“Just take your time, Mrs Willis – I know it’s not something you want to remember, but it is important that you tell us as much as possible about what happened.”
Nora nodded as she handed the cups to the two detectives, before sitting herself down in a leather armchair. “I know it’s important, but do I really have to go through it again? I already told the officer at the time….”
Detective Hirsch handed her a handkerchief. A man in his mid-fifties, he had worked for the department for thirty years now, and was approaching retirement. His partner, Detective Orbach, was sat in the other armchair taking notes.
“Let’s start at the beginning. You had come back from shopping, you told the officer.”
Nora put her own cup down on the coffee table, looking at the rug on the floor as she did so. “That’s right – Jessie and I had gone to do some shopping, and picked up Kellie from the mall on the way home.”
Detective Orbach looked up. “Those are your daughters, right?”
“Yes – Jessie is sixteen and Kellie eighteen. We had planned to go to see a film later that afternoon, and I wanted to make sure we ate before we went – popcorn is so expensive these days.”
Detective Hirsch smiled. “I know – I took my grandson to see a film the other day, and it was nearly ten dollars for a tub. Anyway, you picked up Kellie and came home. What time did you get back?”
“One o’clock – I remember because the clock was striking when I came in. Jessie went up to her room to fetch something while Kellie helped me in with the grocery bags.”
“Did you notice anything unusual at the time?”
“No – no I didn’t. We took the grocery sacks into the kitchen, set them down on the worktops and Kellie went to turn the radio on in the front room. I had just opened the door to put the milk in when….”
Nora shivered and drew the front of her cardigan around her.
“That was when the man grabbed you?”
“Yes – I was pulled back and a hand placed over my mouth. The smell of the latex filled my nostrils, but I was more worried about the girls than myself – I could hear Kellie screaming in the front room, and footsteps on the staircase.
“Whoever it was reached out with his other hand and closed the door to the refrigerator. I could see he was wearing some kind of overalls, and noticed the white latex glove covering his hand. He then pushed me through into this room, where I saw two more men holding both Kellie and Jessie.”
“Could you describe then for me?”
Nora thought for a moment. “They were all about six foot tall, broad shouldered and strong. Although the hand had been taken away from my mouth when I was pushed in, he still had a firm grip on me. Here – look.”
She rolled up her sleeve and showed the detective the fading bruise on her upper arm.
“It’s been two weeks, and the bruise is still there…”
Detective Hirsch nodded. “I know it’s difficult for you, but please continue.”
“I can’t say much more about them – they wore grey overalls, but their heads were covered with black woollen masks and their hands in latex gloves. One of them had moved this coffee table out of the way, and we were ordered to lie face down on the floor.”
“Did they actually threaten you at the time?”
“Yes – they had guns and clubs, and told us if we didn’t do exactly what they said they would hurt us. Jessie started crying, and she was ordered to stop. I asked if I could hold her, and they allowed us a brief hug before pushing us down.”
Detective Orbach looked up again. “Can you tell us what you were wearing?”
“That should be in the incident report your officer took.”
“I know – but we find it helps people remember things if we go over the details again. Can you tell us?”
Nora thought for a moment. “It all happened so quickly that we barely had time to change from what we came back from the store in. Kellie hadn’t even taken off her leather jacket – she was still standing there with it zipped up over her white jumper. She also had old faded denim jeans on, with white sneakers.
“Jessie was wearing a light blue t-shirt, white shorts and socks – she had taken her sneakers off in her room before the man grabbed her.
“As for me, I had on a white blouse and a straight grey skirt, and still had on my grey leather boots.”
“So, they forced all three of you to lie down on the floor?”
“Yes – Jessie was closest to the couch, then Kellie, then me. We put our hands behind our heads and wondered what was going to happen next.”
She stopped to pick up her cup and take a sip of her coffee. Detective Hirsch waited until she put her cup down.
“So, that was when you saw them take the tape out?”
“Yes – two of them knelt down next to Jessie. I turned my head and watched as one of them grabbed her wrists and taped them together behind her back, while the other taped her ankles together over her socks.
“It only took them a few minutes, after which they rolled her roughly over. The one who had taped her ankles together started to tape her legs together above and below her knees, while the other gagged her with the tape over her mouth. I’m just glad she had stopped crying by then…”
Nora drew the cardigan around herself again. “Is this realty necessary?”
“I’m afraid so, Mrs Willis,” Detective Orbach said. “What happened next?”
“The two men picked Jessie up and almost threw her on the couch. I turned to the third one and pleaded with him not to hurt my babies, that I’d do whatever they wanted. He just laughed and said all they wanted us to do was shut up and stay still.”
“What did the other two men do then?”
“One knelt behind Kellie, while the other came and knelt beside me. They pulled our hands behind our backs, and I could feel the glue on the tape around my wrist as they taped them together. I looked at Kellie, and she looked both scared and furious.”
