Monday, October 27, 2008

Home Invasions: Coming to a scream near you

by Stacy Dittrich

In true Halloween fashion, my friends and I gathered together recently for our annual fright night. Since we’re grown-ups, this mainly consists of a few horror movies, our favorite bottles of wine, and a warm fire in the fireplace to illuminate the darkened room ever so slightly. I had my “movie-selecting” privileges revoked awhile back (after I chose a recent horror movie that was subsequently in subtitles), so I was anxious to see what terrifying and ghostly presence would emerge on the screen.

Looking at the DVD cover of the movie we were about to watch, The Strangers, I thought it was a good choice: “Oooh, ghosts wearing masks! This looks pretty cool!” I voiced loudly (missing the wry smiles that appeared on my friends’ faces since they knew what was coming).

Needless to say, it was one of the most disturbing movies I have ever seen. In fact, the “ghosts” were real people. The movie takes place in a remote home where an attractive young couple (Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) decides to spend the night. After receiving a knock on their door, they are terrorized, tortured, brutalized, and, eventually, murdered over the next several hours by a man and two women wearing creepy masks; a genuine home invasion at its worst. If I didn’t have my eyes covered (the masks, truly, horrified me), I was yelling at the screen at the lack of common sense exhibited by the victims, “What are you doing? Run for the woods, you idiot!”

Clearly, I wasn’t entertained. When I sit down to watch a movie, I want to be catapulted from reality with no reminder of what can actually happen. I don’t need to be reminded; I saw it every day as a police officer. And, little did my friends know, that home invasions rank right up there as a crime that continuously turns my stomach.

Imagine sitting down at your dinner table with your family, talking about the day’s events, or doing your laundry in the security of your own home watching soap operas when your door is kicked in and you are surrounded by vicious mask-wearing criminals who point a gun at you and your children before ordering all of you to the floor.

For the victims, it’s an indescribable horror. They have been invaded: their home, their lives, and their security. They don’t know if the invaders simply want money, or if they are there for the sole purpose of terrorizing the family. If it’s the latter, that is much, much, worse.

Before I retired, my jurisdiction was suffering a rash of home invasions. Some of the victims were beaten mercifully, while others were terrorized for hours. To look at their faces after something like this shows the depth of horror they went through—it wasn’t a movie, and it certainly wasn’t entertaining.

Apparently, Hollywood thinks it is.

On April 11, 1981, the Sharp family was brutally murdered and terrorized in a remote cabin of the Keddie Resort (pictured left). Known since as the “Keddie Murders,” some argue the case inspired the Friday the 13th movies—teens alone in a cabin being stalked and killed by an unknown killer. However, the first Friday the 13th movie was filmed in 1980, a year before the Keddie murders. Is this a case of life imitating art or vice versa? Or, did the movies really have anything to do with the murders at all?

Of course, there are the Manson Murders. No one really knows for sure just how long Sharon Tate begged for her life and the life of her unborn child’s. And, like the Manson home invasions, another famed example of a murdered family was the Clutter family, gruesomely depicted in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

One of the most recent cases of a home invasion—the Connecticut case of Dr. William A. Petit, Jr. had some of us considering bars on our home windows; a day-long terror that resulted in two thugs beating and raping the doctor’s wife and daughters before setting the house on fire. There is also the case of the Groene family murders by serial killer Joseph Edward Duncan, another family terrorized in their own home before being murdered.

I don’t think any of us could sit back and begin to imagine the sheer terror all of these people above felt before they died. Frankly, I don’t want to nor do I want to be reminded of it on my television.

In breaking news, as I was writing this post Sunday afternoon, various news stations began to broadcast the untimely death of Arkansas news anchor, Anne Pressly (seen below), 26. Pressly, the victim of a brutal home invasion had every bone in her face broken during the savage beating. Although she held out for several days, she finally succumbed to her injuries on Saturday. The suspects are still at large and the police maintain that Pressly was chosen randomly.

