Kill Thy Neighbor
Last July, Edwardsville residents Donna Ozuna-Trout and her husband, Ralph Trout, held a press conference on the steps of the Wyandotte County Courthouse. The couple had just been released from county jail, each on $50,000 bond. Prosecutors had accused them of trying to poison Edwardsville Mayor Stephanie Eickhoff and her family, who happened to be the Trouts’ neighbors.
News of the strange arrest — police said the couple had attempted to murder the Eickhoffs by sending them poisoned baked goods through the mail — had made the national networks and cast a rare spotlight on the small Wyandotte County town.
The story was even reported in England and Canada, with headlines such as “Terror in Edwardsville” and “Snack Attack.”
But Ozuna-Trout told reporters that the accusation was untrue. Mayor Eickhoff, she said, had concocted the story of the poisoning and possibly planted phony evidence in the Trouts’ trash to frame them.
Wearing a red suit and glasses, her gray-streaked hair pulled back, Ozuna-Trout read from a handwritten statement and told journalists that the mayor’s accusations were the culmination of years of racially motivated mistreatment she had endured as a Mexican-American woman living in a suburban Kansas neighborhood.
“In my opinion, it’s because I’m a minority and my husband is a white man,” Ozuna-Trout said.
African-American community activist and comic-book artist Alonzo Washington had helped to organize the press conference and was there to support Ozuna-Trout’s allegations that her prosecution was racially motivated. And Jesse Milan, a past president of the Kansas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also took an interest in the case, later acting as Ozuna-Trout’s spokesman in a television interview.
“I would hope that Donna didn’t try to poison her. That would be a very foolish thing to do,” Washington tells the Pitch. But he expresses little doubt in Ozuna-Trout’s allegation that she was the target of harassment. “Since she was Hispanic and married to a white man, some people out there didn’t like it, and the mayor didn’t like it,” Washington says.
“These are false charges,” Ozuna-Trout said at the press conference last summer. “We both mind our own business and have never bothered the Eickhoffs or anyone else.”
Washington, who grew up a friend of Ozuna-Trout’s nephew, concurs. “I’ve never known her to be a troublesome type of person,” he says. “She’s a quiet type.”
With a trial likely in June, the Pitch went to Edwardsville and another neighborhood where Ozuna-Trout lived previously and looked for evidence that white, suburban Kansans had indeed made life difficult for the Mexican-American woman accused of attempted murder.
In fact, court records and numerous interviews turned up a surprising volume of evidence of harassment, intimidation and threats of violence.
But not against Donna Ozuna-Trout.
The evidence suggests instead that Edwardsville’s mayor had found herself living across the street from the ultimate neighbor from hell.
Ozuna-Trout has feuded with her neighbors for years, both in Edwardsville, where she lives now, and in the south Kansas City, Kansas, neighborhood that was her home for 15 years.
Her present and former neighbors tell the Pitch —and government documents detail —that Ozuna-Trout harassed them by calling in baseless complaints to police, fire, animal control, and codes-enforcement agencies to trigger frequent visits from officials; that she waved firearms at neighbors who stepped in her yard; that she frightened her neighbors with death threats and menacing phone calls; and that she used the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services as a weapon by filing false complaints of child abuse and neglect against her neighbors, triggering full-scale child-welfare investigations.
“She’s nuts. She’s crazy,” says former neighbor Danny Yeo about Ozuna-Trout.
But Washington still doubts the Edwardsville mayor’s version of events. “The thing I always felt that was fake coming from the mayor was that she’s so afraid of Donna. She’s the mayor. Her husband is in law enforcement,” Washington told the Pitch last week.
“How could she be afraid of this regular woman?”
James Eickhoff spotted the package sitting at his door on the morning of April 22 last year.
