This is a special edition of the Bronx Breakdown, dedicated to a singular story of a broken down woman struggling after a savage brush with death.
A woman called the Norwood News office this morning with a harrowing tale of unprovoked violence. I want to share her story here because it can happen to anyone, but also because it doesn’t happen to everyone. She’s not ready to go public with her name or exact location just yet (calling the newspaper and telling her story to a reporter was an important step in regaining her confidence), so I will call her “Jane.”
Four days before Christmas, Jane arrived home at her Norwood-area apartment building, laden with bags from some last-minute gift shopping. When she got to the door, she noticed a large man behind her, talking on his cell phone. “No need to buzz me in,” he told the person on the other end of the line. She was a little suspicious of his presence, but has lived in the area for 25 years and didn’t think too much of it. “I wasn’t alarmed,” she said.
After she made it through the building’s security doors with the man following behind, she headed to the stairs. “Can I help you with your bags?” the man asked. But when she turned around to get a better look at him, he shielded his face. When Jane headed up the stairs, he grabbed her and forcefully carried her up to the top of the steps and put his hands around her neck.
“Shut the [expletive] and give me all your money or I’ll kill you,” said the man, who Jane described as being about 6-feet tall and weighing 300 pounds. He was older, she said, not some kid, which surprised her.
Jane immediately gave up all of her money, some $100 in cash, but the man wasn’t satisfied. He put a sharp object — a knife? a screwdriver? — up to her throat and again threatened to kill her. He then punched and kicked her even though she said she had been completely cooperative and had not attempted to fight back in any way. (“My son has a mother,” Jane said she was thinking.) He violently stripped off all of her jewelry, causing severe burns and bruising to her neck.
Just as the man was about to leave, Jane said the man seemed to think she was looking at him a little too closely. He quickly threw his hat over her face and then kicked her in the back over and over and over and over.
It was 7:30 at night, dinner time in an apartment building filled with people. Jane was screaming and crying, but nobody came out to help. Finally she managed to crawl over to a neighbor who heard her crying and opened the door.
The police and ambulance arrived a short time later. Jane suffered nine herniated discs, a severe concussion, neck bruises and burns, a cracked tooth, and a deeply wounded psyches. A month later, she said, “I’m still a nervous wreck.”
After visiting the hospital, investigators asked her to look through hundreds of mug shots to identify her attacker. Jane’s head hurt, she told them, and she couldn’t be sure. You have to be sure, they told her. She asked if she could back in a couple of days when her head wasn’t pounding like it was a freight train riding bumping rails.
Afterward, she tried to contact the detective in charge of her case, but it was difficult. Finally, they allowed her to see video from her building’s surveillance camera. It brought up painful memories. She wanted a copy to take around to local stores, but they wouldn’t hand it over to her. Since then, trying to get a hold of her detective again proved near impossible, so she called the CRIMESTOPPERS hotline and they yelled at her for not going through the precinct.
Frustrated with the police response, Jane went to local stores and asked if anyone maybe had their own surveillance videos from the night of the attack, anything that might help police. “No one wanted anything to do with it,” she said.
Unsure where else to turn, a friend told her to call the local newspaper: the Norwood News. In retelling the story, she choked up during some of the toughest parts, but in the end she said it felt good to tell her story. (We asked 52nd Precinct Commander Joseph Dowling about the incident, but he didn’t know any specifics and said he wasn’t aware of a trend of similar attacks in Norwood. But he did say there have been a string of commercial robberies in Bedford Park. We’ll have more on that next week.)
Without being able to reveal some crucial details, like location, this probably won’t lead to an arrest. But it should serve as a cautionary tale. If you’re not sure who’s walking in the door with you, don’t go in, or wait for someone else to accompany you, or call the cops, immediately.
But the extreme brutality of the attack says something else. On the day after police arrested a man for the robbery and murder of 59-year-old Bimal Chanda, who apparently was victimized much like Jane (violently robbed in the stairwell of his own apartment building), it’s yet another case of excessive and heartless violence, all for a quick buck. It’s sad and infuriating and scary. This doesn’t happen all the time. But it happens.
I told Jane to tell her story at a public safety forum being held at Monroe College tonight. But she said she couldn’t. She was still too scared to travel alone.
Ed. note: That’s it for the Bronx Breakdown this week. Tune in next week for hopefully cheerier Bronx tales.