By Shereen Siewert
A Marathon County woman who was listed as missing and endangered after fire destroyed her town of Hamburg home is accused of intentionally setting the blaze in advance of a foreclosure order.
Rebecca Pospyhalla, 74, now faces felony charges of arson with intent to defraud. The charges were filed Dec. 29 in Marathon County Circuit Court.
In November, police issued a news release asking for the public’s help locating Pospyhalla after her County Road L property was destroyed in an early morning blaze. Police initially said they were seeking Pospyhalla to verify she was safe and unharmed in the Nov. 4 fire. At the time, Pospyhalla was considered missing and possibly endangered.
Weeks later police announced Pospyhalla had resurfaced after retaining legal counsel and was refusing to answer questions about the circumstances surrounding the blaze.
Cell phone data allegedly places Pospyhalla at the scene of the blaze around the time the fire started, according to court documents, and a local mortgage company had begun foreclosure proceedings on the property in 2016. The foreclosure was stayed until Pospyhalla’s bankruptcy proceedings concluded but her bankruptcy claim was dismissed in October, according to court records. The foreclosure case was set to become active on Nov. 22.
The case progressed on Nov. 18, when an investigator from the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department was contacted by a criminal defense attorney who said Pospyhalla was afraid the police would “shoot her” and was also afraid her dog would not be cared for if she went to jail, according to court records.
Police eventually traced Pospyhalla to a home in Ashland, where they discovered her Chrysler van with the license plates altered with a Sharpie marker. But the homeowner, identified as Barbara Hanninen, told police she hadn’t heard from Pospyhalla in years.
The vehicle was towed from the home and investigators arranged to meet with Pospyhalla at the Ashland County Sheriff’s Department on Nov. 20.
Hanninen is also facing potential charges and is being referred to the Marathon County District Attorney’s office for preventing police from locating or arresting Pospyhalla, court documents state.
Pospyhalla is not in custody, but will be summoned into court on Jan. 14 for an initial appearance. She faces up to 40 years in the Wisconsin Prison System if she is convicted on the felony charge.