Wednesday, October 29, 2014
One Eye Open
© Linda Goodman, October 2014
In January 7, 1978, two days after my daughter’s sixth birthday, I invited my parents to dinner for a late birthday celebration. I took them to my father’s favorite place to eat, the York Steak House at Tower Mall in Portsmouth, Virginia.
A good meal and a good time were had by all… until the waiter brought the check. The amount was about what I had figured it would be. What I had not taken into account (because I did not know) was that the York Steak House did not accept credit cards, and I had no cash on my person.
My father said it was no big deal. He would take care of the check. My mother, however, felt differently. She was angry and accused me of purposely not bringing any money with me. I could see that she was on the verge of creating a scene, so I stepped outside to wait, as my parents and my daughter stayed inside until the check was paid.
As I waited, I noticed a man approaching me. I guessed he was in his mid thirties. His black hair was plastered back on his head with Brill Cream. He was of medium height and weight, and he was wearing a thin, tan jacket and khaki pants. His right arm was in a sling.
“Hi,” he greeted me, “I’m wondering if you can give me a hand? I have some packages I am trying to get into my van, and this bum arm is giving me a problem. Will you please come out to the parking lot with me and give me some help.”
Normally, I would not have hesitated to help this man, but two things occurred to me: he spoke in a monotone, with no inflection at all in his voice; and why hadn’t he asked the man standing across from me for help? That man was certainly much bigger and stronger than me.
Then I looked into the man’s eyes and my blood ran cold. His pupils were dilated to the point that his eyes looked black. No emotion, good or bad, shone through them; only a dead, remote stare. My instincts told me to beware.
But what if my instincts were wrong? I did not know how he had hurt his arm. What if he had hit his head at the same time? Could that be the reason behind the emotionless voice and the dazed stare?
I found the perfect compromise between my alert instincts and my soft-hearted compassion. “My father is inside the restaurant paying our bill,” I told the man. “Wait here with me for a few minutes, and we will both help you.”
The man who had been standing across from me had walked away by this time. The man with the sling took another step toward me, but stopped suddenly, turned, and walked quickly away as he saw my father coming out of the restaurant door.
“Who was that?” my father asked me.
“I don’t know,” I answered, “but you can be sure that he was up to no good.”
I shared this story with people as the years passed. I saw it as a cautionary tale and used it to warn naive, unsuspecting girls (like myself) to pay attention to their instincts; to keep one eye open for suspicious signs, while pondering compassion for a stranger.
In 2006 a friend gave me a copy of Ann Rule’s book The Stranger Beside Me. The book was about serial killer Ted Bundy. I read with interest that was spiced with terror as Rule painted a picture of a man who was a master at finding clever ways to lure women into his death traps. One thing that worked time and time again was to put his arm in a sling and ask for help. His prey of choice was young women with long, dark hair parted down the middle.
I remembered that evening as I stood outside the York Steak House, my long, dark hair parted down the middle. I remembered the brooding man with his arm in a sling. He could not have been Ted Bundy, I told myself. Bundy was incarcerated in Utah in 1975.
But as I read on, though, I discovered that Bundy had escaped from prison twice. The second time was on December 30, 1977. By January 2, 1978, he was in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Five days later he stole a car and drove it to Atlanta, where he boarded a bus and arrived in Tallahassee, Florida on January 8.
Bundy could very well have come through Virginia as he drove from Michigan to Atlanta. Could he have been the man who approached me on the evening of January 7, 1978? I turned to the headshot of Bundy at the back of the book. The photo was black and white, and thirty-eight years had passed. He looked like the man, but I could not be sure. One thing I do know: the black, dead, remote eyes were identical. Could two men have had those same eyes? I do not know; but I have learned to always follow my instincts, which tend towards the paranoid these days. On January 7, 1978, I believe, those instincts saved my life.