The family had spent the night before at the Great Wolf Lodge, a hotel and spa with an indoor water park at the Village West development in western Wyandotte County, to celebrate the birthdays of their two younger children, Arthur, 6, and Lillian, 8. (Their oldest child, Ashley, is 14.) It was midweek — James and Stephanie Eickhoff had pulled the children out of school for the day as a surprise — and James had returned to the house before the rest of the family to get ready for work. The box was wrapped in brown paper and addressed to “James and Stephanie Eickhoff and Children.”
Inside, he found a card wishing Stephanie luck in her term as mayor, which seemed strange, James tells the Pitch, because his wife had been mayor of the small town for more than a year. The package contained glazed doughnuts and a Bavarian-cream coffeecake that looked like they had been smashed a bit in the mail as well as a 2-liter bottle of Vess root beer with a greenish tinge, on which the seal had clearly been broken. “I knew there was something wrong with that,” James says.
Worried about being late for work, James called his wife and asked her to call the police to report the suspicious package. “I told her not to go in the house,” he recalls.
Stephanie met Edwardsville police at the house, and officers turned the package over to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for testing.
When the KBI toxicology report came back, Edwardsville police notified the Eickhoffs that the sweets contained lethal doses of poison — enough lye and antifreeze to kill eight adults.
Stephanie says she couldn’t stop fixating on the thought that someone had wanted to murder her children. If her kids had gotten to the package first, they would have thought someone had sent them birthday treats. “I know my kids, and I know they would have eaten it,” she says. “And antifreeze is very sweet, so in a dessert I’m sure they wouldn’t have noticed the taste.”
On the advice of police, the Eickhoffs left the house, staying separately in various locations — at Stephanie’s mother’s house, at a vacation house and with an old friend of Stephanie’s, Edwardsville City Councilman Pat Isenhour — for about six weeks.
Investigators, meanwhile, were able to trace the package to the post office from which it had been mailed, and they found the postal worker who recalled taking the package.
They showed the worker a photo lineup, and she picked out the woman she said had dropped off the parcel.
Eickhoff says she wasn’t surprised when she was told that the postal worker had identified the Eickhoffs’ neighbor, Donna Ozuna-Trout. “I knew there was only one person who would want us dead, and that was Donna,” she says.
After six weeks, the family, tired of living in hiding, returned home in June — across the street from the person they believed had tried to kill them.
In July, after searching Ozuna-Trout’s property and confiscating bags of her garbage, police arrested her and her husband and charged them with attempted first-degree murder.
The Eickhoffs slept well for one night, they say. But the next day, Ozuna-Trout and her husband bonded out of jail, held their news conference and returned home.
The two families continue to live in facing houses as the trial approaches.
Stephanie Eickhoff remembers well the day in 1999 that Donna Ozuna moved to South 94th Street.
She took her new neighbor a plate of homemade cookies.
“Let us know if you need anything. We all watch out for each other around here,” Stephanie recalls telling Ozuna, who was single then and appeared to be in her late 40s.
Stephanie was a young mother and a City Council member who often worked from home, selling items on eBay that she’d bought at garage sales. She was a former sheriff’s deputy, which is how she had met her husband, James, who is now a captain with the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Department. From the window of their pretty, turn-of-the century, white A-frame, which sits on a hill just off Kansas Highway 32, the Eickhoffs had a perfect view of Ozuna’s squat brick-and-turquoise ranch home.
“She seemed very nice. Very nice. I would never have thought that one day she’d try to kill us,” Stephanie says.
(The Pitch made several attempts to speak with Ozuna-Trout and her husband. On a recent afternoon, Ralph Trout, who was in his garage working on his car, said that he and his wife don’t plan to talk about their case. “When we do talk, we’ll sell our story,” he said.)
The Eickhoffs say they often did favors for neighbors. James remembers helping Ozuna fix a problem with her swimming pool and lending her his riding lawn mower. “She and I had a pretty good relationship at first, because I did help her out,” he says.
Don and Pat Roland, another couple who lived in the neighborhood, had a different view. The Rolands went to court after Ozuna called animal control to have them pick up the Rolands’ two aging dogs, which often wandered down the street to sit with an elderly neighbor on his porch. Ozuna complained that one of the dogs had jumped on her daughter, Carmen, causing her to chip a tooth. A judge dismissed the complaint. Pat Roland says most neighbors saw Ozuna as a minor nuisance.
