Richard Hyerczyk sat stone still with a slightly pained expression in a federal courtroom Wednesday as a judge read aloud the violent and racist rants he’d mailed to people who angered him over the years.
There were threats to officials at a suburban zoo, promises to rape and dismember a suburban Muslim teen, even letters taunting a Chicago police officer paralyzed in the line of duty. But it was a particularly vicious mailing after Chicago police shot and killed a wild cougar that had wandered into the North Side in 2008 that garnered Hyerczyk the most attention.
“Dear Cougar Killers (aka Chicago PIG Police),” Hyerczyk wrote in the letter, which was read in court by U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman. “Prepare to DIE like the cougar you killed. On May 4th at your St. Jude Memorial March several PIGS will be shot by snipers.”
The letter also threatened to burn down then-Mayor Richard Daley’s summer residence in Michigan.
“It’s unbelievably cold-blooded,” Feinerman said before sentencing Hyerczyk to 27 months in prison. Though Hyerczyk never followed through on any of the threats, the “fear, harm and apprehension” they caused was real, the judge said.
After the hearing, Hyerczyk, a seemingly mild-mannered draftsman for a suburban machinery company and avid botanist, said it was difficult for him to hear his own words read back to him, especially since he didn’t even remember half of what he wrote.
“I’m sad that I wrote things like that,” Hyerczyk, who claimed that his obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety caused him to act irrationally, told reporters later. “A lot of times I wrote it and forgot about it. I never really thought about it.”
Hyerczyk, 54, pleaded guilty in January to mailing more than 90 letters from 2003 to 2012, including some lined with a white powder to make targets fear they’d been poisoned with anthrax.
While many of the letters were sent to police or government officials Hyerczyk believed to be in the wrong, he also had a penchant for pettiness, anonymously targeting neighbors for cutting him off in traffic and failing to stop at stop signs in his quiet Southwest Side neighborhood, court records show.
In one mailing, Hyerczyk sent a cartoon drawing of a hand with an extended middle finger to a neighbor who had not used a turn signal at an intersection, records show. Along with the cartoon was the threat, “Better check under the van hood – it may contain DEATH.”
Other letters complained of parking violations and people openly drinking beer while playing softball around Normandy Park near his home, court records show.
Hyerczyk was first approached by law enforcement in January 2013 after a decade-long investigation by a joint terrorism task force, prosecutors said. He has cooperated in the investigation ever since, and prosecutors have previously said they did not consider him to be a danger to the community.
In the case of the slain cougar, two days after Hyerczyk mailed the threat to burn Daley’s house down, a suspected arson fire started in dune grass swept to within a few car lengths of Daley’s Grand Haven beachfront cottage, then ignited the properties of two neighbors, gutting one home and destroying the garage of another.
No one has been charged in connection with that fire. After the sentencing hearing Wednesday, Hyerczyk said the timing was a coincidence.
“I swear to God that wasn’t me at all,” said Hyerczyk, raising his hand in a scout’s honor.
By Jason Meisner, Tribune reporter