Some feel that as the economy continues its downward spiral, these types of crimes will escalate. It is much easier to invade and rob a home than a bank or convenience store. I can only hope that the persons responsible for Pressly's murder will be brought to justice.

I doubt that friends and family of Anne Pressly will look warmly to movies portraying her death for entertainment.

The Strangers was supposedly inspired by a true story, but I couldn’t find one fact to back that up. The blogs and reviews say it was a compilation of the Keddie murders and the Manson murders but, it’s just another movie depicting the real-life violence that plagues our society daily. And, again, it was very realistic.

I’ve had the experience of interviewing burglars/home invaders and their MO is usually standard. For burglars, they find it best to commit their crimes during the day when the homeowners are at work. For the home invaders—anything goes.

One suspect told me that he and his cohorts would purposely drive around remote areas looking for homes that “stood alone.” One of them would knock on the door and ask to use a phone as their car broke down, all the while scanning the interior, counting the number of people inside, etc. He would go back to the other waiting crooks and relay the information. They may hit the house at that moment, or return later.

This is also one of those crimes where I see just as many women partake as men. Never the brains behind the crime, they usually tag along and quite enjoy tormenting families.

Prevention, although never guaranteed, can be a simple integration into your daily lives.

1. During the day make sure your doors are locked. If you have a security system, have it on while you’re inside as well.

2. You teach it to your kids—never open the door to strangers. You can easily be overpowered. If someone comes to your door you can always crack a window nearby and yell out.

3. Keep a fully charged, emergency cell phone within reach. One of the cheap, convenient store track phones will do. On the flipside, keep a landline if possible. A lot of people are ridding their landlines for their cell phones. As long as landlines are available, I’ll keep one. In some rural areas, 911 have yet to obtain the capacity to pinpoint cell phone signals.

4. Dogs. Criminals are terrified of them. But, then again, so are the cops (my confrontation with a 150-lb Pit Bull will never be forgotten). Chihuahuas and Rat Terriers don’t apply here.

5. Trust your instincts. If a shady character comes to your door and leaves, call the police anyway. Don’t ask for a “drive-by,” insist they come to your door to contact you personally. That’s their job and if you’re worried about looking “too paranoid,” who cares. If you get a good look at the shady character, try to look for personal characteristics like scars, marks, tattoos, clothing, beards, mustaches, hats, etc. Don’t be dissuaded by stereotypes! I’ve seen some female suspects involved in home invasions that are attractive, young, and well dressed—they are the bait.

6. Guns. Some may or may not agree with this, but I have quite an arsenal in my home that I can access from any room within seconds. Should I be confronted with a home invader, he or she will be confronted by the end of my .45.

7. If you have an elderly relative that lives alone and has no immediate medical needs, think about getting them a medical alert necklace anyway—if possible.

With the exception of the dogs (my yellow lab would just as soon lick a criminal to death) I practice the above safety in my own home. Keep in mind, my husband and I have had our lives threatened for years as police officers and need to play it safe. For those who find the above too intense for their own lifestyles, I completely understand. But, you can always keep the tips in the back of your mind for safekeeping.

When someone (to classify them as a human being doesn’t apply) enters a family dwelling for the sole purpose of terrorizing and viciously murdering them, this portrays one of the most dangerous individuals in our society. These types of people were summarized well at the end of “The Strangers” when Liv Tyler’s character was pleading for her life and asking, “Why are you doing this to us?”

Their response?

“Because you were home.”

Sorry, ladies; I think I’m going back to my subtitles. . . .


Anonymous said...

great article. this should make us all think of what can happen at any moment. thx

Leah said...

I can't imagine anything more frightening than being the victim of a home invasion. Thank you for the article Stacy.

Shreela said...

