Neighbors say cat hoarder danced with felines, grouched at residents
By Dave Gathman firstname.lastname@example.org September 27, 2012 11:04PM
Updated: October 16, 2012 3:14PM
ELGIN — If you saw Bill Tinkler prancing in his backyard, the 60-year-old walking on his toes as his arms rhythmically but smoothly pawed through the air, you might have thought he was imitating the 1980s “Walk Like An Egyptian” dance. Or maybe demonstrating some swimming stroke. But neighbor Karon Snodgrass says she understood exactly what he was doing.
He was walking like a cat. And when he did that, “cats would come running to him from every direction, climbing up on his arms and sitting on his shoulders. He must have felt like he was the king of cats,” said Snodgrass, who lives two doors away from the century-plus-old brick Italianate-style home Tinkler rents in the Elgin Historic District on the city’s east side.
Tinkler was arrested by Elgin police Wednesday after a crew sent by city officials to mow his overgrown lawn noticed a foul odor and discovered that a van parked in his driveway contained dozens of dead cats. More, still alive, were found inside his house or in the yard.
Altogether, Animal Control Officer James Rog said Thursday, 43 dead cats were found piled in the van, and four live ones were taken away in a cage. Rog said the live ones were taken to Golf Rose Animal Hospital in Schaumburg, where they will be examined for signs of illness.
Depending on court rulings and the animals’ health, these cats could either be returned to Tinkler, put up for adoption or “put to sleep,” Rog said.
Police Lt. Dan O’Shea said Tinkler has been charged with four counts of cruelty to animals, a Class A misdemeanor; four counts of violation of an animal owner’s duties, a Class B misdemeanor; and one count of violating the Dead Animal Disposal Act, a Class C misdemeanor.
He was released Wednesday night after posting $150 bond. He is scheduled to appear in Elgin Branch Court at 9 a.m. on Nov. 2.
Erin Nagel, who lives next door to Tinkler, said she saw him enter the home with another man Thursday morning. By lunchtime on Thursday, the driveway contained a white van and an aging Mercury Grand Marquis. But no one answered repeated knocks and doorbell ringing at either the front or back doors.
The back door was now posted with a red city sticker dated Sept. 27 proclaiming the house as “condemned — unfit for human occupancy.” Another city code enforcement sticker, posted during the arrest on Wednesday, said the place would be condemned Sept. 27 unless its owner cleaned up “cat feces, trash, debris scattered throughout interior of house, animal carcasses in basement (and) open food containers scattered throughout interior.”
Police said Tinkler told them he owns 12 live cats, which would imply that eight remain unaccounted for. Police Cmdr. Glenn Theriault said a city attorney will ask for a court order authorizing authorities to seize any animals found in the house or in its yard.
The home, at 259 Villa St., is in one of Elgin’s most historic areas, just a block from where James T. Gifford built the first cabin in the city in 1835, and about a block and a half from Gifford’s still-standing “Stone Cottage” from 1850.
But the Villa Street house, which city officials said is owned by Penny Knuth, is obviously deteriorating. Rotten wood splinters off the front porch and gaping holes appear in parts of the roof. City officials said they obtained a court order on Monday to repair some of those problems, at Knuth’s expense.
Theriault said the dead cats will not be “necropsied,” as an animal autopsy is called, to see what killed them. “It’s a cost-benefit thing,” he said. “It costs $500 to necropsy each animal, and we don’t need that to prove the charges against him.”
Rog said it is hard to tell how long the 43 cats had been dead, but some had already decomposed considerably.
Snodgrass said she suspects that an epidemic was going through Tinkler’s menagerie. She said another neighbor reported Tinkler’s cats would lie around on the ground, apparently too sick to move, and some would cough.
“My neighbor said he thought they had some kind of respiratory disease,” she said. “He warned me to keep my dogs away in case it was contagious to dogs.”
The body of a dog also was found in the van, authorities said.
Snodgrass said Tinkler complained to her that he was too broke to get a problem with his car fixed and she offered to have a friend work on it, but he didn’t trust leaving his car at her house.
She said he also took an interest in one of her two dogs, a Jack Russell/poodle mix puppy, and begged her to let him have the dog, but she couldn’t bear to give him up.
She said a resident of the neighborhood once saw Tinkler going through a dumpster behind a supermarket and pulling out discarded food.
“He was strange. But I thought it was great that someone like that was taking care of all these stray cats in the neighborhood,” Snodgrass said.
She said she had noticed a foul smell when visiting Tinkler’s yard, but she figured he was just failing to clean out his cats’ litter boxes often enough. Since she works as a maid, she offered to clean up the house. But he refused to let her inside.
Nagel said her only impression of Tinkler was that “he’s not very nice,” and another resident of the apartment building next door, Shavon Patrick, described him as ”really mean.” Patrick said that when she and her friends held a party, Tinkler shouted at them to turn down their music. When they shouted at some cats to get out of their yard, because the cats had been defecating there, she said, Tinkler came over and said, “Don’t talk to my cats like that.”