Thursday, July 2, 2009

Murder She Didn't Write

In the summer of 2008, I met my friend, Yvonne at Barnes and Noble. It was around 8:00p.m. and we sat and talked until the bookstore closed. Yvonne, told me about a great place called Lifestyle directly across the street and next door to Whole Foods. It was owned by Whole Foods and they offered cooking, yoga, and salsa dance classes. I told her I'd check it out on my way home.

By 9:30 we were all talked out and left. I drove across the street and parked my car directly in front of the entrance to Whole Foods. I noticed the parking lot was empty but for two or three cars. I checked out the calendar of events hanging on the window of Lifestyle then walked over to Whole Foods. I tried the door and could see people inside, but the door didn't open. I looked at my watch and it was 10:00 p.m.

I walked back to my car and as I was getting in, I noticed a young man from across the other side of the parking lot running toward my car. I shut my door and put the key in the ignition. He was flailing his arms and hands as though he were in some kind of trouble. Because the parking lot was well lit, I was able to notice some distinguishing characteristics about him. He didn't look homeless, he had on light blue jeans and a long sleeved white shirt rolled up to his elbows. But it was his receding hairline that got my attention. He also had unusually long arms. He was well-groomed and in obvious discomfort. His black hair was close cropped and he looked to be around 30 years old. He was very lean and around 6 feet tall.

Suddenly, the man was standing next to my driver side window, talking loud. But I had turned on my radio and couldn't hear him. I could see him now only peripherally and kept my head looking forward. I was intent on driving away. Oddly, I felt nothing, no fear, no panic and no concern about him at all.

As I backed out, he kept astride of the car. When I turned the car to head out, I looked in the rear view mirror and he was ambling toward my car in no apparent hurry. He had a bag in his hands and was looking down at it. I kept driving and suddenly in three seconds, he was standing directly in front of the car, inches from the hood. That's when I felt anger. I pushed the pedal down hard and had no concern for his safety.

He jumped out of the way as I sped passed him. I considered calling the police, but didn't. I considered driving down to the police station, in case he might follow my car. But I didn't. All I wanted to do was drive home and go to sleep. I was calm, but tired.

The next day at work I mentioned this to two of my coworkers. One told me about a man who just the Christmas before had carjacked a woman and her son in Boca Raton. He had tied them up and killed them both, then threw their bodies out on the street. It was on the news and America's Most Wanted.

I went onto AMW's website and there was a photo of the same man who had tried to carjack me. The photo was taken from a surveillance camera at the Boca Raton Town Center Mall. Because he had made the woman take him to her bank and give him cash, I made the connection that he was hanging around the pricier malls and stores, knowing the people there probably had money. He had made another attempt on another woman with a child in the car and this woman remained calm because she didn't want her son to be afraid. In her case, nothing happened. She did everything he told her, including going to the bank and then back to the mall to go shopping again. When he got out of her car, she gunned it and left.

I don't have a cell phone. And that night I didn't have my car door locked. I was calm and uninterested in helping some man who was obviously out to do harm. Why did nothing happen to me. He had lots of opportunities. Many women act nice and want to be helpful. But that's exactly what not to do. Perpetrators recognize a vulnerable woman. This vulnerability is a way of behaving that mesmerizes and locks the perpetrator onto the victim. I was calm. I had no intention of "being nice." I was not clueless to my surroundings and I was aware that I should not look at him because looking directly into the eyes automatically translates into the recognition of "I see you." That's when things go south. Ignoring the person, while still using peripheral vision to know what he's doing without looking directly at him, is a way to save your life. But it still might not. I was completely certain that I would not allow this man to carjack me, even at the cost of his life. It was that simple.

Later, that afternoon, after looking at AMW's website, I called the detective at the Boca Raton Police Department. He wasn't in so I left a message. He called me back the next morning. I told him the story and he thanked me. I suggested he might investigate if Whole Foods had a surveillance camera to capture him and his car if he had one and he said, "We know what we're doing. We'll be looking into all of that." I don't think he ever did.

I've been married so that qualifies me for detective work. I noted that he was carrying something. When he made his attempt to kill the second woman and her son, he carried a plastic bag. The surveillance camera also showed him carrying something. If a man has car problems, he will usually call a friend on his cell phone and get them to come get him. He wouldn't look for a woman to come to his aid. And everyone, except me, has a cell phone. His clothing was appropriate. He was not homeless and he wasn't a drunk or someone down on his luck. Those cues, coupled with my own lack of vulnerability and calm demeanor, meant I was not easy prey.

Too many women fall prey to such crimes. But there are ways to arm yourself, not with the usual guns and pepper spray. One of the best ways is for women to deal with issues that keep women in victim roles. Remaining calm and not looking at the perpetrator helps. Most of all, self awareness and common sense will go a long way in keeping one alert and safe.

I did ask the people at Whole Foods if they had a surveillance camera and they said no. They asked me to fill out a report which I did. There was little else I could do.

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