“It was after the 4th of July party, when she threatened to kill three people, that things changed drastically,” Pat Roland says.
Before she was mayor, Stephanie Eickhoff was known around town as the City Council member who threw an elaborate Independence Day bash every year. The Eickhoffs fired up their grill and hired a DJ, and their friends and family and neighbors gathered in their front yard to eat hamburgers and chat and splash in the pool.
But the parties stopped after 2001. About 70 people attended the Eickhoffs’ holiday picnic that year. At dusk, a few of the Eickhoffs’ guests set off fireworks. One guest, off-duty Kansas City, Kansas, firefighter Ritch Nigh, lit a Roman candle and tossed it in the street. According to a police statement later filed by James Eickhoff, “One of the flaming balls went into the ditch on the opposite side of the street.”
Witnesses said that Ozuna ran out of her house, screaming.
She threatened to punch Nigh in the mouth, and he told her to shut up. Then she said, “I’ll just get a gun and shoot you!” according to James Eickhoff’s written statement to police.
Neighbor Jesse Trout (who shares a last name with the man Ozuna later married but is not related) arrived and attempted to defuse the situation, telling Ozuna that everyone was just trying to have a good time. Ozuna told Trout to stay out of it, then followed him as he walked back toward his house. Ozuna threatened to shoot him, he later wrote in a police statement. Then she looked at his wife, Lesli Trout, who was holding her baby son.
According to Lesli Trout’s police statement, Ozuna screamed at her, “Fuck you, bitch! I’m going to shoot you, bitch! I’m gonna shoot you!”
By that time, Lesli Trout already considered Ozuna a problem. Earlier that summer, two of her sons had stepped on Ozuna’s lawn while they were playing. The children told their mother that Ozuna had screamed at them and threatened to have her dog attack them. When Lesli Trout knocked on Ozuna’s door to try to smooth things over, the woman repeated the threats, she says.
About a month later, her boys were outside riding their bikes when Ozuna got into her car, gunned the engine and drove toward them as if she meant to run them over. But the district attorney’s office declined to prosecute the case after Lesli filed a police report.
On the night of the July 4, 2001, party, Trout told Ozuna she was tired of her threats. In front of numerous Trout family members who were present, Ozuna replied, “You don’t know who you are messing with. This has just begun.”
An Edwardsville police cruiser arrived a few minutes later and, after talking with witnesses, police arrested Ozuna and her daughter, Carmen, for making terroristic threats. “The mayor happened to be at the party that day, and some councilmen, and they told the police they thought they should be taken in,” Pat Roland says.
After Ozuna and her daughter were arrested, the Trouts say, things only got worse.
That November 17, 2001, the Trouts’ phone rang and Jesse picked it up. A woman’s voice muttered death threats; he thought it was Ozuna, but he couldn’t be sure. Later that night, the Trouts got another call, and Lesli answered. The caller, whose voice Lesli later testified in court she recognized as Ozuna’s, said, “You’re dead, bitch,” then hung up.
Lesli began keeping detailed notes of Ozuna’s behavior. “I did it in case anything happened to me, so there would be a record of what had been going on,” she tells the Pitch.
In her notebook, Trout listed dozens of incidents of harassment. One day, Ozuna stood in the middle of her yard staring at the Trout children through binoculars; one night, she stood outside in a long white nightgown staring up at the Trout home. One afternoon, as Lesli pulled weeds in her flower bed with her 2-year-old, Ozuna yelled, “Bitch!” and flipped her off. Another day, she wrote, Ozuna had made throat-slashing gestures while pointing vigorously at her; another time, she believed Ozuna had shot at the Trouts’ house while they were inside.
