Attack on woman, 73, leaves neighbors suspicious and angry

Police say the woman was sexually assaulted and left unconscious.

By Thomas Lake
Published May 15, 2007

HOLIDAY - He was there when she woke up, an intruder in the middle of the night. This is what she told investigators. He was in her bedroom and then something hit her head and knocked her out.

The woman is 73. She is known to give bread to her neighbors and drive fellow seniors who can't drive themselves. She takes one man to the Sponge Docks. They play checkers.

She regained consciousness about 6 a.m. Monday and called 911, sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin said. She was taken to a hospital, treated for bruises and abrasions. She had been sexually assaulted.

Detectives were still investigating by midafternoon, and the victim was still in the hospital. The Sheriff's Office did not release a description of the attacker. It was not known whether anything had been stolen. The man apparently got in through an unlocked door.

The victim, whose name was not released because of the nature of the crime, lives in the Tahitian Gardens subdivision, south of Darlington Road about a mile from the Gulf of Mexico on a tranquil street at the edge of a waterway.

When they found out about the crime, her neighbors were suspicious and afraid.

Callie Gentry, 81, spoke of her Brinks security system, her dead bolts, her locking smash-proof windows. She looked sidelong out her half-closed front door toward the house that had become a crime scene.

"Oh, they took that police tape down, thank goodness, " she said. "It looks so sinister."

Across the street, Dwight White, a 44-year-old builder, stroked his goatee and rested a foot on the bumper of his truck.

"Unbelievable, " he said. He had just seen the report on the TV news. "They'll be in hell for that one day."

A couple of doors down, John Joseph, 49, and his mother, Pat Willis, 77, said the victim had come to their house for a party the day before.

"She's actually supposed to be over here at 7 o'clock at night for a glass of wine and dinner, " Joseph said. "If she does come, we're going to have her spend the night."

About noon Tuesday, a detective came knocking at homes along the street. He even questioned Willis about a chocolate stain on her shirt.

"The detective said, 'What's that on your clothes - is that blood?' I said, 'Oh my God. I just ate a piece of candy.' "

Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.