Scared on the North Side by
(253 Stories)

Prompted By Close Calls

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August, 1978

During my 16 months in Chicago in the late ’70s, I lived in a structure known as a “4+1”, as it had parking under the building, then four floors of apartments above, on the north side of Chicago, off of Sheridan near Lake Michigan. The building was H-shaped and I lived all the way at the end of one of the floors. It dead-ended at my small, one-bedroom apartment. I have few photos from that era. The Featured photo shows Christie and me at my home in Huntington Woods, MI. My dad threw a great 65th birthday party for my mom the night before this photo, then Christie and I flew up north for our annual Interlochen/National Music Camp visit.

I was new to sales and my manager took a gamble to hire me, so I worked hard to prove myself. Week days were spent making calls in front of customers, usually requiring travel. Saturdays were for me. I took a ballet class in the morning, then sometimes had lunch at a great deli in Water Tower Place and might see a movie. Sundays, I put in several hours of work, doing all sorts of paperwork, frequently in the office. I did my time sheet, call notes for each client contact that week, a follow-up letter for each client call, and frequently, a proposal coming from a client situation. All of that would be left on my secretary’s desk; work for the next day. If the weather was nice, I’d walk the several miles back to my apartment.

On this particular pleasant Sunday, I walked into my building with no one else around. A tall, lanky, young fellow got on the elevator as I entered. He was already in the building. He got off on my floor. I had my briefcase with me and fished in my purse for my keys. I didn’t pay much attention to him, turned to walk to the end of the long corridor to my apartment.

I had to turn three different locks to get into my apartment. I got the first key into the first lock, but I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. It was the tall, lanky kid. He stood close to me and now had his pants pulled down, exposing his private parts. His hand shielded his privates from the hallway, but I could see everything quite clearly. He was grinning at me, less than a foot away from me, as I floundered for my keys.

I felt panic rise in me; what if he jumped me? No one was around, we were at the end of the hallway, no one would hear on this late Sunday afternoon. I am tiny. I weighed 84 pounds at the time. He was tall, I couldn’t fight him off. I quickly fumbled for the second, then the third key and opened and CLOSED my door, my heart racing. I put the chain across the door. I swore I would never use more than one outside lock again. There was nothing of value behind that door; let anyone take anything, just let ME get IN as quickly as I wanted.

I called the police. They said they’d come quickly. Moments ticked by. Christie was on her way over and I had no way to warn her. We were going out for a quick bite to eat before going to a chamber music concert that evening. I could see the headlines screamed across the front page the next morning: HEF’S DAUGHTER RAPED IN NORTH SIDE APARTMENT! She worked for her father at that point, but wasn’t yet CEO, so wasn’t as well known as she came to be.

Two uniformed policemen buzzed my apartment and I let them in. They were kind and reassuring. They took the boy’s description and said that type usually is a thrill seeker and not harmful. I had calmed down enough to crack a bad joke, “I don’t know whether to be relieved or offended, but he wasn’t hard.” They liked that. I told them that I lived alone and traveled a great deal, coming and going at all odd hours. And that Christie Hefner was on her way over right then! They assured me they would put extra patrols on my street for some time to look for anything unusual on the block. What really worried me was I didn’t know how the kid got into the apartment building. He did NOT enter with me. Did he live in the building and would he continue to stalk me? That thought haunted me. The police reassured me that this was unlikely. He had probably gotten in earlier, just waiting for an opportunity like me to present itself. I felt better, somewhat reassured. They were professional and very kind.

By the time Christie showed up, I had calmed down. I told her the whole story. She soothed me. We went out to dinner, I even had a glass of wine; we enjoyed our concert. There is nothing like a great friend to be with you when you need one. Christie and her family were my family during my stay in Chicago. She has always been there for me.

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    What a great — which is to say also scary — story, Betsy. Particularly since this is the sort of thing that men never worry about and women worry about all the time. And, incidentally, that was a great line that you gave to the cops. Also kudos to them for handling this so professionally. My brother went to the University of Chicago (on the South Side) and Chicago cops were not always models of decorum, to put it mildly.

    You also point out something that I remember thinking about myself when I first went off to law school in what was then a very gritty Morningside Heights area around Columbia. Everyone advised getting at least two complicated locks for the apartment doors — which I did — but, as I was fumbling to get them open from the outside, I frequently worried that this would not be so great if someone were closely chasing me.