She says Ozuna made calls to the police that caused officers to show up at the Trout home regularly. Ozuna once complained to the police that someone had turned around in her driveway and that Jesse Trout had walked in her yard; another night, a light in the Trout garage was too bright; on a different day, Ozuna called police after the Trout kids’ basketball rolled onto her grass. (Edwardsville police spokesman Major Jeff Cheek was unable to provide records of how many complaint calls Ozuna made on her neighbors because the department only records formal reports. He refused to comment on Ozuna because of the pending charges against her.)
The Trouts say Ozuna called animal control, too — once complaining of a “mad dog” on the Trout property and another time requesting that officers pick up a “spotted stray dog” at the Trout address, which Lesli Trout says was a reference to her family pet, a Dalmatian.
Lesli Trout says the most traumatic experiences for the family were false allegations made to the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services about the Trouts’ treatment of the family’s children. The Trouts accuse Ozuna of making the allegations. (By law, the SRS must protect the identity of its informants, so the agency would not reveal to the Trouts who had made the complaints.)
Whoever did call the agency charged that the Trouts left their children alone on weekends and that their 13-year-old daughter wandered the neighborhood holding the 2-year-old baby on her hip, knocking on doors and asking for food, Lesli says. Another time, someone called the SRS the day after the Trout family had gone off-roading together and had come home covered in mud. SRS was told that the Trout children were “dirty.”
After full investigations and visits to the Trout home, SRS investigators sent the Trouts reports stating that both allegations were unsubstantiated.
The Trouts were sure that Ozuna had made the complaints.
Lesli says she called the district attorney’s office repeatedly to beg that charges be filed on her complaint that Ozuna had tried to run over her sons. She also called the state attorney general’s office and even a Wyandotte County neighborhood dispute hotline to try to alert authorities to Ozuna’s behavior.
“I said, ‘This lady’s psycho. She’s going to kill somebody. Please do something,'” Lesli Trout says.
In December 2001, the district attorney’s office responded to the July arrests, charging Donna and Carmen Ozuna with making terroristic threats, a felony. The court complaint included statements made at the Eickhoffs’ Independence Day party as well as the alleged telephoned death threat to Lesli Trout.
The Ozunas went to trial in April 2002, and the jury heard testimony from Ritch Nigh, Lesli and Jesse Trout, James Eickhoff and several officers from the Edwardsville Police Department.
The assistant district attorney handling the case, Tristram Hunt, now a federal prosecutor, asked the judge to allow him to present evidence to the jury that would show that making threats against neighbors wasn’t something new for Donna and Carmen Ozuna.
On the second day of the trial, Hunt called witnesses who remembered Ozuna and her daughter from their previous neighborhood in Kansas City, Kansas.
In a quiet neighborhood near the Eugene Ware Elementary School, where 48th Street intersects Oakland Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas, Tom Powell lived for decades next door to Donna Ozuna and her daughter, Carmen. Powell bought his house from his parents, longtime neighbors of Donna Ozuna’s mother, who died a few years ago. “My parents had a real good relationship with her mother, and I think that’s probably what protected me all those years while everyone else was getting harassed,” Powell says.
Powell says he watched several sets of neighbors clash with Ozuna.
Beverly Smith and Ernest Curtis lived in a pretty stone house on Oakland, across the street from Ozuna. They had bought the home in the fall of 1991, and their troubles with their neighbor, they say, began when one of Curtis’ business partners accidentally backed into Donna Ozuna’s mailbox. Curtis claimed in court papers to have repaired the damage immediately, but he said the couple was soon the target of Ozuna’s wrath.
In 1994, Ozuna filed a civil lawsuit against them in Wyandotte County District Court, and Curtis and Smith countersued. In court records, Curtis and Smith accused Ozuna of filing three false child-abuse charges with the SRS, claiming once that the couple’s then-7-year-old daughter, JoAnn, carried a firearm. That prompted state child-welfare investigators to show up at the girl’s school to question her, according to the couple.
Curtis and Smith also stated that Ozuna made “constant complaints” about them to numerous government agencies, including the police department, the domestic-relations department, the codes department and animal control, and that none of the agencies had found any problems.
