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'Since we didn't get sliced or killed, it was swept under the rug' : Night of Terror, Bitter Aftermath

January 24, 1988|JIM CARLTON | Times Staff Writer

It was a warm evening in June when the nightmare began.

As a Laguna Hills family relaxed at home that night in 1986, two men wearing stocking masks and carrying handguns kicked open the front door.

Nearly two hours of terror followed.

Eighteen months after the attack, Bob and Jane Brown (not their real names) are still wrestling with the trauma. Moving to another home in south Orange County has not quieted their jangled nerves. Nor have weekly sessions of psychiatric therapy.

Nobody knows why it happened. Nobody knows why the Browns were singled out.

The Browns think their house may have been mistaken for one in the neighborhood known for drug dealing. Police say there's no proof. They say that such acts of random violence are rare, especially in affluent neighborhoods, and that they are usually solved.

But no one was ever caught in the Browns' case. And therein lies much of the family's frustration. It has led them to lash out at nearly every official connected with the incident.

They are angry at the Sheriff's Department, at a hospital where the woman underwent rape examination and even at an insurance company for not adequately cleaning a carpet that became soiled during the crime investigation.

Said Mrs. Brown: "The men who came in that night are criminals, but the people who do not follow up (on the case) are also criminal."

Brown remembers napping on the living room couch that June 17 night while his boys watched television and the girls slept upstairs. It was about 9.

"The first thing I heard was the oldest boy saying, 'Dad,' and there was terror in his voice," said Brown, 41, a service technician.

"I saw two men with nylon stockings over their heads coming at me with guns. Without thinking, I hit one, got a glancing blow, and the second one hit me over the head with his gun."

While one of the men remained downstairs and threatened to shoot Brown and his two sons, the other raced upstairs and awakened his daughters, who began screaming. He brought them downstairs.

A few moments later, Mrs. Brown, 40, returning from a parents' meeting at school, walked through the front door and into the gun sights of one of the intruders.

The intruders shouted at the family to turn over their money, she said. The Browns told them they had no cash in the house, except for the money in the children's piggy banks.

Brown and his wife said they offered to go to their 24-hour bank machine and withdraw some cash, but the men responded by yelling obscenities and kicking Brown and his oldest son. They also put guns in the mouths and ears of the children, threatening to pull the triggers.

And they pointed guns at Ripple, a rabbit whose cage was in the front room. One of the men grabbed a gallon of milk from the refrigerator and tried to drown the rabbit, but it survived.

It seemed like forever as the men pillaged the house, ripping wallpaper and dumping drawers. They took Mrs. Brown upstairs and raped her repeatedly--in front of her husband.

Brown, who said the attackers behaved as though they were on drugs, expected to feel a bullet in the back of his head at any moment.

"You might live another hour or you might live the whole night," Brown remembers hearing an assailant threaten at one point. "I haven't decided yet."

The men left the house as suddenly as they had come, taking with them the money from the piggy banks and Brown's $5,000 coin collection.

Once he was sure they had gone, Brown whispered to his children to run out the open back door, climb a neighbor's nine-foot fence and call the police. When the youngest daughter couldn't climb it, Brown ran out and heaved her over the fence onto the neighbor's hedge.

He ran back into the house to get his wife and the couple fled the house.

They stayed outside until the police arrived.

It was 20 minutes, the Browns said, before the first sheriff's deputy arrived. The deputy refused to go into the house until she called a backup unit, they said.

"I told the deputy to give me a shotgun and I'd be her backup, but she refused," Brown said.

Despite a half-hour search of the home, deputies didn't ask for a description of the attackers until an hour afterward, giving them plenty of time to escape, Brown said.

Although the attackers wore no gloves and touched surfaces throughout the house, investigators reportedly took only one partial fingerprint.

"Since we didn't get sliced or killed, it was swept under the rug," Mrs. Brown complained, saying the investigators did not seem concerned about solving the crime.

Lt. Richard J. Olson, spokesman for the Sheriff's Department, said the agency investigates all such crimes thoroughly. Olson declined to discuss specifics of this case and added that he could not address the issue of officers' response time without extensive investigation.

But Olson said solving this type of crime depends on how much evidence is left by the criminals at the scene. If little evidence such as fingerprints is left, Olson said, the crime is difficult to solve.

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