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April 16, 2012 Updated July 18, 2012 Special to Crime Magazine
One Voice Raised, A Triumph Over Rape , an excerpt from the non-fiction story about Jennifer Wheatley-Wolf’s empowering experience of testifying against the man who raped her 20 years after the crime was committed. In addition to Jennifer's story of hope is a detailed account of how the cold-case was solved by Chief Investigator David H. Cordle Sr.
Important Update: In July 2012 a 3rd Victim was linked, through DNA, to the same man who attacked and raped Jennifer. This 3rd violent rape occurred on May 31, 1987 in Montgomery County, Maryland.
by Jennifer Wheatley-Wolf
1. Direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension.
2. A fact, truth, etc., perceived in this way.
3. A keen and quick insight.
4.The quality or ability of having such direct perception or quick insight.
I have always been intuitive. I suppose we are all intuitive to some degree. But maybe my feeling of “something isn’t right here” was a bit keener than even I believed. I have been asked, if I’d felt something was wrong, “Why didn’t you do something?”
Indeed, why didn’t I? Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. However, even if I had followed my instincts, to what outcome? Who knows? In truth, the answer to “why not?” isn’t, “I was tired and overreacting,” or even “I had spooked myself by reading Stephen King at 3 a.m.” It is much simpler: I’m home, getting ready for bed; I’m in my pajamas.
I am home. Isn’t this the place where we feel the most invincible, the safest? Don’t we all feel like the weight of the day begins to fall off once we come into our homes and kick off our shoes? We turn on the TV or stereo, grab a beer or glass of wine, get ourselves something to eat, and begin to relax. We naturally put our guard down. Getting ready for bed, dressed in my pajamas, and unwinding after a busy night at work is so far opposite from running out of the house screaming for help like a maniac. I didn’t believe I was in danger because I was home. I didn’t listen to my intuition. All the warnings were there and I got them all loud and clear.
I did not react to any of the intuitive signals I was picking up on because I wanted to continue to believe my home was a safe haven.
I am home. I’m safe.
Forget all the advice you have heard like, “When you are in this situation you do such-and-such.” There is no way for you to know how you will react when you are in this situation. Nothing in life really prepares you for this. You can read a thousand books and hear a thousand victims tell a thousand different stories and still you are not prepared. Forget conventional thinking entirely. What is about to take place is beyond convention. Being attacked while in your pajamas getting ready for bed is unreal; surreal. Nothing you have read or heard about even enters your mind. What came to my mind were two thoughts: I’m going to die today. And, I’ll be damned if I’m going to die today.
Unless you can somehow practice defensive moves all the time and make them instinctual, prepare to count on your survival instincts. Self-preservation is a strong motivator and I was about to have mine tested.
It was just after 3:30 a.m.
With my eyes focused on the candlelight, I took one step into my bedroom.
I didn’t see the man who was in my room, but sensed him move in from my right and grab me. Instantly, I screamed and struggled to break free of his grip. He moved behind me and locked me in a tight bear-hug grip.
I was immediately bombarded by a blur of racing thoughts that were jumbled up with panic and terror. What’s my advice? If you are lucky, you will get a chance to scream, so make it a good one. If you are really lucky and quick, maybe you can land a punch or wiggle free. Most of us are not skilled in martial arts and we have to rely on our willpower to get through what is in store for us.
“Why did you hang up on me? I told you if you hung up on me again I would kill you.”
What? My thoughts came in a tumble, one over the other: This doesn’t just happen in the movies. Kill me? Why? Who is this? Let go of me. What did I do to piss you off?
Something was being wrapped around my neck and I felt panic well up in me.
He was going to strangle me. Who was this? Why was he doing this? How did he get in the house? How long had he been in the house? Where was my mother?
“Scream again and I’ll kill you.”
As if in slow motion, I watched his right hand move up in front of my mouth. Poised, he waited for me to scream again. He knew I would scream again.
I couldn’t help myself. I screamed.
As soon as I opened my mouth to scream a second time, he forced a wad of cloth into my mouth and down my throat. I wasn’t even able to get the sound out before it was forced back down into me. Everything was happening so fast my mind could barely comprehend what was going on. I tried to slip down and out from his arms. No luck. He gripped me tighter in the bear hug and forced my head back onto his chest. My mouth was all the way open. His right arm was wrapped around my face holding the gag in place and forcing my lower jaw out of alignment. The pain was horrible. I had to close my mouth or my jaw would break. Every time I tried to struggle away from him, he jerked my head back further and held on tighter.
“Touch me and I’ll kill you.”