The couple said they feared for their family’s safety. Ozuna, they said, had threatened them verbally in front of other neighbors and had then written them an ominous letter using the same wording.
The letter, in words cut from a magazine, said, “your dead bitch!” and continued, in a typewritten rant zigzagging across the page: “DOESN’T MATTER HOW MANY DAM LIGHTS YOU PUT ON IN YOUR HOUSE (you and old MR SHITHEAD CURTIS ARE A BUNCH OF SCARED MOTHERFUCKERS … YOU CANT HIDE BEHIND YOUR NEIGHBORS FOREVER NOBODY IS GONNA PROTECT YOU BITCH.” The letter continued, referring to the couple’s daughters as “pigs,” to Curtis as an “old old old fuck” and to Smith as an “old worn out bitch.”
Court records show that Ozuna denied many of the couple’s allegations against her and countered that they were actually harassing her. Their children, Ozuna complained, had thrown balls in her yard, and one of them had chased her niece with a stick. Their dog had “interfered with her trash.”
Judge Bill Robinson treated the matter as a neighborhood dispute and suggested mediation. But the mediator, Helen Wahl, soon quit, writing in a letter to the court, “Mediation will not work in every case.”
Robinson ultimately ordered Curtis and Smith and Ozuna to refrain from “hindering, assaulting or in any way harassing each other.”
Then a neighbor, Danny Yeo, watched a desperate Curtis and Smith put up a tall wooden privacy fence around their home to shut out Ozuna.
“If someone were to say she’s a lunatic, they wouldn’t be lying,” Yeo says.
Ozuna’s complaints about Yeo’s dogs landed him in court numerous times, he says. When his beagle disappeared, neighbors told him they had seen Ozuna take the dog and drive off, Yeo says. A few days later, an office worker found the dog wandering in a business park in Lenexa near Interstate 435 and took it to an animal shelter, where Yeo located it.
After one of their younger children stepped on Ozuna’s grass, Yeo says, Ozuna tried to intimidate his wife.
“After that, my wife told the children, ‘You don’t even walk on her side of the street. And if your ball goes in her yard — it’s gone,” Yeo says. When the family finally moved to Missouri 10 years ago, they were relieved to get away from Ozuna.
A few years later, Ozuna moved to Edwardsville.
On the second day of the 2002 trial in which Ozuna and her daughter faced felony charges of making terroristic threats, Assistant District Attorney Hunt called two women as witnesses who had worked at the elementary school in Ozuna’s old neighborhood. They testified that they had witnessed a frightening encounter in 1998 in which Carmen Ozuna had pulled a gun on the mother of two schoolchildren.
The children had cut though the Ozunas’ yard, and Donna Ozuna had followed them around the corner to their home, the witnesses testified. She pounded on their door, screaming at them. The frightened children called their mother, Telisha Relliford, who confronted Donna Ozuna. The two women argued. The school employees testified that Carmen Ozuna then ran out of her house waving a handgun, pointed the weapon at Relliford and shouted, “I’ll kill you, black bitch.” Neighbors called the police, court records show. Carmen Ozuna pleaded guilty to aggravated assault without admitting that she’d had a gun, and a judge placed her on probation.
After hearing this testimony as well as accounts of what had taken place in Edwardsville at the July 4, 2001, party, the jury deliberated for an afternoon and a morning before finding Donna and Carmen Ozuna not guilty of making criminal threats.
Lesli Trout and Stephanie Eickhoff were bitterly disappointed.
After the trial, they say, Ozuna smirked when she saw them. “She was always out there after that, smiling, flipping us off and just laughing,” Lesli Trout says.
The Trouts, fed up with the neighborhood dispute, found a house to rent in a nearby area.
The Eickhoffs believe that’s when Ozuna turned her attention to them. James says he was convinced that Ozuna was determined to punish him for testifying in the 2002 trial.
