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How an idyllic farmland property drew many to the Chicago area – NBC Chicago

It was marked as an outdoor adventure.

Just a three-hour drive southwest of Chicago, guests could escape to the town of Farmington, Illinois, staying at an eight-bedroom, 30-acre lakeside retreat.

Surrounded by open farmland, online advertisements for “Norris Outdoor Adventure” showed water slides, a swing set, games for children and, even more reassuringly, a smiling, friendly and understanding owner dedicated to their every need.

The rental has been described as a dream find for many planning family reunions across the country, or even space weddings.

But the dream was not a reality.

Instead, guests tell NBC 5 that their reservations were canceled, sometimes literally at the last minute as they drove to the property.

When customers have called the owner for their refund, with contracts in hand spelling out that same promise, they say the owner “ghosted” them, never to be heard from again.

For months, NBC 5 Responds has investigated how a single vacation rental outside of Peoria took many Chicago-area families for thousands of dollars, and the mysterious owner behind the listing those customers say they are to blame.

This owner dodged our calls, emails and requests for comment for many months, offering no idea what happened.

The complaints caught the attention of Farmington law enforcement, who confirmed to NBC 5 that they are actively investigating numerous complaints involving the property and its owner.

Records obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests paint a picture of a mountain of debt and despair, all centered around the spacious and charming property that many hopeful guests now believe they will never see. never in person.

It all started with one customer’s experience, and as NBC 5 continued to ask questions, the list grew to include many more.

News reports show that “Norris Outdoor Adventure” opened at this property in 2018 on Dee Bee Road in Farmington, Illinois.

Naperville’s Melissa Oskroba told NBC 5 earlier this year that she discovered “Norris Outdoor Adventure” while surfing the VRBO vacation rental website.

“We were super excited about it,” Oskroba said. “[Norris] checked off all of our areas: eight bedrooms, water, yard for the kids. Affordable.”

For five years now, Oskroba and seven other friends and their immediate families have gathered for Labor Day. But with the kids and the attendance list growing every year, finding the right space turned out to be harder than it looks.

Clicking through photos and videos of the property, Oskroba thought Norris seemed like the perfect match for this cherished tradition. At $3,600 for three nights and enough space for his entire party, Oskroba thought he had hit the jackpot.

Photos shared online and taken by past customers show lake amenities advertised at Norris Outdoor Adventure.

It was then that she said she met Amy Shymansky, the owner of the property, and felt a connection.

“It felt like I was talking to my mom,” Oskroba recalled, noting that the experience was apparently going so well, “I was about to call her to start locking in the next few years of reservations.”

Oskroba paid off a booking in full last Labor Day 2022, and months passed before the first curveball.

That’s when Oskroba said Shymansky messaged to say she’s removed the property from VRBO so she can take a closer look at her guests. But there was a silver lining: Shymansky would list the property itself, offering the same offer.

Oskroba, worried that she wouldn’t be able to find a place in time with the same number of rooms and space for her family and friends, booked directly with Shymansky.

The deal included what Oskroba thought was protection: a contract with a clear cancellation policy, cancel a reservation 30 days or more before the reservation date, and they can expect a full refund.

Oskroba booked the property through Shymansky, not thinking about it until weeks later when she tried to check the listing online.

“He had this 404 website message which is no longer valid,” Oskroba said. “Then I started digging and within 15-20 minutes I came across Yelp which had a lot of complaints.”

Customers of business review website Yelp complained that they had fallen into a trap that Oskroba feared it already had.

“The owner literally stole my deposit for the use of this property,” wrote a Norris client.

Another said the owner ‘took our money and never responded when we contacted her for the keys’.

“They will take your money, sign contracts, then ghost you,” wrote a third client.

Oskroba said she was beside herself.

“I just started crying,” Oskroba said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do?'”

Oskroba said she contacted Shymansky to officially cancel the reservation, but in the end, she too was ghosted. No more friendly contacts from the owner, and no word on her refund.

Melissa Oskroba of Naperville, Illinois is one of many Norris clients who tell NBC 5 Responds they owe thousands of dollars in refunds.

