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An unwelcome guest

A local couple returned from an out-of-town trip recently to find an intruder had been staying on their rural Jackson County property

When Wayne and Melinda Henningfield went away on vacation for three months, they didn't expect a homeless man to move onto their rural Jackson County property ' much less mow the lawn and trim the trees.

None of our neighbors knew he was here, said Melinda.

Their daughter, who visited regularly to check on the house and do the yardwork, assumed the neighbors were taking care of the lawn ' until the day she bumped into Timothy John Barker, 49, who was sitting in a lawn chair in the back yard.

Barker, who has been arrested four times this year on charges ranging from burglary to possession of methamphetamines, was taken into custody in May.

He is set for arraignment Wednesday on one count of second-degree burglary, one count of first-degree criminal trespass, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and one count of first-degree theft.

It just makes you feel violated, said Melinda, who still sees Barker riding his bicycle past their house.

The Henningfields were particularly upset that Barker had trimmed the trees because they had just hired an arborist to come in and take care of them professionally before vacation.

They discovered Barker had been living mostly in the barn, even though he had found a house key, and that he used their van.

Initially, their shock gave way to pity and a feeling that Barker had done a fairly good job of mowing the lawn ' which they think he did to convince neighbors he was living there legitimately.

I said I would like to have him work for us, if he wasn't on meth, said Wayne, who washed Barker's clothes before he returned to retrieve them after his arrest.

But then when we tried to start the Oldsmobile, we started to get mad all over again, Melinda said.

The battery was missing in the Olds, and the engine compartment in the van had been sawed apart.

A bicycle was missing, and as time went by, the Henningfields noticed more items that apparently had been taken. They figure about &

36;1,000 worth was stolen.

Barker, whom the couple describe as a good storyteller, eventually brought many of the items back, said Wayne.

On one occasion, a well-dressed man came to their house to collect Barker's things.

When he showed up in a nice Nissan Sentra, we didn't recognize him, said Wayne. He had cleaned himself all up.

Since then, someone came pounding loudly on their front door late one night.

The caller, who wasn't Barker and spoke through the locked door, apologized for staying at their house, then left.

Apparently, other people might have been staying here, said Melinda.

Tim Barnack, deputy district attorney, said the circumstances surrounding the Henningfields' situation are unusual, but intrusions onto private property are not.

We had a guy who would go to construction sites stealing tools, he said. The tools were later pawned.

Vacant houses, rentals or houses that are being remodeled are all targets for trespassers, he said.

In Barker's case, Barnack said, He did everything but ask for their permission.

Barnack advises homeowners to tell a neighbor they are leaving on vacation. Neighbors are notoriously nosy, he said.

The Henningfields hope their plight serves as a cautionary tale to other rural property owners.

They're still not sure what steps they'll take to protect their house.

We're examining our options, said Melinda, to which her husband added, Like selling our house.

Things you can do to prevent trespassing

Here are some tips law enforcement officials recommend to prevent trespassing at your home while you're away:

Tell your neighbors you're going to be leaving. Tell them who is authorized to take care of your home or yard. Also tell your neighbors to call the police if they see anything suspicious.

Find a reputable house sitter.

Leave at least one or two lights on in the house.

Leave a radio on.

Place a cardboard cutout of a full-sized person to give the impression that someone is at home.

Install motion-sensor lights outside.

Install an alarm system.

Install cameras.

At rental units or vacant properties, constantly check them.

Wayne Henningfield shows the loft in his barn where a homeless man took up residence while the Henningfields were on vacation. They are weighing options on how to prevent such an intrusion in the future. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell