-Geier and her husband, Michael Geier, arrive for a court appearance at the Knox County Courthouse)

Details of the deal will become available at a hearing in June.

Separate ordinance cases also related to the home’s alleged filthy condition were settled or dismissed in late 2009.

Reference:

The Register-Mail