For more than four years, Stephanie Eickhoff wouldn’t let her children play in the front yard for fear a couple down the street would hurt them.
But on Friday, the couple were behind bars, accused of trying to kill the Eickhoffs by sending them poisoned cakes and soda in the mail. And the Eickhoff children were playing in the yard once more.
The alleged murder attempt was the culmination of a long feud between the neighbors.
“It would make an interesting horror movie,” said Eickhoff, the mayor of Edwardsville, Kan., a Kansas City suburb. “Everyone can relate to a grumpy neighbor, but I don’t think they can relate to someone actively trying to kill you.”
Prosecutors have charged the Eickhoffs’ neighbors, Ralph Trout and Donna Ozuna-Trout, with attempted murder.
The Trouts’ lawyer, Kevin Baldwin, did not immediately return calls Friday. But Baldwin told The Kansas City Star that the evidence was “circumstantial” and that his clients’ arrests were racially motivated because Ozuna-Trout is a minority married to a white man.
Eickhoff denied that and said the arrest came after years of harassment from Ozuna-Trout and a series of restraining orders, visits from social service and code enforcement investigators, and the police.
In April, Eickhoff said, a package arrived at her home containing a two-liter bottle of root beer and an assortment of cakes and doughnuts. There also was a card wishing Eickhoff luck in her mayoral term.
But Eickhoff had been elected mayor of the town of 4,500 a year earlier. The soda had a dark green tint. And the baked goods looked “roughed up.”
“Thank God I was home, because I know my kids would have eaten it,” she said.
Eickhoff suspected it was Ozuna-Trout.
Laced with antifreeze and lye
The snacks were found to contain lethal doses of antifreeze and lye, according to District Attorney Nick Tomasic. The discovery led police to recommend the Eickhoffs leave their home. They stayed on the move for six weeks, staying with friends for a week at a time.
“I was terrified,” she said. While her children stayed in school, they did not go out for recess and had someone waiting with them after class.
Tired of running, the Eickhoffs returned last month. “If someone really wanted to get me, I’d rather die at home,” she said.
The Trouts were arrested Thursday, after investigators searched their home and their garbage.
Eickhoff said the trouble started almost five years ago when Ozuna-Trout moved into the neighborhood. Eickhoff said that for reasons she does not understand, Ozuna-Trout would threaten her family, give them the finger, or make a finger-drawn-across-the-throat gesture. Soon the Eickhoffs were receiving visits from state agencies investigating claims of child abuse — visits the Eickhoffs believe were instigated by Ozuna-Trout.
A slander lawsuit filed by the Eickhoffs against Ozuna-Trout over the child abuse claims were dismissed last year.
Restraining order issued
In May 2003, Eickhoff got a restraining order against Ozuna-Trout; Eickhoff said the woman regularly violated the order by harassing her. Earlier this year, a judge found Ozuna-Trout in contempt and extended the restraining order to next May.
At one point, Ozuna-Trout accused Eickhoff of trying to run her over with a car. But the mayor and her husband had evidence showing they were not in town at the time.
Lesli Trout, who is not related to the couple, said she, too, filed numerous police reports accusing Ozuna-Trout of threatening her and her children. In return, she said, she received visits from animal control officers and child care workers, investigations that Trout said were all started by calls from Ozuna-Trout.
Lesli Trout eventually left the neighborhood.
“I’ve been telling everybody that she’s going to keep going until she kills somebody,” Trout said.
The district attorney said he has squabbles between neighbors, but none that appear to have gone this far. “Normally people just avoid each other after awhile,” he said. “But things like this, it gets out of hand.”