By Charles Keeshan and Lenore T. Adkins | Daily Herald Staff
The mother of two former Algonquin boys slain by their father in rural Putnam County twice obtained restraining orders to protect herself and the children from what court documents describe as his erratic and controlling behavior.
“(He) tells me if I ever take the boys away he will hunt me and my parents down and cut us open,” Amy Leichtenberg, then known as Amy Connolly, wrote in a 2006 petition seeking an order of protection against then-husband Michael L. Connolly.
The petition, along with one filed a year earlier, portrays Michael Connolly, 40, as emotionally abusive, obsessive about his sons and prone to bouts of rage and threats of violence.
He was found dead Sunday in a secluded area of the downstate county along with his two sons, 9-year-old Duncan and 7-year-old Jack. The discovery ended a three-week statewide Amber Alert search that began when he did not return the boys to their mother’s home outside Bloomington March 8 after a court-ordered visitation.
“They’ve been missed since they left,” said Audra Whitesell, Leichtenberg’s friend who also lived across the street from the family in Algonquin in the Manchester Lakes subdivision before they moved away. Her 6-year-old daughter, Bella, also knew Duncan and Jack.
McHenry County court records indicate the family lived in Algonquin until about 2006 when Leichtenberg filed for divorce and moved out of their home, first to Crystal Lake and then eventually to the small town of LeRoy, Ill.
The divorce petition accused Michael Connolly of “repeated and extreme acts” of mental and physical cruelty.
Leichtenberg’s 2006 petition for a protective order details claims of her husband’s controlling and obsessive behavior, including dozens of phone calls and text messages to her and her family, threats to kill himself and others, and bizarre demands upon her.
One of those demands included she make a videotape stating she was abusive to the couple’s children. He also pressured her to sign a letter stating he would receive full custody of their sons if they were to divorce.
Her 2005 petition for an order of protection details an incident in which he smashed several items in the home, threatened to strike her with a chair, and took steps to isolate her from her family.
Whitesell said Connolly banned Leichtenberg from using the house and cell phones to contact her parents in Tennessee. Whitesell let Leichtenberg use her land line to call her family.
“You couldn’t put your finger on it, but you just knew something wasn’t quite right,” Whitesell said Tuesday, wiping tears from her eyes. “I just tried to help her as much as I could as a friend.”
McHenry County Judge Suzanne C. Mangiamele took the claims seriously enough that while the divorce case was pending before her, Connolly received visitation only while supervised by a professional at a counseling center in McHenry, said Leichtenberg’s attorney, Elizabeth Vonau.
“Everybody knew he was capable of this,” Vonau said. “There were repeated threats he would harm her, repeated threats he would get back at her and harm the children or take them from her.”
Leichtenberg moved to LeRoy in large part to get away from Connolly, Vonau said.
She later dismissed her McHenry County divorce petition in December 2006, but refiled it, as well as the petition for an order of protection, about five months later in McLean County, according to the McLean County Circuit Clerk’s office. The divorce was granted in November 2007.
Despite the supervised-only visitations allowed in McHenry County, McLean County Judge James Souk saw the situation differently and, over Leichtenberg’s objections, allowed Connolly unsupervised time with his sons.
“I don’t know what happened down there, but up here the judge would not allow him unsupervised visits,” Vonau said.
Souk now is under fire for his decision and an online petition demanding his resignation has been launched. The petition, which received more than 1,100 signatures by 4 p.m. Tuesday, states: “Judge Souk needs to resign as Judge and face a jury of his peers.
We believe you are as guilty as Michael Connolly and without your judgment these boys would still be alive.”
McLean County court records show Connolly was charged there at least four times with violating an order of protection between July 2006 and November 2007. In February 2008 he struck a plea bargain admitting guilt to one charge and had the others dismissed. He was sentenced to 18 months of nonreporting probation and given a suspended jail sentence.
In a statement issued Monday, Leichtenberg railed against the justice system for failing to protect her sons from their father.
“My heart is broken and there are no words that express my pain,” the statements reads. “No parent should have to bury their babies. Duncan and Jack, Mommy loves you to the heavens and back.
“I feel that the judicial system failed me. I pray that the courts listen to the warnings from other parents like me. Thank you everyone for your prayers and support. The family respectfully requests that we have privacy as we cope with this horrible tragedy. Please keep our family and friends in your hearts and prayers.”
Her former Algonquin neighbors also expressed outrage.
“I think that man (Souk) should pay for the funerals,” said Maria Wise, who lived across the street from the family in the Manchester Lakes subdivision before they moved away. “And he’s going to have to get Amy counseling. She needs it.”
Candles and pinwheels attached to a memorial dedicated to the family Tuesday remained behind the house on Whitehall Court that they once called home. Neighbors held a vigil the night before to remember the children.
The green and blue ribbons residents tied around the trees when Duncan and Jack first went missing also remained firmly in place.
Residents remember Duncan and Jack as friendly, well-mannered and active boys who did a lot of climbing and played basketball with other neighborhood kids.
“They were just gorgeous kids,” said Wise, adding that the Connollys were the first people to welcome her family to the neighborhood in 2003. Her son Nikolas played with Duncan and Jack.
The tragedy has stunned the tight-knit neighborhood, leaving parents trying to delicately lay out what happened to their children’s playmates.
“I explain that daddy was not in a good place and that this is not what daddies do,” Whitesell said.
Rage: Community upset with judge who allowed visitation