Joe’s Cases

By Joe Roubicek

Ina hated that incessant ringing as she lay in bed with her bedroom light on in the middle of the night.  I’m 93 years old, for God’s sake, she thought.  I can’t take this anymore. With a trembling hand she picked up the receiver.  “Hello?”
Heavy breathing, then cries and screams.  “Aaaaaggg help! Aaauughhh!”  It sounded as if someone were being tortured.
“Who is this?” … Silence … “Leave me alone!”
More heavy breathing.
Ina hung up the phone and unplugged it from the wall.
Next morning, she washed, made her coffee, and returned to the bedroom to plug the phone back in, something she had done every day for the past week.  But no sooner had she plugged it back in when it began ringing.  Since it was daytime and the nuisance calls only came in at night, she answered the phone.
“How are you this morning?”
Ina recognized the Caribbean accent of Sharon Wilcox, a woman she had recently employed.  In fact, she had expected the call.
“What do you want?” Ina asked.
“I need more money, Ina.”
“I’ve already given you plenty of money, Sharon.  It’s time you left me alone.”
“You know, Ina, I still have the key to your garage.  You mustn’t make me use it.”
“This is the last time, so you better stop calling me.”
“I’ll need $500,” Sharon said.
“And then you’ll leave me alone?”
“I promise.  I’ll stop by this afternoon to drop off your key and say goodbye, okay?”
IMG_3785 (2)Ina agreed and Sharon Wilcox, her former devoted caretaker, came to the house that afternoon, picked up a $500.00 check, returned Ina’s garage key, a key that ultimately already had cost Ina $2,000 to retrieve it.
Maybe the calls would stop.  Maybe Ina could have some peace.
Extortion is a cruel business.  One person threatens another to force the victim to do something against his or her will, often for some type of financial gain.  Call it oppression for profit, a form of elderly exploitation because the victim and culprit are initially brought together by the victim’s disability.  In Ina’s case, that disability was a broken wrist.
Until that injury, Ina had been an independent and mentally sharp woman in good physical condition.  But showering and cooking meals one-handed would be difficult for a person of any age, much less a 93 year old.  So Ina decided to hire a daytime helper to enable her to remain at home during her recovery.  Sharon Wilcox, a 38-year-old home health aide became her assistant.
extortion of the elderlyAfter three months, Ina’s wrist had healed and she no longer needed assistance, but when she gave Sharon the news, along with two weeks’ severance pay, the young woman became belligerent.  Before leaving, she demanded and received an additional $500.00 because Ina just wanted to get her out of the house.
Several hours later, Sharon called to say that she still had one of Ina’s front door keys.  She demanded another $500.00 and Ina paid her.  But Sharon Wilcox planned no end to this extortion and the night time calls began.  Eerie screams, cries, and animal noises were followed by calls the following morning for yet more money.
Meantime, a neighbor noticed that Ina’s behavior had changed.  The sweet old woman had stopped going on morning walks, tinkering in her yard, and picking up the daily newspaper from the driveway.  After dark, her house lights were out, but her bedroom light remained on throughout the night.  When the neighbor prodded Ina for an explanation, she finally confided in him and agreed to call the police.
Troubled by the apparent extortion of an elderly woman, the police officer who responded phoned me directly and asked me to come to the house.  I decided that it seemed fair to use the phone against Wilcox since she had used the phone to torment Ina.  A voice-activated recorder was attached to Ina’s phone and the phone company put a trace on the line to verify the location of all incoming calls.  I wrote down a few basic questions for Ina to ask Sharon Wilcox, questions such as “How much do you want?” and “What will you do if I don’t pay you?”
Ina sat on the bed reviewing the questions while I plugged the recorder into the phone with a double-jack device.  Within the hour, Sharon Wilcox called.
The following is a transcript from that call.
“Hello Ina, listen here, I’m going crazy. I really need a job, I can’t find a job.”
“Well Sharon, you always told me it would be easy to get one. I’m sorry but I can’t do anything more to help you. I’ve been stripped of money and I gave you all the money that I have.”
“Oh, come on now, Ina, you got money.”
“Well, just what is it that you want me to do?”
“All that I want you to do is to give me more money to help me pay some of my bills.”
“I can’t help you to pay your bills anymore.”   Silence.
I was listening to Ina’s end of the conversation and now I pointed to the questions that I had written out for her. Poor Ina was doing a good job, but she wasn’t an actress and read the questions robotically from the sheet.
“Tell me how much you want?”
“How much do I want? How much can you afford to give me, Ida?”
Ina repeated, “Tell me how much you want?”
There was silence for a few seconds. Wilcox hesitated and then replied,
“I said whatever you can afford to give me, Ina.”
Ina became nervous and read directly from the sheet again.
“How much do you want and … What will you do if I don’t pay you?”
“If you don’t pay me? What are you trying to get at, Ina? What are you up to?”
Ina’s hands were shaking noticeably now.
“I just want to end this thing, the torment that you’re putting me through.”
“Ina, you know something? I’m not dumb, okay? And you’re trying to set me up and that’s not going to work, okay?”
Wilcox hung up.
It looked as if this was not going to be the “slam dunk” case it first appeared to be.  As I started to explain this to Ina, the phone rang again.  It was Wilcox.
“Hello, Ina?  Listen here, my car’s not working so here’s what you’re going to do.  Mail me another $500.00, okay?  That’s the way we’ll do it.”
Wilcox took the bait after all.  Despite suspecting that she was being set up, her greed got the better of her, and now we had enough evidence to justify taking her into custody.
The rest is elementary, as they say.  Wilcox was arrested the following day for grand theft and extortion.  As we placed her in handcuffs, she cried like a baby – all the way to the county jail.
The most important element of this case, besides quick police intervention, was Ina’s neighbor’s reaction to her changed behavior as well as Ina’s own willingness to stand up for herself when given the opportunity.  Looking out for our neighbors is not only police business, but also the business of all of us who refuse to close our eyes to exploitative  crimes against some of our most vulnerable citizens – the elderly.
“No man is an Island.”   John Donne