By Megan Dooley
Lisa Dodge was returning home after a long day of traveling when she was confronted by a stranger outside her apartment building on the 200 block of N. Oak Park Ave. last week. She had noticed the man loitering around the entrance as her cab pulled up and she collected her belongings but didn't think much of it until the man walked up to her and said, "All I want is your money."
The next few moments, she said, felt as though they lasted 20 minutes. "It was probably 20 seconds." She refused him, telling the man she had no money. When she brushed past him, he jumped her from behind, and started choking her. Dodge screamed "Fire," trying to get the attention of her neighbors. "I'm screaming the whole time," she recalled. "That just pissed him off."
The man had her pinned on the ground but couldn't get to her purse, which was underneath her. When people finally started to respond, he eased his hold on her. She rolled off her purse and he took the opportunity to grab it, breaking the strap, before fleeing the scene.
The man, described as a black male in his 20s, between 5-feet-10 and 6 feet tall, with a medium build, is thought to be the same man responsible for two similar robberies reported in Oak Park since late March. He is still at large.
The Oak Park police are reaching out to the community for help in capturing the assailant they believe to be responsible for the three recent attacks on women. The string of attacks all took place between March 30 and April 4.
In a press release dated April 6, police said they'd increased patrol units in the area, which includes the area near Lake Street from Austin Boulevard to Oak Park Avenue, in response to the attacks.
All three incidents occurred close to midnight. In each attack, the victim was approached from behind and placed in a choke hold as the attacker demanded money. In all three, the victims reported that the attacker was wearing a light-colored jacket and a black stocking hat.
In the first incident, which occurred just before midnight on the 200 block of Lake Street, the attacker made off with the victim's Blackberry cellphone and cash.
The second attack occurred after midnight on April 2. A victim was walking in the front door of her apartment building on the 400 block of North Austin Boulevard when she was accosted from behind. The victim kicked the attacker and screamed, prompting the suspect to flee on foot.
The third attack was made on Dodge around 11:30 p.m. on April 4. She said it was the first time she's ever experienced that kind of violence. "I think I handled myself well," she said. After the attack, she spent the night calling credit card companies to report her cards stolen, and the CTA, asking them to keep an eye out for her missing purse.
She's glad she wasn't seriously hurt but angry that the attack happened in the first place. "I'm sick of this. This has just got to stop. People have to stop taking advantage of other people," she said. "He got 80 bucks," she said of her attacker. "And now, if we catch him, he's going to prison. For 80 dollars."
None of the victims suffered serious injuries in the attacks, and the suspect didn't use a weapon, but police are warning residents to take necessary precautions and stay cognizant of their surroundings.
As the only victim who got a look at the attacker's face, Dodge was asked to help the police make a composite sketch of the suspect. "I said absolutely," she said. "I don't want to be a nameless victim. I'm being very pro-active."
Asked if the police have any leads, Commander LaDon Reynolds said, "We're looking into different avenues in the investigation."
Reynolds said the department has released a number of safety tips for people to follow, and he recommended that people keep a cellphone on them at all times.
"I think it's always good to travel in pairs when it's later in the evening," Reynolds said. "I think just in general it's a good idea."
Police are also asking anyone with information about the attacks, or anyone who witnesses suspicious activity, to call the department at 708-386-3800. Anonymous tips are also welcome at 708-434-1636.