By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Village Voice Writers
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By Sean Kelley
"He started name-calling, foul language, violent screaming rages," recalls Duncan. "He'd get so mad a vein would pop out of his forehead. His eyes would look like they'd explode."
Like the other villains of Franklin County, Wichman says, the women are jealous that he's moved on with his life.
"I don't know too many ex-wives who would say good things about their former husbands," he retorts.
Spelled out in the public records of the courts, Wichman goes to greater lengths to discredit his former lovers. Twice in the past two years he has been left by fiancées. On each occasion, Wichman has later filed a restraining order against the woman, writing 1,000-word confessionals as to why the runaway is a perceived threat.
In a restraining order filed January 2003, Wichman writes of an ex-fiancée: "She persuaded me to give up my business, move to St. Peters, and buy her an expensive home and business so that she could get back her children....She walked out a week before our wedding leaving me $550,000 in debt....I cannot allow her to continue taunting and threatening me. The stress is overwhelming."
Another restraining order filed roughly a year later against another fiancée states that the root of their discord was Wichman's dirty bathroom.
"In November, after a wonderful weekend with her family, [she] picked a fight over the fact that my bathroom floor wasn't perfectly clean," writes Wichman. "My home was immaculate. I tried to talk to her and she threatened me and told me her brothers would harm me if I spoke to her again."
Later in the note, Wichman explains that the couple made amends over the bathroom only to have another falling out when he made reservations for a special Valentine's Day weekend at the Marriott. She wanted to stay at the Adam's Mark.
Wichman ends the letter by asking the court to keep the woman away from his family and business associates. "She has contacts with people I work with and she is an extremely vindictive, manipulative and hateful person....I am asking that she not be allowed to contact me, my family or my business associates...I ask your protection. I am terrified."
So, why the need to file a restraining order against someone who's cut you out of their life?
Speculates one of the ex-fiancées: "He doesn't want us to tell his parents or his business associates about him."
Joe Noernberg remembers one of Wichman's recent engagements.
"He shows up driving a new car, a Saab or Volkswagen -- some little foreign job -- and says, 'Wow, everyone. You should all congratulate me. I just got engaged last night,'" says Noernberg. "I remember thinking, 'With what!? That's my money that bought that car and diamond ring!'"
A 36-year-old entrepreneur with a shipping and exporting business in O'Fallon, Noernberg first encountered Wichman early last year. At the time Noernberg was piddling with a small side business importing and selling miniature all-terrain vehicles. One day, out of the blue, Noernberg says he received a call from a sales agent asking if he would be interested in marketing his ATV business through Wichman's latest company, St. Louis Playscapes in Town & Country.
Wichman, meanwhile, was coming off a two-year run in St. Charles County, where he settled after declaring bankruptcy in 2002 -- a move that absolved him of some $360,000 in debts he incurred while in Franklin County. Yet court records reveal the bankruptcy served only as a temporary shield.
Within months of moving to St. Charles, Wichman was slapped with a series of fresh lawsuits from creditors, landlords and taxing agencies. Even so, it was during this time that Wichman once again managed to open a business similar to those in Franklin County. This one -- the first version of St. Louis Playscapes -- operated for just a few months before Wichman entered into a protracted argument with his landlord and left St. Charles.
Moving the company to Town & Country, St. Louis Playscapes would be Wichman's most audacious project to date. No longer confined to the blue-collar bedroom communities surrounding St. Louis, he took out a lease at an old Streetside Records on busy Manchester Road in the heart of affluent west St. Louis County.
The business model would be a twist on his previous companies. In addition to home and lawn products, he'd also carry luxury leisure items -- the type of frivolous playthings Wichman fantasized about in the pages of in-flight catalogs.
So it was that Wichman considered Noernberg's mini-ATVs a perfect fit for the new business model. Noernberg agreed and put down several thousand dollars to reserve space in the yet-to-be-opened showroom.
Over the next couple months, Noernberg says, his original investment would balloon to more than $100,000 when he offered to supply Wichman with custom-built playhouses for sale in the store.
"At the time he had these playhouses that were total junk that he said he could sell for $5,000," says Noernberg. "I mentioned off-hand that my carpenters who make my packing crates could do a better job."
A few weeks later, Noernberg says, he had Wichman out to his O'Fallon warehouse to see the playhouse he designed and built with the assistance of his carpenters.