    Finally, what I liked about this story was how it became a tale of the importance of friendships, particulars in times of, well, close calls. So glad that Christie was there for you then.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks for “enjoying” this story John. It is funny in hindsight. I assure you, not so much in real time, but all’s well that ends well. You are right, those of us who lived in sketchy neighborhoods did have to be very careful (women more than men), and it was terrific having close friends to be with during my sojourn in Chicago. They truly did treat me like family (and still do in many ways).

  2. Suzy says:

    Wow, Betsy, thanks for this story about another close call! Given the large number of stories on this prompt, it seems we all live on the edge! So scary about having to fumble with three locks while the guy was standing there grinning at you! Thank goodness you kept enough composure to get yourself inside! And then managed to call the police, and they actually came! It’s getting harder to remember those days (even though it was most of our lives!) when you couldn’t contact someone while they were in transit, so no way to warn Christie. Thank goodness you had a friend like Christie to soothe you, drink wine with you, and listen to good music with you!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, Suzy, this story was about 43 years ago; long before cell phones! Ancient history! It does seem odd that we couldn’t instantly communicate, but I was genuinely worried for my friend’s safety, not knowing what lurked in the hallway as she approached. I was grateful that the police showed up so quickly, reassured me and would watch as she approached. And of course that she was there for me as well, throughout the entire time I lived alone, and for my entire life. As you commented once to Barbara, Christie and I have been friends since we were 12 years old.

  3. Marian says:

    Eek, Betsy, not only did you have to deal with this flasher, but while cornered trying to get into your home. How invasive! I’m glad you coped and the police actually were helpful, and then had Christie for support.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Marian. I had actually blocked it out until reading the other stories on this prompt. It all came rushing back to me! As you point out, I was very lucky on several points throughout this story.

  4. Yikes! Even though the police assured you that “that type is usually a thrill seeker and harmless,” it’s not really very reassuring, is it, because we don’t really know if he has more on his mind in the moment. I saw or heard a bit where the woman being flashed looked right at “it” and laughed…that must have really ruined it for the creep!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Laughing at such a creep is one strategy, Babs, but it could backfire and enrage the guy, provoking a violent reaction. I just wanted to get away as quickly as possible, which is what I did. And after that, I never dead-bolted my door from the outside again. I had an old black and white TV and a turn-table gifted by my brother when he wanted to upgrade. That was it. My well-being was MUCH more valuable!

      • Betsy, please know that I wasn’t advocating laughing at him…I think that was a comedy sketch I saw somewhere! You did precisely the right thing, which was to get away from him as quickly as possible!

        • Betsy Pfau says:

          I understand – it could be a strategy, though. Just not the one I chose! When one is dealing with an unstable individual, you never know how he’d respond. Better to make a break.

          I did know someone who was hitch-hiking in college, the guy pulled over, smacked her hard across the face and started to pull her down on the seat of his car. She said, “No one ever loved you, did they?” That pulled him up short, he stopped, they talked, he took her to get medical help. It really turned out OK for her (she was a psych major). She was a senior, I was a freshman. It made a huge impression on me; I wrote a Retro story about it ages ago. But that was 1970 and who knows what the outcome might be now with so much more rage and alienation.

          • Your friend was very smart and, thankfully, very lucky. In the 80s, I had a kind and loving friend who picked up a young hitchhiker in the small town we lived in and was murdered. I’m quite sure she would have tried to talk to him in a caring way because that’s just the way she was. (R.I.P Abby.)

          • Betsy Pfau says:

            How horrible, Babs!

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Your story is horrifying and was my greatest fear when I first moved to Chicago and was living in an apartment with three women I didn’t know very well. So grateful that your close call was just that and nothing worse.

  6. Betsy, how awful for you, thankfully you got the door open and into your apartment in time, I see why it’s not such a good idea to have multiple locks on the outside, just a good strong chain on the inside!

    I was once in a restaurant ladies room when suddenly a man’s head appeared above the stall staring down at me,

    I screamed and he ran, but boy was I scared!

  7. Dave Ventre says:

    Well narrated!

    Sadly, violence against women has touched the lives of several women in my life over the years. The trauma stayed with them and they were forever changed. I try to be always cognizant that as a white guy, I generally have the advantage of being left alone.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I was lucky that it was a minor incident, Dave. I was unharmed, just frightened. You don’t know me, but I am tiny, 5′ tall and, as I said in the story, didn’t weigh much either. Anyone could easily overpower me. I once did have to ask a stranger if I could hold onto him as I crossed the Chicago River, for fear of being blown over! So I watch my back at all times. Thank you for your sensitivity to your advantage.

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