Jerry Huse once left Los Angeles because it wasn't the type of environment in which he wanted to raise his children. In Iowa, where they settled, you could go out at 3 in the morning without fear, he said.
He returned to Southern California with his now-grown children four years ago, and earlier this week embarked with his family on a tense search in a world he never expected to visit.
Accompanied by a pet German shepherd and carrying a small knife, the suburban family ventured out at night along the treacherous streets and alleyways near downtown Los Angeles.
They handed out flyers among the downtrodden, asking if anyone had seen Stella Ruth Huse, Jerry Huse's 45-year-old diabetic wife, who had inexplicably disappeared the previous Friday.
Along the way, family members saw firsthand what even television had not fully prepared them for--destitute men sleeping in cardboard boxes or crouched inside doorways; bundled-up bag ladies caring for their babies on park benches; littered sidewalks leading past midnight missions, women's shelters and cheap hotels. And always there was fear.
They walked Skid Row, crisscrossed Pershing Square, and talked with anyone they could interest.
"We saw everything from people lying in the gutter to people spacing out," recalled Huse, a house painter living in Carson.
"I don't think even the movies do it justice about what it's like on the street," said daughter Joyce Huse, 22. "I was pretty scared."
On Thanksgiving Day, Huse and his three children had plenty for which to be thankful. Mrs. Huse had been found on Wednesday and was hospitalized at County-USC Medical Center.
"When (police) found her, they claimed she was in the middle of the street stark naked in front of a semi-truck saying 'Hit me!' " Jerry Huse said. "We think she was abducted. There was a security guard in a parking lot who said he saw a motorist stop in a tan Datsun pickup--he thought to render aid. When he looked around again, the pickup was gone and she was gone too.
"She is very trusting, perhaps too trusting," Huse continued. "Maybe she was offered a lift or maybe she was forced. The kids talked to her (at the hospital). Her tongue is quite swollen. She is dehydrated. I doubt if she ate at all in the days she was missing. Her feet were also swollen."
"She told us, 'I was kidnaped,' " Joyce Huse said. "She was really out of it. She said the only thing that kept her going was her family."
Huse said his wife had been on her way to County Jail near the downtown area to pick up a nephew, who had failed to pay a traffic ticket.
"I think she just probably got lost or ran out of gas or got car trouble," Huse said.
Deprived of Medicine
Huse theorized that without the insulin she required twice a day, his wife became disoriented and may have been dumped on the streets by her abductor.
Her car was found abandoned Tuesday in the 300 block of West Pico Boulevard. The family's two dogs--Hara and her 10-month-old pup Maynard--were in the car but Maynard was "spooked" and dashed away when the door was opened, Huse said.
Joyce Huse and her boyfriend went to the area that night and began passing out flyers, which contained a picture and description of the missing woman. Written in English and Spanish, the flyers asked: "Have you seen our mom?"
"We were desperate," Jerry Huse said. "We were in a panicky situation."
Early Wednesday morning, Joyce Huse and her boyfriend were joined by other family members. They continued their search until late afternoon.
"I think we covered a two- to three-mile area," Joyce Huse recalled. "We were determined. We didn't care what kind of neighborhood it was. We all kept together in groups.
"We went into one bar and it made me so thankful for what I had," she continued. "There were people in the park who didn't have anything. I saw babies . . . sitting in the park. I couldn't believe the mothers didn't give them up (for adoption) but I guess if it was my baby, I wouldn't give them up either.
"Some of the bums we saw said they had seen her. It was pretty scary to know your mom was in that situation."
While the transients she encountered were cooperative, Joyce Huse said, one businessman she tried to hand a flyer to refused to take it.
"I said, 'Do you have a mother?' " she recalled. "He said, 'Yeah.' It made me so mad how some people are so callous. He thought I was just another person handing out something to buy."
The family returned to the downtown area Thursday to look for their puppy, Maynard. They said they had been touched--and saddened--by the reactions of many of the homeless and destitute people they had met on their previous search.
"It's great you're looking for your mom," one man told Joyce Huse. "We only hope somebody was looking for us."