Through her perseverance, Oskroba decided to take a different path: find, organize and communicate with as many other Norris customers as she could find online.

Oskroba said many responded to him, and eventually someone from the band reached out to NBC 5 Responds for help, saying they too had plenty of money, with no R&R to show for it.

Clients like Claudia Allred, grandmother of Tinley Park.

“I was determined,” Allred told NBC’s 5 Responds. “[Shymansky] won’t keep my money!

Allred’s family had previously stayed at Norris in 2020, so they booked again for the following year. She, too, felt charmed by Shmansky, remarking that she was like a “best friend”.

But two days before her family planned to make the second trip to the property in June 2021, Allred said Shymansky messaged her, canceling the reservation.

To date, Allred has stated that it did not receive any refund.

Among the guests, NBC 5 also spoke with two couples who planned to get married at the Norris property, but said they saw their dream dates disappear, along with their deposits.

“It was the first place we looked and fell in love,” said Jay Rudisill of BlueGrass, Iowa.

Jay Rudisill and his now wife, Karen, visited the Norris property in person and came away thinking “this is where we were going to have our wedding.”

The couple put down a $9,300 deposit, but as the months got closer to their date, Jay Rudisill said Shymansky fell silent.

Karen and Jay Rudisill told NBC 5 Responds that they planned to get married at the Farmington, Illinois estate until Shymansky stopped talking to them.

Seeing this as a red flag, the Rudisills decided to cancel their booking, knowing that they would likely have a fraction of their deposit taken. They said they never imagined that would be the full amount.

“I’ve given up hope of ever seeing that money again,” Jay Rudisill told NBC 5, after saying that Shymansky had stopped returning calls, emails and even letters asking for his money.

The couple eventually celebrated their wedding on a relative’s property, but felt slighted.

When Allred heard about the Rudisills and other clients of the self-proclaimed Norris ‘support group’, she said she couldn’t believe how many people would have been owed money to Shymansky.

“I thought, ‘Why, you dirty dog! You do this to so many people!’ “, Allred told NBC 5.

NBC 5 confirmed through contracts and client communications with Shymansky six individual Norris clients whose reservations were canceled prior to staying at the property and who collectively owed more than $24,000.

Some clients took Shymansky to court, where they won and had to file liens on the Norris property in hopes of recovering some of their money.

Fulton County records show those liens have a company, including a lien filed on the property by the IRS for more than $470,000.

As the Customer Support Group chased Amy Shymansky for answers, NBC 5 is also responding.

For months we have tried to contact Shymansky by phone, email and by contacting numerous attorneys who have represented Shymansky in court over the years.

Eventually, Trygve Meade, Shymansky’s most recent attorney, told NBC 5, “I’m sorry, but I was not authorized by my client to comment on this situation. Consequently, I must refuse.

At one point, some members of Norris’ ex-customer support group said Meade contacted them personally, promising news about their refunds. But in the end, they said he, too, “ghosted” them.

One office that returned our calls was the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department, serving the idyllic farming area where Norris Outdoor Adventure is located on Dee Bee Road.

A spokesperson said investigators had “received complaints [about] Norris Outdoor Adventure, and investigate.

The troubles for Shymansky continue.

NBC 5 Responds found an active warrant out of Peoria for Shymansky’s arrest, tied to an unrelated lawsuit and judgment not yet paid by the woman.

State records show Norris Outdoor Adventure’s business license was “involuntarily terminated” in 2019, after the company failed to file annual reports with the Illinois Secretary of State’s office.

And more recently, court records show the former owner of the Farmington property, who sold it to Shymansky in a “contract for deed” transaction, prevailed in eviction court, a judge signing an eviction order forcing Shymansky to surrender and vacate the property by August 26, 2022.

Shymansky is currently appealing the judge’s decision.

Hearing this news has not calmed the nerves of Shymansky’s despised clients, who fear that there are others who have no idea what awaits them.

“I’m sad for people who don’t know this information,” Oskroba said. “They’re excited about a memory they’re going to create that will make them pull the rug out from under them.”

Do you have a consumer complaint? Call 1-844-NBC-RESP or click here to let us know so we can help you.

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