The following happened within about a month's time in my first apartment without a roommate:

1. A young man, about 22yrs, was selling newspapers. I politely refused, but he became angered, and became threatening. By pure luck, my younger brother was in the other room putting in my old dresser he and my father refinished for me. My younger, but quite tall brother heard how the man was talking to me, and had to come into the living room in a protective stance. While I can't say for certain, I'm pretty sure things might have gone really bad had my brother not been there.

2. I worked at a nightclub, and one of the jocks from my high school came in and recognized me. I was polite to him, and spoke with him because we'd attended the same high school. I guess speaking to him like that, combined with his alcohol intake was enough to have him believe he could come-on aggressively to me at my front door -- after following me home.

He kept knocking and knocking, then I yelled out the door that I'm calling the police right now if he didn't leave immediately. He left.

My father bought my first gun the next day.

I usually have at least a medium sized dog, but not at this time. We're leaning towards getting a rot, but my country hubby doesn't want a dog in the house, grrrr. So that will need to be resolved first.

I never open the door to a man without yelling through the door to ask what they want (there's been more than usual utility types around after Ike, they just need to show me their badge/name-tag). But I'm guilty of opening the door for women, and will start yelling through the door to them after reading this article about how sometimes they're the bait, thanks.

Hubby asks why I refuse to watch some horror movies like the one in this article, but will watch paranormal horror. Because paranormal monsters aren't "real" like the monsters in slasher movies.

A Voice of Sanity said...

My mother had a similar experience while staying in a modest hotel in LA - someone came to the door claiming to be hotel security. She was not foolish and told them to leave.

As for home invasions, for a while at least Modesto CA had an appalling run of truly horrendous invasions while it was also the car theft capital of the USA and voted worst city on the USA.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I went to a show onboard an upscale cruise ship. I thought nothing of leaving alone to use the ladies room. I was the only woman in the restroom. Or so I thought. The moment I shut my door someone started to tug at it. Luckily I got it bolted shut, but the door bulged at the strength of the stranger on the other side. I yelled hey I'm in here. No response. I peeked underneath the 2" door opening to see a pair of mens black work shoes.

I was scared and I screamed and screamed for someone to help me. The men's shoes disappeared from view but no one came to my rescue. I waited for 20 mins the show let out and the restroom filled with women.

I came out crying found my husband and went immediately to the pursuers desk. They tried to make light of it. Said it was an old person. No old person could have moved that door. Then they offered us $700 each off another cruise. They just wanted us to be quiet.

I learned a lesson that day. That bathroom had a door to the outside. The person who tried to accost me knew that. From now on when I use a rest room I use only ones with inside doors. I never go anywhere alone without my husband. Always be aware of your surroundings.

Pat Brown said...

Stacy, I remember seeing the movie "Last House on the Left" years ago and I still can't get the bad memory out of my mind. Sick is the only word for that flick and how this "entertainment" is shown in theatres is beyond me as it is beyond decency.

Well, I myself love those subtitles as my Hindi is a bit poor to fully understand all my wonderful Bollywood films without them!

BTW, great advice on home invasions. I keep my bedroom door bolted at night and a weapon on the nightstand. Be my guest, kick my door in, Mr. Home Invader.

coledean71 said...

I agree with you that these types of movies are more warnings than entertainment,and probably those that find them truly entertaining are the types that commit such crimes.

One thing you are wrong about, the Keddie cabin was not in a remote place. It was in a little village of cabins, in a small town in California, and at the time of the murders, there were cabins right next door on each side...literally feet away, with people in them that night. No one heard a thing.

And if you think The Strangers was frightening, then don't rent the movie "They" about a French couple who went thru something similar, only much worse. So eerie and creepy, it will stay with you for days and you will never forget it. Based on a true story, I believe it happened in Belgium a few years ago. I guess you don't have to worry about any of your movie watching buddies showing up with it, because it has subtitles, and I know some people don't like to have to read and think at the same time.

Anyway, as someone who has had a relative brutally murdered, I know that these things can and do happen, that there is real evil in the world, and none of us can be too careful.