The Woodstock house where a deadly attack occurred more than three decades ago is undergoing major renovations in preparation for a new owner.
Habitat for Humanity of McHenry County is in the process of restoring 209 W. Greenwood Ave., once dubbed the “House of Death” after the double murder of its former owners in 1988.
Richard J. Church, now 50, broke into the home, located near Olson Park, and attacked the Ritter family Aug. 21, 1988.
“To be very honest, this house was such a huge blessing to us that it drowned out the negative things I had heard about it,” new owner Reette Martyne said. “My girls are so excited and eager to start our new life there that when I finally told them about [the history] they did not even once reconsider it. I was worried that it would spook them out and they’d change their minds.”
Church, a Northern Illinois University student when he committed the murders, eluded police for three years but ultimately was arrested by law enforcement in Salt Lake City. He had changed his appearance and was using a fake name and Social Security number.
Church pleaded guilty to the murders of Ray and Ruth Ann Ritter, the parents of his former girlfriend, Colleen Ritter, in 1992. He also pleaded guilty to stabbing Colleen and her brother, Matt, that morning.
He was sentenced to life in prison and remains in custody at the Dixon Correctional Center, state prison records show.
The home has changed hands multiple times since the attack but ultimately fell into foreclosure, which is when Habitat for Humanity of McHenry County took an interest. The site met the program requirements, and volunteers now are rehabbing the 1,400-square-foot, three-bedroom, 2½-bathroom home for Martyne and her two daughters.
Martyne is a single mother and works as a home health hospice nurse. Her family has lived in Woodstock for seven years.
“Coming into our new home is kind of like what I do for my families,” Martyne said. “I bring in the sunshine and happiness to a situation that can be very dark and difficult.”
Martyne first attended a Habitat for Humanity meeting more than a decade ago but wasn’t yet ready to work toward homeownership, she said.
“Over the years my life has taken a new direction. I am older, maturer and am currently in my dream career,” Martyne said.
Martyne later returned to school to become a nurse and began volunteering with Habitat for Humanity ReStore. A friend, also a Habitat for Humanity homeowner, encouraged her to apply to the program, but at that time Martyne didn’t meet the income guidelines.
“Maybe a year later I was a registered nurse and working full time. I returned to the office to apply, and I got approved,” she said.
Martyne has worked as a nurse for two years. Construction on the home is expected to be completed in the spring.
Habitat for Humanity requires its homeowners to log 250 “sweat equity” volunteer hours to take advantage of the program, which Martyne has been working off.
“To be honest, it’s a little stressful because I never owned a home before. But every time I have worries, the team at Habitat reminds me that we are not in this alone and that their goal is to set us up for success,” Martyne said. “This program helps you to build the skills to manage finances, connect with the community in partnership and how to basically build a house. This will come in handy one day for sure.”
For information on becoming involved with Habitat for Humanity of McHenry County, visit www.habitatmchenry.org.