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Divorce lawyer fears for safety after office fire

Suspects arson was cause of Christmas blaze in Marengo

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013 10:28 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013 10:18 p.m. CDT
(Photo provided)
Workers remove debris from a Christmas night fire at 821 E. Grant St., Unit F in Marengo.

MARENGO – A mysterious Christmas night fire that destroyed a Marengo divorce lawyer's office has the attorney searching for answers and safety as she suspects a possible arson.

It has been nearly a week since Paula Rieghns was called to her office at 10:30 p.m. Christmas night to see a fire had destroyed everything in her suite at 821 E. Grant St. Fire and police officials have yet to make a determination on the cause of the fire.

Rieghns, who has been staying with a friend because of safety concerns, believes her office might have been firebombed by someone unhappy over divorce proceedings. Both Rieghns and her attorney Bob Wagner, a former Crystal Lake mayor, said they overheard discussions of a gas can being recovered at the scene.

Out of the six units connected in the strip mall, Rieghns' office was the only one affected by the fire. About 90 percent of Rieghns cases are based in DeKalb County, office manager Jennifer Landorf said, so she is casting a wide net searching for people who might have clues about what happened.

"People get very angry about their divorces. I've been threatened in the past," Rieghns said. "My employees are scared, my clients are scared and I'm scared. I want this person caught. I want them brought to justice."

Rieghns said she has been frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation. She said the Marengo Police Department did not return her calls on the Friday after the fire, and the first time she was contacted by the police since the incident was Monday. She said they said they were still without answers.

Wagner also criticized how the fire has been handled, lambasting local authorities for not bringing in the state fire marshal or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to assist in the investigation. He also criticized the decision to allow the landlord to clear the scene Saturday while the investigation is open.

"I don't even know what they are doing. They turned the scene over to the landlord Saturday so now the crime scene has been corrupted," Wagner said. "There was a crime committed and apparently Marengo doesn't see any urgency in solving that crime. I have a client that is terrified from this terrorist act."

Bill Weiss, battalion chief for the Marengo Fire Protection District, confirmed the state fire marshal and the ATF were not involved. He said the department is working with an arson investigator at the Marengo Police Department.

Weiss said the investigation is continuing and no investigation into suspects could begin until authorities determine if a crime was committed. No one at the Marengo Police Department was available for comment Monday.

Marengo Police Chief Joseph Hallman is expected back in the office on Thursday.

In the meantime, Rieghns said she was going to try to piece together her business as quickly as she could. But with no phone numbers, case files or computers, Rieghns is having a hard time even contacting those she represents.

"I'm trying to put the pieces back together as fast as I can because a law office doesn't just stop," Rieghns said. "If anyone has any information about the fire, please, please call the police."

How to help

Anyone with information about the incident should call Marengo police at 815-568-7231 or the McHenry County Crime Stoppers Tip Line at 800-762-STOP (7867). Information can also be emailed to TipLine@co.mchenry.il.us.

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