Suspicious versus odd (I get a bit long-winded here)

In the Cleveland kidnappings case they’ve been running articles quoting Castro’s neighbors saying they had no idea what was going on. And we are now aware that the police did stop by the house on some pretext or another at least once, although it looks like they were never were allowed inside. Ariel’s brothers Pedro and Onil got charged right along with him, then were released for lack of evidence; they too claim they had no idea what he was up to and now they’re calling him a “monster.” Ariel’s daughter (not Amanda’s kid, another one) was Georgina DeJesus’s friend and one of the last people who was with her before the abduction, and of course she’s horrified about what happened and how her father did this. So is one of his other kids, who knew both Gina and Amanda. (There’s at least one more daughter here, who’s in prison in Indiana for attempted murder.)

Assuming these people are all telling the truth that they didn’t know, and aren’t just trying to cover their butts, I don’t blame any of them (with the possible exception of the police, I’m not sure about them yet) for not noticing Ariel Castro’s true nature and just what was going on inside his house. Because, let’s face it, the idea that your neighbor or relative might be a serial kidnapper and sexual abuser who’s got several girls chained up in the basement is something that simply would not occur to most people. If it did, my first thought would be to take you to a psychiatrist, not the police.

Anyway. What I’m getting into is this: the police always say that if you see any “suspicious activity” you should report it to them. But there’s a fine line between “suspicious” and “odd” and a lot of times people see something “odd” going on and don’t think to tell anyone about it, and then later on it turned out they saw something important and didn’t even realize it and then maybe they go to the cops, but the crime has already been committed.

I can think of three good examples of this, two from other sources and one from my own experience.

The first and most obvious one is Jaycee Dugard. The ultimate reason she and the two daughters she had with Philip Garrido were rescued was because Garrido was out with the girls in Berkeley, California (on a college campus I think) and two cops noticed the way he was acting towards the children was “odd” and in other words, “there was just something about the girls that wasn’t right.” This lead to the police stopping to have an idle chat with the three of them, which ultimately lead to Garrido’s arrest and the resolution of this terrible crime. Jaycee and her daughters might still be held captive with the Garridos today if it weren’t for those cops.


Now for me, in detail, cause you know I love that:

When I was eighteen or nineteen I was attending college in Arkansas and lived in a dorm room. One Sunday night, in the wee hours of the morning, I went downstairs to the kitchen to get a Mountain Dew I’d left in the fridge. The kitchen was off the main lobby and there was a pass-through room which contained a piano. As I walked into the pass-through I saw a man sitting on the piano bench. I’d never seen him before; this was unusual, since the college is a very small one and we’re generally familiar with each other by sight at least. This was also a very “traditional” school in the sense that most of the students came there right out of high school and were not older adults going to get a degree having been in the workforce for awhile. This man was in his thirties, maybe early forties. Too old to fit the profile of a typical student. Too young to fit the profile of a student’s parent.

I really should have called security right then and there. I thought about it, but I didn’t do it because the mere appearance of a strange man in the pass-through didn’t strike me as suspicious, just “odd.” I was inclined to just mind my own business. I didn’t want to sound like a paranoid freak calling security and asking them to go Couch Hall at three o’clock in the morning to confront a guy who wasn’t doing anything, just sitting there. If he was someone’s invited guest, I didn’t want to be inhospitable.

Anyway, back to the story: I more or less instinctively crossed over to the other side of the room to try to stay as far away from the stranger as possible, but being as it was just a tiny little room with barely enough room for the piano, I couldn’t go very far. If anything my moving to the side like that attracted his attention even more. I went and got my pop and went back into the pass-through to return to the lobby, up the stairs and to my room. And the man said, “Aren’t you afraid someone put something into that?”

This was definitely an “odd” statement, particularly since we had not been properly introduced and there the very first words he’d spoken to me. In fact, it leans towards “suspicious.” But I myself have been known to walk up to complete strangers and say the most oddball things. I just said, “Uh, no, it hasn’t been opened, see?”

And I started back on my way again, but he waylaid me with conversation and asked me a lot of things about myself: what my name was, what my major was, where’d I live, etc. I tried to give vague answers; for example, saying I lived “upstairs” instead of “third floor, room 311.” I was really nervous about the guy now and trying to stay at arms’ length away from him, a difficult thing to do in that little room, and also he insisted on shaking hands with me. I remember opening up my bottle of pop as I was talking to him, thinking I could throw it in his face if needs be.

He told me his name was So-and-so, I forget what name he gave. Finally I got a chance to ask him a question of my own: namely, what was he doing here? He said, “I’m visiting someone.” Who was he visiting? He hesitated a second and then said, “Samantha.”