My mouth was open too far. His arm was clamped around my face and he was forcing my lower jaw to move down to the right and onto my chest. He pulled my head back so far I was afraid my neck would snap.
The gag was pushing up on the roof of my mouth and the pressure was closing my nasal passage. I could not breathe. Why was he doing this? What did he mean by I told you if you hung up on me I would kill you?
No one had said this to me...
Crap! Fuck! This was the guy on the phone.
What I had mistaken for annoying prank calls had escalated into a fight for my life.
Really? Where had he come from? Where did he call from? Who was he? What had I done to make him want to kill me?
I began to realize he must have been on my back patio when I got home. He must have watched me through the blowing curtain on the sliding glass door as I changed into my pajamas.
He’d seen me naked. I felt sick.
How did he get into the house? My mind was racing.
The door upstairs. Mom had left it open.
He had turned on the air conditioner.
Oh my God! I thought.
He had been in the house for at least fifteen minutes. He had turned on the air conditioner knowing the sound would mask his footsteps overhead.
How had he known where the thermostat was? Had he been in the house before?
He was the one who had made the step crack.
He’d been waiting on the landing, watching me.
How long had he been planning this? Who the fuck was this guy?
All of these thoughts and realizations bombarded me in just seconds. No matter how much I wracked my brain, I could not figure out who he was and I had no idea what I had done that made him so mad he wanted me dead.
I was feeling the panic beginning to win. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t swallow. I could make noises, but that was it.
This was not good. I needed to get a breath. I reached up to move his hand.
“Touch me and I’ll kill you.”
I tried to move my head forward, but he had the back of my head clamped tightly to his chest. I thought if I could move my head forward just a bit, I could get some air through my nose. I reached up again and this time I tried to grab my own hair. I wanted to pull my head forward.
“Touch me and I’ll kill you.”
I had to do something quickly. I was beginning to feel woozy. I tried to use my tongue to move the gag out of my throat. That didn’t work. I tried twisting my tongue. My mouth was so dry. I wanted to swallow, but every time I tried, I began to choke. I worked my tongue some more. I was able to make a small opening in the cloth on the left side of my mouth and I could suck a little air in through the hole I’d created, but it was not enough. My jaw was close to breaking. I reached up again to grab my head to pull it forward in order to relieve the pain.
“Touch me and I’ll kill you.”
I tried to make some noises that sounded like, “I can’t breathe,” and I continued to try to turn my head so that it aligned with my jaw. I was losing my mind. The pain in my neck was overwhelming. I tried to close my mouth a bit. That didn’t work. His arm was gripping too tightly over my face and my jaw felt stuck.
“Touch me or look at me and I’ll kill you!”
Again, I made some noises like I can’t breathe.
“Do you have any money?”
“Do you have any drugs?”
I shook my head, “No.”
“Are you here alone?”
Again, I shook my head, “No.”
He had killed my mother.
Why else didn’t she come when I screamed? If she were alive she would have to have heard me scream and she would have, at least, called downstairs to find out what was going on. He’d killed her and he was going to kill me as well.
I had to get free of this guy. I had to get the gag out of my mouth. I had to breathe. My upper arms were pinned against me, but I could move my arms from the elbows down. I continued to try to move my head forward to relieve the pain in my neck and jaw.
“I can’t breathe.” The noises I was making were not exactly words, but he clearly understood what I was saying. He pinched my nose shut and held my nostrils closed for several seconds, sneering.
“This is what it’s like not to be able to breathe.”
I felt myself giving up. I was convinced whoever this was had killed my mother and now he was going to suffocate me. I was light-headed, and fighting him was using up the little bit of air I was able to suck in through my gag. Believing he intended to kill me, I gave up my struggle and went slack.
Again he asked me: “Do you have any money? Do you have any drugs?”
I shook my head “No.”
I did have money, but I wasn’t going to give it to him. If I had had any drugs, I would have given them to him. I didn’t. Even if I did give him what he asked for, it probably would not have been enough to make him happy and leave.
He started to bargain with me. I guess since he was not getting money or drugs he decided he wasn’t leaving without something. I’m sure that’s what made him say, “I’ll take the gag out if you promise not to scream again.”
I nodded my head, “Yes.” I would be able to breathe again and maybe he would not kill me. It took some persuasion on my part through vigorous nodding, but he did finally remove the gag from my mouth and unwind the cloth from my neck. My mouth was stuck open. My jaw had become dislocated and I had to use my hands to push it back into place. I almost did scream, it hurt so badly.
“Take off your panties.”
I realized the price of air was not going to be cheap. He intended to rape me. He still might kill me, but now he was focused on rape. Maybe if I did what he said he would not kill me.
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