“I think she was embarrassed at what was happening, and mad about what the tape might do to her jacket.”
Detective Hirsch smiled. “All right – what was the other man doing?”
“He went and closed the blinds in the front room, and then started to search through the cupboards while the other two were tying us up.”
“I wonder,” Detective Orbach said, “if you could show us how they bound you?”
“You can’t be serious – I can’t even look at….”
“Not literally – if we move the table, could you show us how they positioned your limbs.”
Nora nodded, and the two detectives stood up and moved the coffee table out of the way. Slowly, Nora lay down on her stomach and placed her wrists behind her back, with her elbows resting in the palms of her hands.
“I remember seeing this is what they did as I looked over my shoulder – they taped our arms together from elbow to elbow in one movement.”
“And your legs?”
Nora crossed her ankles. “They did this, and then taped our ankles and feet together. I had to throw those boots out afterwards; the leather was so badly damaged…”
“Thank you, Mrs Willis, I know that must have been distressing,” Detective Hirsch said as he helped the lady up. As she sat down, he took his seat again and asked her to continue.
“Well, the two men made Kellie and I sit back to back, and while one taped our legs together the other started to wrap a roll of tape around our chests to hold us together. I asked Kellie if she was all right, and she just nodded. I looked over at Jessie, who had roiled onto her side to see what was happening, and I could see sweat at the fringe of her dark hair…”
The door opened and a young, dark haired woman walked in. “Mum, I… oh.”
“Jessie, this is Detective Orbach and Detective Hirsch. They’re investigating the robbery.”
“Actually, Jessie,” Detective Hirsch said as he stood up, “I wonder if you could tell us what you remember of the morning. I would understand if you did not want to, but….”
“Anger – I was angry at what they were doing to my mother and sister, and I couldn’t help. I was angry at them for doing that to me, and I was angry at myself for not fighting back.”
“I never expected you to, Love – you were so scared….”
Detective Orbach looked up. “Jessie, what did you see when the two men had finished tying your mother and sister together?”
“The other one – the one who had been searching through the cupboards – he came and pointed a gun at Kellie’s head, telling Mum that if she didn’t give him the combination to the safe she would feel blood on her head. Well, Mum couldn’t give him it fast enough, and that was when the weirdest thing happened.”
“What was that?”
“The doorbell rang. The three men looked at each other, and the guy who threatened mum went and peeked through the blinds. He shook his head, said it was a girl scout and came back to us, telling us to shut up and stay quiet.”
“That was when they gagged us,” Nora said as she put her coffee cup down. “Several strips of tape over our mouth, before two of them left the room and the main guy opened our safe.”
The two detectives looked at each other. “It’s lucky for that Girl Scout they never opened the door. What happened next?”
“One of the other two came back with three bandanas, which they used to blindfold us. I managed to look at Jessie and try to tell her we would be all right before the scarf went over my eyes.
“I don’t know how long passed – the clock struck two at some point – before I heard the three men come back into the room. At that point, I just wanted them out of the room, but instead….”
“I could hear them sit down and watch us – they even opened what I later found out were beer bottles from the fridge. The one who had spoken earlier said they were having a lunch break, and hoped I didn’t mind. Well, I did – I wanted them out, but could not tell them that.”
“Did you see what they took before they blindfolded you?”
“From in here? My cards and money, and the contents of the safe. When we finally got free, we found all our jewellery boxes scattered over the floors of the bedrooms.”
The two detectives looked at each other. “How long did they stay?”
“I really don’t know – I could hear them talking in low voices, and at one point one of them left the room and came back later. I remember that quite clearly, because some sort of lorry stopped outside in the street – I could hear the squeaking breaks.
“Anyway, just after that the man said they were going, and not to move. Well, we couldn’t – we were too scared to for one thing. We stayed there until my husband came home and found us there.”
Detective Orbach closed his notebook. “One last thing,” Detective Hirsch said as he stood up, “I understand you discovered something the other day from your bank?”
“Yes – that’s partly the reason I called. It seems they used my credit card to order some very expensive items from a shopping channel, before I had a chance to cancel the cards. They’ve refunded the money, of course…”
“Of course. Well, thank you, Mrs Willis – we’ll be in touch.”
The two officers left Nora and her daughter, reassuring them that they would do what they could to catch the perpetrators. Walking back to their car, Detective Orbach took a call on his phone.
“Really? Now that is very interesting, very interesting indeed. Thanks – we’ll head over there now.”
“What was that about,” Hirsch asked as they sat in the car.
“The robbery two weeks ago – the Barnett case.”
“The fifth one?”
“Yup – seems a neighbour saw a delivery been made to their house at one pm on the day of the robbery.”
“One…. But Mrs Barnett said she was sure they did not leave until two.”
“Exactly,” Orbach said as he started the car.
To be continued...