A tribute to older women

Posted April 16, 2010, at 8:26 p.m.

Why is it that stories of elderly women kickin’ the tails of bad guys make me feel sort of good? Sad and ashamed as a human species that someone assaulted the woman, of course, but proud just the same.

I suppose, as a society, we view elderly women as the frailest among us. They are to be helped across the street by Boy Scouts and driven to their weekly beano games by caring relatives.

Of course, this week we learned of the 72-year-old woman from Belfast who last November answered her door to a 22-year-old man who said his father, who the woman knew had mowed her lawn in the past, had suffered a massive stroke and needed some financial support.

When she suggested the son do some yardwork to earn the money, he became enraged, dragged her into the bathroom, held a knife to her throat and demanded money. He bound her hands with duct tape and forced her into her car and proceeded to drive her around town.

He slammed her into the floor of a camper parked in the woods, sliced her throat three times and banged her on the head until her skull fractured. Then he left her to die, according to the prosecution.

Despite her injuries, she managed to struggle to the road, where she lay in a pool of her own blood until a passing motorist stopped, thinking she was a dead animal.

What did she say this week in court when her attacker entered a guilty plea?

“Belfast is not a dangerous place. This was a very, very terrible event — but it wasn’t Belfast. I really love Maine, and Belfast is a wonderful place, and I love my home. None of this changed that for me. He was just a really bad person.”

Also this week, a bit farther south in Florida, 70-year-old Eliud Haliday became a bit reluctant when a young man tried to hijack the champagne-colored van her late husband had bought her for their last anniversary.

Haliday was picking up her disabled son and doing some shopping at a Wal-Mart when her alleged assailant jumped into her van and took off. She jumped in after him and proceeded to put him in a chokehold as he careened away from the parking lot.

“He kept telling me that he was going to kill me, and that he had a gun in his pants,” she said the next day from her hospital bed. “I told him, ‘You can’t reach it. Your pants are at your ankles.’”

The van door was still open as they raced down the street and Haliday was convinced he was hoping she would fall out. Instead the door slammed shut, “and then he was mine,” she told a local reporter.

She was surprised only to realize just how hard it was to break someone’s neck, as she was strangling him the entire time and thought he would “at least faint.”

Finally, the young man had enough and leaped out of the van.

What did she have to say after the frightening event?

“What he did is wrong, wrong, wrong. I’ve always believed in protecting children and the elderly, and I guess I’m now, well …”

Perhaps the word ‘elderly’ is a bit relative.

Those stories reminded me of Beatrice Kaine of Lambert Lake, Maine. Beatrice was on her way to a beano game in Princeton when she stopped and offered a ride to a young man she assumed had missed the afternoon school bus.

Kaine was 61 at the time.

Gregory Mitchell, who was 26, sexually assaulted her, stabbed her three times in the throat and twice in the leg and left her for dead in the snow in a ditch. Beatrice clawed her way to the road, found a home with lights on and banged on the door until someone helped her.

What did she say afterward?

“I knew I had to keep my breath or I wouldn’t get up and I’d bleed to death or freeze to death and I had my family to think about.”

She also felt sorry for the owners of the home where she took refuge because they didn’t really want to answer the door when she knocked because she was “such a sight.”

Jimmy Hicks of Etna is maybe Maine’s only known serial killer. He killed his wife, Jenny, in 1973 and then killed Jerilynn Towers of Newport and eventually Lynn Willette of Orrington.

Hicks got rid of all the bodies, and other than serving six years for manslaughter in connection with Jenny’s death, never could be pinned for the others and lived a free man until 2000, when he moved to Texas and met up with then 68-year-old June Moss.

He was doing some painting for Moss and one day started acting strangely. He forced her to drink a big bottle of cough syrup, locked her doors, filled her bathtub with water, admitted to killing the other women and fired a shot at her.

He demanded the title to her car, had her write what appeared to be a suicide note to her children and then went to the back of the home presumably to get her late husband’s guns in a spare bedroom. He left her in the living room.

“I have a small set of chimes on that closet door. I heard this chime and I knew where he was and that he was looking for those guns. I jumped up, and I had been sitting for so long I was kind of stiff, and I ran to the door and I slid the chain off and I turned the doorknob and neither one made a noise, and then I did the deadbolt because I knew that would make a noise. I just turned that deadbolt and I ran and ran and I ran around his van and my neighbor’s door was closed and I just opened it up and ran in, and I was running all over that house trying to find someone and I found their grandson lying on a bed talking on the phone and I told him to lock all the doors.”

Hicks was arrested and was facing life in a Texas prison for that assault. Life in prison in Texas can be pretty rough from what I hear. He opted instead to make a deal with Maine authorities. He pleaded guilty to all of the Maine murders, led police to the women’s bodies and is now serving a life sentence in the Maine State Prison.

When June Moss recounted her ordeal to me 10 years ago, she was still apologizing and a bit ashamed that she actually had barged right through her neighbors’ door without knocking.

So why do I feel good? Because these older women beat the bad guys, and they did it with class.

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