When he saw Ozuna make a throat-slashing gesture at him a month after the trial, he says, he started to worry. “I began to think she might harm us, especially when I talked to some of the neighbors,” he says.
The previous fall, the Eickhoffs were told that Ozuna had allegedly pulled a gun on Darryl Ford, the adult son of their neighbors Robert and Debbie Ford, a retired couple who lived up the street. Darryl Ford tells the Pitch that he was at his brother’s house about a mile away helping to fix the roof when it started to rain. He had left his convertible, parked with the top down, in front of his parents’ house, and he decided to run over and close up the car.
As Ford sprinted, getting pelted with rain, he cut through yards. Donna Ozuna saw him step on her grass and yelled at him through the window. He says he replied, “Whatever, lady,” and kept going. Then, he says, she ran out of her house, jumped in her car and pulled up next to him aiming what looked like a .38-caliber handgun out the window at him. He ducked, thinking she was going to shoot.
“Don’t ever do that again or I’ll shoot you!” he says she yelled before driving away. He called police, who encouraged him to press charges. But he decided not to. “They said she had a bunch of complaints against her, and I think they wanted to get another one. But I didn’t want the hassle of having to come back and testify,” he says.
James Eickhoff says he figured a physical barrier might help reduce the number of encounters with his neighbor. So in 2002, he purchased a motor home and parked it so that it blocked Ozuna’s view of their home.
The Eickhoffs claim that Ozuna retaliated by making three complaints to the SRS, falsely charging that the Eickhoffs were abusing their three children.
Stephanie says SRS investigators showed up at her home in response to a tip that the couple were beating their kids. The investigators had their son strip to his underwear so that they could check for bruises, Stephanie says. The SRS ultimately found the claims to be unsubstantiated. “It was humiliating,” Stephanie says. SRS investigators would not say who made the allegations, but Stephanie says they hinted that it was a neighbor who didn’t like the Eickhoffs.
In June 2002, the Eickhoffs filed a civil lawsuit against Ozuna, claiming that she had used the SRS as a weapon, slandering the couple with false claims to the agency and purposely inflicting emotional distress. But the Eickhoffs eventually dropped the suit, partly, they say, because they were worried it could hinder Stephanie’s political aspirations and partly because the SRS would not turn over records.
Despite the troubles in her neighborhood, however, in 2002 Stephanie decided to run for mayor. She’d been a cemetery board member, a member of the police advisory committee and a City Council member, and although she was still in her early 30s, she figured she had a good shot to win the post in the 4,500-person town.
But during her campaign, she still worried about Ozuna. The Eickhoffs bought a wireless video camera to attach to the outside of their house and set their VCR to tape the feed. When they had earlier complained to the district attorney’s office about Ozuna’s behavior, they were told that they needed proof.
The video camera recorded images of Donna Ozuna’s yard, where she had placed a “Stephanie Eickhoff for Mayor” sign alongside a crude wooden sign with hand-painted letters, aimed at the Eickhoff home, that said “U R NEXT.” The camera captured images of Ozuna scowling and sticking her tongue out at the Eickhoffs, flipping them off and mouthing the word bitch. By then, Ozuna had married her boyfriend, Ralph Trout, and had changed her last name to Ozuna-Trout. Stephanie noticed that Ozuna-Trout would smile sweetly when her new husband was around, waiting until he turned his back or walked inside before making obscene gestures.
During the mayoral race, Eickhoff found strange posts on a political Web site from a person using the screen name “maria.” One post, referring to Eickhoff’s mayoral campaign, read: “She has not been able to get along with neighbors or minorities in her area. She is racist and has been harassing a minority neighbor for six years by having false charges and physical harrassment [sic] since her husband works for the sheriffs dept, she cant get along with neighbors particularlly [sic] minorities.”
Eickhoff won the race and became mayor of Edwardsville for a two-year term. On the day she was to be sworn in, April 14, 2003, she says, two FBI agents showed up at her doorstep and told her they were looking into a neighbor’s complaint of a civil rights violation. They told her Ozuna-Trout had complained that her neighbors were harassing her. “Please investigate this,” Eickhoff says she told them. “I’m the one who’s being harassed.”
