December 19, 2014
It’s been a mystery for more than five years.
Who threatened to avenge the police shooting of a wild cougar in Chicago by torching Mayor Richard M. Daley’s vacation home? For more than five years after Chicago Police shot dead the big cat as it prowled the streets of Roscoe Village, it remained a riddle.
But on Thursday in federal court, a lanky Southwest side botanist finally admitted he was behind the 2008 letter to Daley that included the line “F--- your dead son.”
Under a plea deal that leaves unresolved who actually lit an April 24, 2008, fire that spared Mayor Daley’s Michigan lakefront retreat but destroyed a neighbor’s multimillion-dollar home, Rich Hyerczyk, 54, admitted he’d mailed an anonymous letter just three days earlier in which he vowed to “BURN down the Daley house in Michigan.”
Hyerczyk, of the 5200 block of South Natoma, told U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman he was guilty of mailing a letter threatening that police should “Prepare to DIE like the Cougar you killed.”
And he admitted he’d written 90 threatening letters since 2003 to schools, police, religious institutions and officials, including Daley.
The 124-pound wild male cougar whose death sparked the threats likely traveled more than 1,000 miles from South Dakota before police, fearing for public safety, shot it six times a block from Audubon Elementary School in a case that made front page news on April 14, 2008.
A week later, Hyerczyk mailed multiple copies of a letter in which he said he’d kill “PIGS” at the annual St. Jude Memorial march and made threats against police officers “wives” and “children.”
Sources said his letter to Daley included rants against the former mayor, his wife Maggie, his son Patrick, his daughters Nora and Lally, and even his son Kevin, who died of spina bifida 27 years ago when he was just 33 months old.
Daley at the time called it “really hurtful.”
The ugly language in Hyerczyk’s letters contrasted with the round-shouldered, gray-haired man who spoke in a meek voice to declare himself “guilty” Thursday, then fled the courthouse without comment.
The unmarried St. Xavier University graduate, who has just one Facebook friend, works at a La Grange Park molding company and has an interest in lichen that led him to found the Chicago Lichenological Society, records show. He’s taught natural history and botany classes at the Field Museum, the Morton Arboretum, McHenry County College and the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Though investigators believe his threats began with a letter to Brookfield Zoo, the unsolved arson next door to Daley’s home in 2008 remains the only case in which there’s any evidence that anyone may have followed up on one of Hyerczyk’s threats, authorities say.
His arrest followed a decade-long probe by the Chicago Joint Terrorism Task Force. Last year it executed a search warrant on his home and took his DNA.
Hyerczyk, who is free on bond, faces up to five years in prison when he’s sentenced in April.