Without thinking I blurted out, “Samantha Reynolds?” (this isn’t her real name by the way)

“Yeah, her.”

Finally I managed to get away from the man in one piece, and bolted upstairs to my room and locked the door. I should have called security then because he was definitely being suspicious, even if he hadn’t really done anything untoward or illegal just by sitting on the piano bench and then making small talk with me. I didn’t call them. If it had happened now, I would have. I am older, sadder and wiser.

The next day I found Samantha and told her about the stranger. Not only did she not know anyone by that name or physical description, but she wasn’t even on campus that night. She’d gone off on a weekend road trip somewhere. I made up my mind that I would call security if I ever saw the man again, but I never did see him. It could have been anybody. Couch Hall did have locks on the doors, but they were kept unlocked almost all the time, even at night, for the convenience of the students. (They’ve got card swiper things now, last I knew, and you have to swipe your student or employee ID to get in.)

I think it highly likely that he was up to no good, either planning to steal something or wanting to attack someone. I suspect the former, because he had an almost perfect chance with me and didn’t take it. But he wouldn’t have had that chance in any case if I had just turned right around and went back up my room and called security the second I saw a person in the dorm whom I didn’t recognize and who didn’t fit the profile of a typical student. Even if that was nothing much by itself.

(And if you’re wondering why my hink-o-meter malfunctioned so badly in Washington DC, well, I was extremely tired. I’d been too excited to sleep for more than three hours or so the night before, then I’d been out on my feet all day. Sleep deprivation affects my judgement much the same way alcohol does; I might as well have been slightly drunk. This was also part of the reason I had gotten so upset about being lost, because I was too tired to think straight, and being lost and upset wasn’t helping my judgement either. Neither did having Asperger’s, but that was something beyond my control. There’s a reason such men are called predators: like animals they target vulnerable prey. The old, the sick and wounded, or the very young members of the species, whoever is easiest to get at. Not to be melodramatic or anything, but Rollo basically smelled blood. It took a very long time for me to realize this and stop blaming myself so much.)


Now, my third example. This one was definitely just an “odd” thing and doesn’t cross into the boundaries of “suspicious” at all. It’s the kind of thing that’s perfect to illustrate my point. I read about this case recently, I forget where from. It goes like this:

In a major European city, I think either London or Paris, a local saw a man and a woman standing in front of a building. The woman was wearing a dress with wide horizontal stripes. They looked to be tourists and the man was taking photographs of the woman posing in front of the building.

Well, there happened to be some other important historic monument or museum or something just across the street, something that would have made for much better vacation pictures. So the local man approached the two “tourists” and pointed out this fact, and suggested they use that building as a background instead of this one which was just ordinary and not even very nice-looking as far as buildings go. The man and the woman brushed him off, and the man continued to take photos of the woman posing at various spots in front of the building.

The local man thought this was “odd.” And that’s definitely all it was; tourists, after all, are not noted for their intelligence and they could take pictures of any stupid old thing they wanted, and come home and caption them “random building in such-and-such city” or whatever. But the guy had a funny feeling, so he approached the nearest police officer and told him about the “strange” encounter he’d had with the tourists.

I’m not sure, if I were a cop, that this would have even merited my attention at all. This was not suspicious activity. But perhaps the police officer had nothing else to do at the time. Anyway, the cop went to have a talk with the two tourists and, long story short, the man was wanted for several bank robberies in several countries and the woman was his accomplice. The building they were taking pictures of was yet another bank they planned to rob, and they were “casing the joint” and getting some idea as to the exact size of the place by taking the pictures using the wide stripes on the woman’s dress to give a sense of scale.

True story.

11 thoughts on “Suspicious versus odd (I get a bit long-winded here)

  1. holly May 15, 2013 / 11:19 pm

    I don’t know if this falls under the “odd” or “suspicious” category. But I’ve long suspected it was suspicious – definitely scary. When I was about 7 years old, my mom,her best friend,and I went on a day trip to a much larger city about 6 hours from where I live.We were in a split level 2-story mall with a restaurant on the second floor and my mom and friend were sitting outside on the deck watching me while I played in a nearby courtyard. Across from the mall and courtyard were several very tall business buildings . So I was playing and the pay phone in the courtyard rang. Being the curious 7 year old that I was,I answered it. On the other end was an adult male. He told me several obscene things and bad words that he was going to do to me and followed it up with describing exactly what I was wearing. He could see me from one of those buildings. Something told me to throw down the phone and run. I ran and told my mom but the person was no longer on the phone when she got to it. I don’t know what would have happened if I had stayed on the phone -, maybe it was a joke but I have long had a feeling that it would not have ended well. Even as a 7 year old child,I had a deep feeling I just needed to get out of there. Perhaps that’s what happened tp you when the man approached you at school. There’s no telling what his intentions were but they weren’t good.

