Arson victim fired up over treatment by judge, police
By Denise Crosby email@example.com September 8, 2012 8:56PM
Leonard Bridges and his dog, Lily, pose for a photo on the back staircase of Bridges' former apartment on Aurora's east side on Tuesday, August 28, 2012. Bridges' apartment burned after his roommate, Mary Mueller, allegedly set fire to it two days after Bridges was denied an order of protection against her. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 10, 2012 6:16AM
Standing in the charred remains of his former home on Grant Place in Aurora, Leonard “Keith” Bridges wants to set a few things straight.
First, he says Mary Mueller, the woman charged with setting the blaze that destroyed his home, was not his girlfriend, as was reported to the press. She was the ex-wife of a good friend who, needing a place to land after the 2007 divorce, moved into one of the bedrooms in the two-story home Bridges rented and managed.
It turned out to be a huge mistake, obviously. Police say Mueller, 50, deliberately set fire to the house on the morning of June 30 while Bridges and his two dogs were asleep.
Bridges managed to escape the inferno with second and third degree burns to his face and upper body. Lilly, the shepherd mix, survived her injuries. Bailey, the Jack Russell terrier, was not so lucky.
Mueller has been charged with multiple counts of arson, criminal damage to property, aggravated animal cruelty and aggravated battery to a police officer, who suffered smoke inhalation.
Speaking of serious mistakes, Bridges is plenty angry with Kane County Judge Karen Simpson, who denied his request for an emergency order of protection against Mueller four days before the fire. His roommate’s behavior, Bridges said, had become increasingly violent and bizarre, a sure sign she was off her medication for the bipolar disorder she’s struggled with for years.
The request for the order of protection was set for a second hearing on July 12, but by that time Bridges’ house was burned down and Mary Mueller was already in jail.
And Bridges is also angry with the Aurora police officer who arrested him a couple of days before the fire, after Mueller called 911. She accused him of hitting her after an argument over a computer Bridges said she stole.
In spite of calls to police in the past concerning Mueller’s behavior, he insisted, “they just assumed I was the guilty one.”
Calling 911 with false claims was a destructive pattern of behavior ex-husband Mike Mueller said he lived with for most of his 16-year marriage to Mary.
“She’d be fine. Then, every two years or so she would just stop taking her meds ... and our lives would fall apart.” For periods lasting four to nine months, Mike Mueller said, his wife would become paranoid and aggressive. The behavior included harassing phone calls to his workplace, running up massive credit card debt; and of course, calling police — twice in one day when the family lived on Bangs Street — accusing her husband of domestic abuse.
“Her MO was to always call 911, and the police would always side with her,” Mike Mueller said. “When she got like that, I knew I just needed to leave. The kids and I ended up taking a lot of long drives.”
Mike Mueller said he finally had enough and divorced Mary. When she moved in with Bridges, he said, his ex was taking her medication and doing much better. “She stayed well for the past five years,” Mueller said. “And I even complimented her on the progress she had made.”
But things starting going downhill the first of June, a fact so obvious to those who knew her that Mike Mueller said he sat down with their two children and his new wife and told them to “not allow her anywhere on the property” because she is “capable of doing anything.”
That included terrorizing the neighborhood, according to Jasymyne Branch, who lived across the street from the now-charred home and “tried to avoid (Mueller) at all costs” because of her strange and aggressive behavior.
Neighbors called police numerous times on her, Branch said. One day she lit a memorial candle in the middle of the street and said it was for her dead son, who they all knew was very much alive. She also got into fist fights with people on the block, neighbors said, which is how she got the bruise police accused Bridges of inflicting.
“I am a big advocate for prevention of domestic violence,” Branch said. “But police always take the women’s side over the men ... in this case, this woman really needed help.”
Seventy-two hours after Bridges was released from custody, police say Mary Mueller set the curtains of his home on fire. As he tried to make his way out of the home, Bridges said, he discovered Mueller had deactivated smoke alarms, put blankets on all the windows to keep sunlight out and blocked his entrance to an exit with a coffee table he tripped over. He escaped to the back yard where Mueller was standing.
Mary said she “lit her curtains on fire because no one would call 911,” police wrote in a search warrant affidavit. “It was later determined Mary is suffering from schizophrenia.”
Bridges, who has a court date on Monday in the alleged fight with Mueller, hopes the case against him will be thrown out, now that Mueller is in jail.
Her own fate is an even hazier question mark. In the last few years, our local courts and law enforcement have made positive strides in dealing with the mentally ill. The Kane County Treatment Alternative Court was created in 2006 with the goal of helping rather than punishing defendants. And three years ago Aurora police created a Crisis Intervention Team, consisting of 29 officers and two civilians who are trained to recognize and deal with cases that involve mental illness; as well as work in conjunction with agencies to offer help and hope.
Still, “in a city this size, you can never reach everyone,” Aurora Police Lt. Pete Inda acknowledged, adding that he could not comment directly on this arson case. But “there have been many success stories” that show how beneficial these program are for the entire community.
Maybe eventually Mary Mueller will be one of those stories.
Mike Mueller said one of his sons recently went to see his mom, who is being held in Kane County on $75,000 bail. Although she pleaded not guilty to the charges against her, he told his father she feels tremendous remorse.
“At least now,” says her ex-husband, “maybe she will get the help she needs.”