Two decades ago, Joe Petit looked at the backyard sweeping down to the Fox River — where bald eagles, herons and red-tailed hawks swoop low — and he thought he’d found paradise.
But the trouble began even before Petit signed the papers for the ranch house in tiny west suburban Wayne. He showed up one day to find his future neighbors — including Eileen Phipps, the village president — complaining about the way a surveyor had marked out the boundaries of his soon-to-be new home, he said.
“I thought, ‘Well look, I’m going to get a pie, I’m going to get some cookies and a welcome,’” said Petit, now 52. But that welcome never came.
Instead, Petit said, it was the start of a 20-year feud with his neighbors that culminated with the village president’s husband, Hal Phipps, shooting dead his beloved Dogo Argentino pack-hunting dog Ludwig last month.
“I want justice for my family member — the love of my life,” Petit, who says he’s never been married or had kids, said Wednesday. Petit’s asphalt paving business, Petit Brothers, is named in honor of Ludwig and his sibling, Philotimo. “He’s the closest thing I had to a son.”
Hal Phipps did not respond to a request for comment. Eileen Phipps told the Sun-Times that her husband was “in fear for his life” the day Ludwig was shot — and that the dogs had attacked him two months earlier.
The shooting is a big deal in Wayne, population 2,700. There are signs along the main drag and in front yards that read “Justice for Ludwig.”
But it’s not always easy to find people willing to talk about it.
“It would be not in my best interest to pick sides on this one,” said William Beebe, a mechanic who said he services both Petit’s and the Phipps’ automobiles. “I will say this: I think it’s ridiculous.”
Eileen Phipps said the “knee-jerk” reactions to the shooting — on social media in particular — have been “beyond vicious and unfair.”
No charges had been filed in the case as of Wednesday. Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain and Kane County State’s Attorney Jamie Mosser were expected to visit the site of the shooting that day due to the “sensitivity” of the case, Hain told the Sun-Times.
There is no disputing the relationship over the years between the neighbors has been strained. Eileen Phipps attributes some of the bad blood to Petit doing work on his property without permits.
“There’s an inordinate amount of traffic that goes to his house on a daily basis at all hours of the day and night,” she said.
But Petit said his neighbors’ complaints are petty and unreasonable.
Eileen Phipps says the problems with the dogs have also been ongoing. She said Petit’s dogs attacked her 68-year-old husband in the couple’s front yard in June — something that led to a citation by the Wayne Police Department. Petit didn’t see the alleged attack but described his dogs as “submissive” and loving.
On Aug. 10, Petit was in his basement where he has a home office. A close friend, Kathleen Czaplewski, had taken Ludwig and Philotimo to the river to swim. Czaplewski said she was playing with Ludwig when she heard a “pop, pop, pop!”
“The dog fell out of my hands and started floating, [then] sinking and then I saw a bullet hole in his chest,” she said.
But Eileen Phipps, who didn’t see the incident, gave a completely different version of events.
She said her husband was picking up “storm debris” on the couple’s property when Petit’s dogs approached him “snarling and snapping in a menacing way.”
“He’s 68 years old. He’s convalescing. He has two bad knees and carrying about 20 to 30 extra pounds,” she said. “He isn’t going to outrun the dogs. He defended himself. He was in fear for his life.”
Czaplewski said she didn’t even see Hal Phipps before the shooting — and denied the dogs threatened him.
Petit said he ran out of his office after hearing the gunshots. He carried his 100-pound dog to his car and raced to the vet, but it was too late to save Ludwig.
“He is an irreplaceable member of my family. I will never heal from this,” Petit said between sobs.
Wednesday afternoon, as Philotimo paddled after Canada geese in the river, dust billowed up from the homeowner’s drive, where a worker was preparing to install security cameras to add to Petit’s already extensive system.
Given all of the grief Petit said he’s endured, why doesn’t he just pick up and move?
He admits he has considered it.
On the other hand, he said, looking at a river that teems with water skiers in the summer and snowmobilers in the winter: “It’s paradise. It’s like living in a resort.”