Around that time, she says, she also received a phone message from KSHB Channel 41, warning that a news team might show up to investigate a complaint by Ozuna-Trout that Eickhoff and others in the neighborhood were subjecting her to racial harassment.
But Stephanie says she couldn’t worry about Ozuna-Trout all the time — during her first two weeks as mayor, severe tornadoes swept through western Wyandotte County, the worst the area had seen since the late 1970s, and Eickhoff had her hands full making sure that sirens were functioning properly and residents knew where to seek shelter.
Soon after, the Eickhoffs made news in May 2003 when they filed a petition in Wyandotte County District Court for an order of protection to bar Ozuna-Trout from harassing them and their children. In a petition to the court, the Eickhoffs wrote that they were in “extreme fear” for the family’s safety.
After the Eickhoffs asked for the protective order, Ozuna-Trout asked for her own against the Eickhoffs. But her request required two police reports to support her allegations. She went to the Edwardsville Police Department on May 13, 2003, and filed one report against Stephanie and one against James, both for aggravated assault. Ozuna-Trout and her husband told a police officer that the mayor had tried to run over Ozuna-Trout with a car and that the mayor’s husband had pointed a gun at her. Both claims were lies, according to the district attorney’s office, which in August 2003 charged Ozuna-Trout and her husband with filing false police reports, a misdemeanor. No trial date has been set for the case.
District Court Judge George Gronneman, after hearing evidence of the Eickhoffs’ alibis for the times they had allegedly committed the crimes — Stephanie was at a wedding, and her husband was at work — granted the Eickhoffs a protective order but denied Ozuna-Trout’s request for one.
Eickhoff disputes speculation that her office has played a role in her neighbor’s prosecution. “In my case, it was hurtful being mayor. Because the D.A.’s office actually told me up front that, because she’s been charged with things before and people are under the impression that there’s this long-standing feud, they didn’t want to seem like they were being vindictive, they didn’t want it to seem like powerful people were getting together. So they were going to require a lot of evidence in this case. Even though I’m not friends with anybody down there, it’s all about perception.”
In fact, when Ozuna-Trout and her husband bonded out of jail, James Eickhoff called the district attorney’s office to complain. He received a stern letter from then-District Attorney Nick Tomasic, who recently retired. “Lt. Eickhoff, if you continue to be dissatisfied with the progress of the case, you can, at your own expense, hire a special prosecutor to represent your interest to your satisfaction,” Tomasic wrote.
The attempted-murder trial was set for March 24 in Wyandotte County District Court, but Ozuna-Trout’s second attorney in the case, Albert Grauberger, recently withdrew. A new trial date probably will be set for sometime in June, says Assistant District Attorney Josh Allen, who would not comment further on the case.
Since the alleged poisoning attempt, the Eickhoff family has new rules. The children do not go outside alone, and they never play in the front yard. When it’s time to leave the house, everyone runs to the car, and the children duck down until they turn onto the highway. Stephanie Eickhoff always sleeps downstairs on the sofa, keeping watch; she often has insomnia anyway.
“I stay awake until about 4 in the morning, looking out the window to make sure she doesn’t try anything,” she says. “I know it sounds freaky, but it’s true. The woman is terrorizing us.”
The young mayor is running for re-election. She easily won the nonpartisan primary in March with 61 percent of the vote, despite an opponent’s complaint that Stephanie’s case has brought “bad publicity” to Edwardsville. On April 5, she faces Bryan Alldaffer in the general election. In the meantime, she spends afternoons in her home, chain-smoking Benson & Hedges menthol cigarettes, making campaign signs and buttons, and taking phone calls and visits from friends and supporters. Evenings, she campaigns door-to-door, wearing a homemade pink “Eickhoff for Mayor” button on the lapel of her navy-blue suit.
And always, she declines refreshments when they’re offered.