A Clinton County farmer — whose bankruptcy fraud case gripped the community and became intertwined with an unsolved double-murder — has been released from prison.
But Joseph “Joey” Diekemper isn’t waking at the crack of dawn to milk hundreds of cows or tend to hundreds of acres of fertile cropland, as he once did at his dairy farm north of Carlyle. He’s now at a prison-sanctioned halfway house, where his days will include random head-counts, random drug and alcohol tests, and having to go through a sign-out procedure for approved trips, such as to job interviews or counseling.
Diekemper, now 68, received a 10-year prison sentence in 2009 for trying to hide income and assets in his $5 million bankruptcy case. The sentencing judge, U.S. District Judge G. Patrick Murphy, described him as “a hard man to like,” who manipulated others and struck fear in the community.
“I think people were actually afraid of him,” Murphy said at the sentencing. “But no one will ever fear you where you are going. You may experience fear, but you will not be feared.”
I think people were actually afraid of him.
U.S. District Judge G. Patrick Murphy
The assets in the bankruptcy included a high-dollar tractor, a White 8710, which was hidden behind a false wall of a storage building.
The building with the false wall was on property in rural Keyesport rented by George and Linda Weedon. FBI agents investigating Diekemper’s financial dealings made phone contact with George Weedon on April 21, 2007, and asked him to come into the FBI office in Fairview Heights for an interview.
According to an FBI memo, Weedon admitted during the phone call that he was storing the tractor for Diekemper, and agreed to come in for an interview. But Weedon was nervous about the meeting: He told the FBI agent that he was scared Diekemper would burn his house down if he found out.
The meeting never happened.
On April 23, 2007 — two days after the FBI phone conversation — a fire broke out at the Weedons’ rental home. Firefighters found the body of 37-year-old George Weedon, a shade-tree mechanic, inside his vintage Plymouth Roadrunner muscle car, about 100 yards from the home. They found the body of 41-year-old Linda Weedon, a hospital worker, in the rubble of the house.
Both of the Weedons had been shot.
No one has been charged in connection with their deaths. And attorneys for Diekemper have repeatedly insisted that Diekemper had no involvement in the killings.
Illinois State Police handled the investigation into the Weedon killings, and it remains an open investigation, according to ISP Lt. David Bivens.
“We still, to this day, occasionally get a phone call, and we go out and look into it. I’m always hopeful that the next phone call might be the one that generates more leads,” said Bivens, who was part of the investigation from the beginning. “I’m not giving up on this case, that’s for sure.”
Bivens wouldn’t say if the investigation has cleared Diekemper.
“I will not saying anything about Joey Diekemper. What I will say is, there are people associated with the case, from when it originally developed, who have not been cleared as suspects,” Bivens said.
He declined to elaborate.
I will not saying anything about Joey Diekemper. What I will say is, there are people associated with the case, from when it originally developed, who have not been cleared as suspects.
Illinois State Police Lt. David Bivens
‘Cough up those guns’
Federal prosecutors charged Diekemper in June 2008 with bankruptcy fraud. For a while, Diekemper was free on bond while awaiting trial. A judge revoked Diekemper’s bond and ordered him jailed in July 2008 for giving contradictory information about the location of his guns. While out on bond, Diekemper wasn’t supposed to have any guns in his possession.
Diekemper’s attorney argued that Diekemper had simply misspoken about the whereabouts of the guns. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Proud, in revoking Diekemper’s bond, said it was “almost incredulous” that Diekemper would not know the location of the guns, which had been “a hot topic for some time.”
In one filing, federal prosecutors disclosed why the guns were a hot topic. They wrote that the Weedon killings “contribute to law enforcement’s interest in the firearms being concealed by Diekemper.”
The gun issue surfaced again at Diekemper’s sentencing hearing. A federal prosecutor, Jennifer Hudson, told the judge that guns owned by Diekemper were found by mushroom hunters, buried in some woods, just a week or so before the sentencing. Hudson added that one gun, a .22-caliber, was “missing.”
Murphy, the sentencing judge, said there was “no possible explanation” for why Diekemper didn’t “cough up those guns.”
“I don't understand why it is that at this late point, that law enforcement, the United States marshals and the rest, have to go out and find these buried guns,” Murphy said at the hearing. “I’m just saying, the court can’t come to grips with the reality that at this late date, this defendant is not coughing up what he was absolutely obligated to cough up. And moreover, I'm satisfied that he was properly counseled as to the absolute necessity to come clean with all this.”
In 2011, Diekemper filed a motion on his own, asking the court to order that his guns be turned over to a friend. Prosecutors objected, citing “the open murder investigation” and “potential probative value of these weapons to other cases.” A judge denied Diekemper’s request.
Diekemper served his sentence at a federal prison in Marion.
Bureau of Prisons records show he has been transferred through a St. Louis “residential re-entry management” office, which means he’s now at a halfway house in either St. Louis or Marion. Attempts to reach him were not successful.
His release from a halfway house is scheduled for March 29.
At the sentencing hearing, Diekemper attorney Gilbert Sison spoke of advising Diekemper to move away when he’s released from custody. But Sison said Diekemper wants to move back to Carlyle.
Sison quoted Diekemper as saying, “If I’m going to make my life worth something, I’ve got to convince these people that don’t believe in me that I’m actually a decent person. That despite the bad that I’ve done, that I’m actually a decent person.”
Sison told the judge that Diekemper sunk into the farm almost all of an $860,000 lawsuit settlement. The settlement, paid to Diekemper about a year before he filed for bankruptcy protection, was from a wrongful-death lawsuit involving a 15-year-old son who died in an accident on the farm. Sison argued that Diekemper was trying to keep the farm afloat as a “lasting memorial” to his son.
But Murphy, the judge, noted that it would be one thing if Diekemper committed fraud in an effort to help his farm and his family, but instead Diekemper “was flushing it down here at the gambling casino.”
Diekemper was supposed to report his financial activities to a trustee while the bankruptcy case was pending, but investigators found that he failed to report more than 190 trips to casinos during the time frame, in which he lost more than $115,000.
Diekemper, speaking at his sentencing, mentioned his son’s death.
“I look back on what I have done, and I am completely disgusted with myself. I have lied and cheated to save my farm. I realize a little too late that my son’s memory will always be with me and feeling responsible and trying to carry on his dreams is no excuse for the lying and cheating,” he told the judge.
“I am not a failure because I lost my farm, like I thought. I’m a failure because I betrayed the love and faith of my family and my friends.”