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On January 9, 1989, I walked home for lunch in downtown Halifax. It was unusual for me to go home for lunch. I was a magazine editor and there were always lots of people (writers!) who wanted to have lunch with me. I sometimes wonder what life would have been like if I had eaten out that day.

I unlocked the front door, went in and tossed my coat on the couch. I was immediately struck by the fact that I was not greeted by three cats. They had their own door/tunnel leading from the first floor bathroom window out to the deck but none of them liked the cold — and it was a cold day.

I went into the dining room and saw the doors to the china cabinet were standing open and my mother’s silver flatwear had been placed in my own suitcase, which was open on the floor.

While I stood trying to register what this meant, I heard someone coming down the stairs. I knew immediately that there was a burglar in the house. I stood still — there was nowhere I could go. I had always heard that people who did break-and-enters didn’t want to confront anyone and I imagined that he would rush down the stairs and straight out the front door, happy to be out of there.

But he came around the corner to where I was standing and he had a knife in his hand. He laid the knife against the side of my face and said, “Don’t try anything and you won’t get hurt.”

He went through my purse — there was a reasonable amount of cash in there which was unusual but probably a good thing — and while he was occupied, I was memorizing his appearance without appearing to be doing so. I was very calm. I asked him how he got in. He said, “I found the key you left on top of the electric box.”

He took my wedding ring off my finger. It was quite a spectacular ring — a wide, gold, open-work band with five small diamonds — that had been made especially for me.

He then grabbed a straw basket that I’d brought from Spain and cut the rope handles off. He tied my hands behind my back, wrapped the scarf I’d been wearing around my mouth and led me into the bathroom.

He sat me down on the john and tied my hands to the large pipe that runs vertically behind a toilet. He went out and closed the door.

He came back in about a minute. He’d left his knife on the sink, just inches from my face. I was now able to give an excellent description of both him and his weapon. He grabbed it, said, “I forgot this,” and went out again.

I sat there quietly and listened to him continue to rob the house, all around me. The detail that makes me smile in the telling of all this is that while I was sitting there, FurFace, the middle cat, the friendliest and most loving cat, came in through the kitty door and expressed delight at seeing me. She jumped up on my lap and settled in and began to purr happily. She seemed not to mind — or to notice — that my hands were tied behind my back.

The burglar came back and asked me through the door where he would find the garbage bags. I told him they were in the drawer nearest to the stove; he said, “thanks.”

He returned once more to tell me he was leaving and told me not to scream. I had no intention of screaming.

I sat there quietly for awhile. I was afraid it might be a trick, that maybe he was really standing outside the door, waiting to see what I would do. I guessed it was now about 1:30 p.m. and I wasn’t expecting Dan, my husband, to be home until mid-evening as he had an after-work meeting. I thought FurFace and I might be in for a long afternoon.

Eventually, I began to work away at the ropes behind me. I managed to get out of the one that was tied to the pipe and I dumped FurFace and got up. (It’s an unimportant detail but I looked at myself in the mirror and I was the colour of chalk. I had never seen a face that colour and I wondered what my blood pressure was.)

I went out into the hall and saw the front doors wide open onto the sidewalk. I went around to the back where our tenants’ entrance was and I kicked on the door. They were shocked when I told them what had happened — they had been there the whole time. At one point, one of them had said, hearing unusual noises upstairs, “Those cats are very active today!”

They cut the rope and freed my hands. They called the police and I called Dan and we sat and waited.

(To be continued …)

13 Responses

  1. #1

    Hi Sharon . I remember hearing about this but when I was reading it today I was all tense worrying about you. I know you weren`t hurt but I can`t wait to read the rest of it.

  2. #2
    Carolyn van Gurp 

    Oh, Sharon, this was such a shock when it happened…very interesting to read your perspective after so many years…the details you remember…. Looking forward to part two!

  3. #3
    Pat Campkin 

    I am so happy to know that this is not happening to you now!! Can’t wait for the next segment.

  4. #4

    This article brings back a vivid memory of the horror I felt when I first received the phone call and I just wanted to go to Halifax and bring you home. I was, and still am, proud of the way you dealt with the ordeal then and of the paths you have taken in your life since. Our parents would also have been very proud of how you have moved forward … Love you

  5. #5
    jane wilcox kelly 

    Sharon…anxiously awaiting part two. I am so enjoying your thougtful, insightful articles.Thanks for including me

  6. #6
    Margaret Davis 

    Sharon, I remember your writing a letter to me in Germany to tell me about this awful experience. You described it so vividly that now, reading it 20 years later, it almost seemed as if I had been there. (Though if I had been in your place, I certainly would not have been calm.) Marilyn’s comment is very touching. What a lovely big sister!

  7. #7
    Susan MacPhee 

    Hello Sharon,

    I, too, will never forget that day and think of it not often, but definitely from time to time. I don’t know how you managed to stay so collected through the whole thing but I am very glad FurFace managed to get himself on to your lap.
    xo, Susan

  8. #8

    Hi Auntie … This was very hard to read….makes me so angry I just want to drop kick that guy (I may be little, but have amazing strength when upset…hehe). I truly admire you for handling the situation so bravely and your courage to revist it in your memory to write this article…xo

  9. #9

    Sharon, I’ve heard you speak of this experience a few times but to read the details is really quite shocking. Your calmness throughout amazes me.

  10. #10
    Jane Underwood 

    I am very much looking forward to the next installment. I love your prose and hope you keep on with this. … my shock is to hear that this is a true story

  11. #11
    Barbara Hay MacKenzie 

    Sharon, I remember you telling me of this story and the lingering results. Reading it almost makes it seem more vivid. You always did manage to maintain your cool and do what needed to be done and this is a well-phrased recollection recounted with your great writing skills. We all await the next installment.

    I love seeing how many comments are from the class of ’64.

  12. #12
    Bill Savary 

    Wow what a horrible experience! I imagine it takes a long time to come to grips with trust and security after an incident like that. As I re-read it I thought right after paragraph four would have been the place where you reached for your hidden tire iron and wham! laid the guy out flat on the floor until the ambulance arrived. Naturally as non-violent people we don’t react that way by instinct but you can still hope that this guy met his come uppance at some point and now wears diapers and eats his meals through a straw.

  13. #13
    Robbie Lochead (Pereira) 

    In New Zealand only recently have they removed accident insurance for burglars or violent criminals who could get insurance for injuries incurred during a crime; while being incarcerated they could be accruing quite a fortune for a broken leg or head injury. Now through pressure from a lobby group called New Zealand Victim Support, the victims have started getting financial support as a possibility. Down turn in economy may mean it is token.

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