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No bids on Schaffhausen house

The Schaffhausen house on the east edge of River Falls, Wis., stands empty and may never be lived in again. However, there is a plan to make good use of it.

RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- The Schaffhausen house in River Falls where three girls were killed more than a year ago by their father could end up helping Habitat for Humanity, the girls' grandmother has suggested.

A sheriff's sale auction for the house drew no bidders Aug. 13 at the St. Croix County Government Center in Hudson.

That means the property is retained by Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union of St. Paul, which held the original mortgage for the property at 2790 Morningside Ave.

Affinity Plus set the opening auction bid at $189,261.

When no one responded to the opening bid, the auction supervisor, St. Croix County Sheriff Lt. Jason Sykora, said the property reverted to Affinity Plus.

Aaron Schaffhausen, 35, was convicted last month of killing his three daughters -- Amara, 11, Sophie, 8, and Cecilia, 5 -- at the house in July 2012.

Earlier that year Schaffhausen had taken out a 30-year mortgage and still owed $181,000. He's now serving a life sentence for his crimes.

His wife, Jessica, and a local group are raising money to build a special playground in River Falls as a memorial to the Schaffhausen sisters. They were described as very active and playful.

Called Tri-Angels Playground, it would be accessible for children of all ages and abilities to use.

After the Aug. 13 auction, the three sisters' grandmother, Becky Stotz of Springfield, Ill., said Affinity Plus has left the fate of the house in the family's hands.

"The credit union has been very, very concerned about the community and what the family wants done with this house," she said.

"They don't care if they get their money. They're writing it off."

Stotz said her daughter, Jessica, the mother of the murdered sisters, just wants to get on with her life and isn't focused on the house where her family once lived.

Stotz said she and her husband, Phil, who volunteer for Habitat for Humanity in Springfield, have an idea to link the house and that organization.

"We wondered if the house could be dismantled and the parts used as building supplies for Habitat in River Falls," she said.

"What would be left when the house is cleared away is a bare lot.

"The credit union could then move forward and build another house, create a community garden or whatever on that spot."

Stotz later contacted Jim Farr, executive director of St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity, and Jon Simonson from Affinity Plus, about her proposal.

"Both seemed receptive to my idea of having Habitat dismantle the house with 'sweat equity' and volunteer labor so that valuable components could be used in new or renovated homes, or sold at (Habitat's) Restore resale shop (in New Richmond) to raise money," she said.

A statement late last week from Affinity Plus read in part: "We've been in contact with Jessica and the family, and will continue our conversations with them about the future of this property, while being respectful of their privacy."

The statement also referred to the firm's goal of helping the family "heal from this tragedy."

Said Stotz: "That's where we're at. We want to find a positive solution."

In the front door window of the empty Schaffhausen house, a posted sign offers a peace greeting.

It then goes on to read:

"May the tragedies of a broken marriage and loss of three precious girls inspire each of us to love more faithfully, work out differences more peacefully, seek help more humbly, forgive more generously and heal more completely."