    • Meaghan May 15, 2013 / 11:20 pm

      That does sound not just suspicious but downright alarming. I’m glad nothing happened to you.

      • holly May 15, 2013 / 11:28 pm

        Thank you. I’m glad for you too.

  2. emma l May 16, 2013 / 6:34 am

    Meaghan and Holly- both your stories made me go cold. There are some very scary people out there.
    On a separate note- Meaghan, I have a similar thing when I’m tired. My judgement is nil. I literally turn into a different person.

    • Meaghan May 16, 2013 / 2:38 pm

      There was actually another reason for me not calling security and even for me letting him talk to me at all: stupid as it sounds, he was black and I didn’t want to appear racist or even BE racist without meaning to be. You know, “Little white girl from rural Ohio sees black man and automatically assumes he’s a criminal” sort of thing.

      • emma l May 17, 2013 / 10:18 am

        Ha! Sadly I do. What a world we live eh?

  3. Princess Shantae May 16, 2013 / 7:21 am

    It was definitely suspicious of that phone call. Obviously he was watching the courtyard from someplace, but he had no way to predict who would answer the phone ir even if anybody would. Back in the days of pay phones everywhere, I never heard one ring except this one time a radio station was callling a pay phone on the boardwalk to give away concert tickets, and they kept announcing it ahead of time so probably that’s the only way they could be sure anybody’d answer it.
    Guy you describe probably pulled that prank all the time to see who he could get to answer the phone. Who even knows the numbers of pay phones anyway?

    • holly May 16, 2013 / 9:03 am

      I think he was watching me and I believe, worked in one of those buildings. These are ten and twelve story buildings. And how he knew the pay phone number,I have no idea. The things he said were beyond vulgar and dirty – they were downright obscene and to a child,nonetheless. My instincts told me this is not a prank – run!

  4. Idyla (@idylarocks) May 16, 2013 / 10:09 pm

    I did a very long story/rant about this on FB. Long story short, my father is/was an abusive jerk and I grew up fearing for my life. Once my parents finally divorced, people came out of the woodwork saying all these things about him – how he was “just not right” and how he treated me was so horrible. His JOB even knew what was going on and was simply told to “keep it down” or he *might* lose his job.

    It made me SO ANGRY that all these people KNEW what was going on was not right and did NOTHING.

    These sort of stories always hit me a bit hard because I know I’m lucky that I was not a news story with neighbors saying “We’re so shocked!”

    Yes, I do think some blame lies with the police. They are supposed to take down reports – no matter how silly they seem. If they had done just this simple basic thing these girls would have been rescued years ago. The neighbors knew something weird was going on and called up. Repeatedly. A naked girl/woman CRAWLING in a yard should have gotten emergency services there ASAP. The best EMS personnel I have dealt with all say the same thing – “I’d rather take the time and NOT be needed rather than ignore it and not be where I’m needed.”

    I think his family probably has a clue in hindsight. If they didn’t blink an eye at his treatment of his ex-wife, then that also factors into their perception of what is “odd”.

    At any rate, it costs NOTHING to call and report suspicious behavior or to ask someone if they’re okay.

    Also – “back in the day” a lot of pay phones had the phone number on it. They also show up via caller ID.

  5. Jaclyn July 14, 2013 / 1:20 am

    For some reason the story about the couple in Europe made me think of when I studied the about interrogation of a witness, or questioning the victim of a crime. At the same time I was doing research on the Innocence Project. Since I am a Victim Advocate in training, this article at the site below brings up some of the issues that witnesses face; although, I believe that it is ALWAYS best to treat the victim of a crime as exactly that, and be very sensitive to their first hand account of it. Erring on the side of caution is very important in most cases.

    • Meaghan July 14, 2013 / 8:25 am

      After I was attacked, the detective in my case was very respectful and polite and professional and all that. It didn’t stop me from getting kind of annoyed, though. He asked me like SEVEN TIMES whether my friend (the one I was visiting when it happened) and I were sleeping with each other. He also asked my friend at least twice, once in my presence and once when they were alone. Each time he asked he worded it in a slightly different way, so’s I wouldn’t notice I was being asked the same question over and over. But I did notice. I know he had to ask — because if we had been sleeping together, that meant Jeff’s DNA would be present as well as the rapist’s — but it got extremely irritating after awhile.

      Finally I suggested, rather waspishly, that he take a DNA sample from Jeff just to clear this up. And Det. Austin stopped asking after that.

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