EARLVILLE – Jenny Boltz has known Lowell “Max” Ambler, 46, his whole life, so she was certain it was him she saw knocking on the back door of her neighbor’s home about 6:40 a.m. Thursday.
Boltz also knew Ambler was the subject of a two-day manhunt, in which police from 21 law enforcement agencies had spent hours surrounding the woods south of Earlville, a community of about 1,700 only a few miles from the DeKalb County line. So Boltz called 911, and it seemed as if only seconds before police, a SWAT team and K-9 units surrounded her neighbor’s house in the 300 block of North Second Street, holding assault weapons and waiting for Ambler’s next move.
“We were hoping it would end peacefully, for everyone’s sake,” Boltz said. “Both he and his family are in my prayers. I hope that he gets the help he needs.”
Boltz and her grandson were escorted out of their house. Later, about 8:20 a.m., Ambler surrendered peacefully, was taken into custody and was brought to the Lee County Jail.
Ambler has been charged with home invasion and kidnapping in Lee County, and could face charges in Will County that include aggravated vehicle hijacking, vehicle hijacking, unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a stolen vehicle, Lee County Assistant State’s Attorney Heather Darcy said at his bond hearing this afternoon.
Lee County Judge Ronald Jacobson set his bond at $1 million, and ruled that the $25,000 bail Ambler previously posted to be released would not be applied to the $100,000 he must now post to get out. Ambler is due back in court at 11 a.m. Nov. 13.
The surrender brought to a close a spree during which police suspect Ambler used a gun to steal a maroon Hyundai Santa Fe SUV in Plainfield on Wednesday, and also stole a semitrailer, which he drove to Plainfield earlier in the week.
Ambler, of Mendota, is a former Earlville police officer, LaSalle County sheriff’s deputy and K-9 handler. He started his career as a LaSalle County deputy July 24, 2000, according to the sheriff’s office, and he resigned June 15, 2015.
Accused of home invasion,
On Aug. 26, Ambler is accused of entering an unlocked house in Compton where his ex-girlfriend’s daughter was babysitting.
According to court records, including a narrative from the girl’s mother:
Ambler entered the home while covering his face and grabbed the girl, pushed her head into a couch then dragged her through the house, pushing her down the outside steps. He picked her up, choked her from behind, duct-taped her hands behind her back and dragged her to a shed. As the girl pleaded for him not to kill her, he duct-taped her head and mouth. She couldn’t breathe and passed out, and he tossed her into a bean field.
A car arrived, Ambler took off, the girl broke free and police were called, court records show.
Ambler was arrested Friday, Sept. 15, and charged with home invasion and aggravated kidnapping, charges with a sentencing range of six to 30 years in prison. He posted $25,000 bail Sept. 20, Lee County Court records show. His next court hearing was set for Nov. 6.
While out on bond, Ambler violated the terms of his release Sunday, Oct. 1, by sending six text messages and six Snapchat messages to the mother of his victim, court records show. Ambler had active arrest warrants in Lee and LaSalle counties for violating the conditions of his bail bond and violating a protective order. Two unsuccessful attempts were made to arrest him.
Shortly after noon Tuesday, Plainfield police received a state police emergency response message regarding Ambler, indicating he stole a corn-hauling semitrailer and might be headed to Plainfield, where the victim and her mother, his ex-girlfriend, were staying. He was believed to be armed with a .45-caliber handgun and considered dangerous, police said.
Local schools, including Plainfield North High School, were placed on soft lockdowns Tuesday and a reverse 911 alert of that area was made so residents could take shelter.
Plainfield police officers found the stolen semitrailer abandoned Tuesday on Normantown Road north of 119th Street.
At 8:24 a.m. Tuesday, Plainfield police said a suspect matching Ambler’s description stole the Hyundai SUV at gunpoint on 119th Street, west of Van Dyke Road, then drove off.
Small town shaken up
LaSalle County Sheriff Tom Templeton said that about 2 p.m. Tuesday, Ambler was spotted a quarter to a half mile from Precinct Cemetery in Earlville. Earlville is Ambler’s hometown, and the cemetery is where his son, Dalton, is buried. Near the cemetery, officers took a grassy path to an area about 300 yards from the road. Ambler was known to frequent the area as a hunter.
“They went back, they drove back there, they saw a tent that was sitting up,” Templeton said. “When they saw the tent, Max stepped out, saw the officers there, and ran off into the woods.”
About an hour later, the stolen Hyundai was found in woods near the cemetery and south of Earlville.
The local schools went into lockdown and dismissed students. School officials later canceled class Thursday.
Police started going door-to-door in residential neighborhoods near the woods about 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Templeton said Ambler’s knowledge of the woods and of Earlville helped him slip through the police perimeter. Templeton said he did not know where Ambler spent the night, only that somehow he made it into town by Thursday morning. The next known sighting of Ambler was when Boltz saw him knocking at her neighbor’s back door about 6:40 a.m.
Templeton said as soon as law enforcement reached the scene about 7:15 a.m, a standoff began. The house’s residents, a man and a woman, are both thought to be friends of Ambler’s. Both were released unharmed.
A negotiator and Ambler’s sister and father, former Earlville Police Chief Lowell Ambler, all urged Ambler to surrender. Ambler surrendered peacefully about 8:20 a.m., was taken into custody and was brought to the Lee County Jail in Dixon. Ambler was armed while inside the house with a semi-automatic weapon.
“So things ended up, I think, very much as good as we could possibly hope, which is always a peaceful resolution to a potential violent situation,” Templeton said. “It’s always tense. It’s tense until he walks out the door and everything turns out. It’s a tense situation until the very end.”
Templeton ended his briefing by stating that now, “everyone is safe.”
“Everyone is safe, the neighborhood is safe, the town is safe, and he’s in custody,” he said. “We appreciate everything the public has done. … We can’t do this job without the public, and they did help with this. There’s a lot of information that was gleaned from the public and we’re really grateful for that, [and] that outcome.”
• Sauk Valley Media contributed to this report.