Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part column from Sequim resident Robin Auld. See part one in the Dec. 28 edition of the Sequim Gazette. — MD
And as they drove around Chicago’s north side for what seemed like hours but was probably closer to 25 minutes, Ann Leybourne — the young recruit at the Chicago Police Academy — had her finger wrapped around the trigger of her .38, buried at the bottom of her large satchel purse on her left side on the floor out of sight.
As they drove, she kept talking to Robert Ellis — known as the infamous Friday Night Rapist — using her police training to keep him distracted and off balance. Eventually he pulled into the parking lot of the Cabrini Green housing projects, and needed both hands to steer and put the car in park.
As he pulled into the desired place, he pulled his gun away from Ann’s head, and put the pistol between his legs for what was going to be just a few seconds while he used his right hand to put the gear shifter into park. As he did so, she came up quickly with her left hand, and blasted a shot that entered somewhere in his torso.
He reacted by swinging wildly, and knocking the gun out of her hand, and they then wrestled for the gun he had tucked between his legs.
But by that time, only a few seconds after he had been shot, she noticed he was quickly weakening, and she won the wrestling match for his gun, and slammed three more shots into him with it.
“What happened then?” I asked. “Did he say or do anything?”
“He just gurgled, sir,” is what she said.
She retrieved her .38, climbed out of her car, passenger side, with a pistol in each hand. There was a van parked not very far away, and Officer Leybourne strode over to it, a smoking pistol in each hand. Some young adults were in the van — smoking marijuana, she believed.
She announced quickly that she had just shot a man, and that the police should be called. This was in the day before cell phones. So a group of them all went over to Leon’s Rib Shack. There, she used a phone to call-in the shooting. Police arrived quickly, and found Mr. Ellis very dead.
His true identity was ascertained shortly thereafter in a most interesting set of circumstances: instead of being taken to Cook County Hospital he had been taken to nearby Henrotin Hospital. As Ellis lay on a gurney in a hallway, homicide detective Paul Ropel and his partner looked at the body for a short spell before Ropel recognized the man he had arrested for the Friday night serial rapes in 1969.
Ropel asked his partner if he recognized him. When his partner didn’t, Ropel tore off an afro wig off Ellis’ Head, revealing the man they both had come to loathe.
I was called and elicited the foregoing facts (except the manner of Ellis identification) through the statement. I determined that no charges should be filed; that the shooting was justifiable, and told her to go home and try to get some sleep. Yeah, right.
A few days later Chicagoans awoke to a large Sun-Times front page picture of Mayor Daley awarding Officer Ann Leybourne the Chicago Police Department’s Award of Merit. This just a day or two after being awarded the police department’s Award of Valor — the first woman ever so-honored. She had achieved celebrity status.
In the months that followed Ann moved several times. Once she moved into Marina Towers right on the Chicago River, but the noises of the night got to her. Too many sirens and strange noises. She was jumpy. Today, it would be said of her that she had post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but they didn’t toss around such terms then, and Ann would not have wanted to languish under such an evaluation, anyway.
I asked her out that spring and summer, and we dated only casually — just friends — for several months. But in time, I suspect I was too much of a reminder of a bad night, and she gradually disappeared off my radar screen. I never saw her again.
I left Chicago in September of 1977 and settled into a small Colorado mountain town, first as a prosecutor, then later into my own, solo private practice. Occasionally I would remember Ann Leybourne, and wonder what became of her. It turns out she rose in the ranks of the CPD Youth Division to Sergeant. She married, had a daughter, divorced and remarried.
One spring day in late March 2001, I was in my Old West law office. I was thumbing through the latest Time magazine, and paid my usual attention to the “Milestones” section where note is made of the divorces, deaths and shenanigans of Third World dictators and Hollywood types, usually very interesting reading.
On that day, however, I was startled to see:
“Died: Ann Leybourne Biebel, 1973 Chicago Policewoman of the Year, who on New Year’s Eve 1972 shot and killed the famous Friday Night Rapist, after being abducted by him first at gunpoint; of cancer; in Muskegon, MI.”
Or words to that effect.
Ann was a smoker. What bad-guys, bureaucrats and barking dogs couldn’t do, cancer did. She was 53.
It’s been some time now since the Newtown, Conn., tragedy. Even longer since Aurora, Colo. movie theater massacre, Columbine High School — the list can go on and on. Whenever I hear of another gun tragedy I have to remember back to New Year’s Eve 1972, and ask myself, “What would the participants in that evening’s events have to say about today’s proliferation of gun violence?”
A pretty young policewoman, who would likely have been the victim of forcibly rape at the hands of a gun-toting low-life, might say a gun saved her life. Ann was vehemently pro law enforcement, had no patience for criminals who abused others, and would probably have been okay with citizens carrying concealed weapons (as she did), given the appropriate background checks and screenings.
A south suburban homeowner who accidentally shot and killed his wife of many years probably would have gladly thrown the weapon away, regretted ever owning it and never looked at another gun as long as he lived.
As I took her statement that early morning I was trying to find ways to pin her down specifically. I asked her if she could tell me where they were driving. No, she couldn’t. How about time references? Any idea when this was going down and how long you drove? No again — no idea.
Then I asked her if the radio was on, thinking we may be able to trace back what songs were being played on what station, and maybe get any specificity (should it ever be needed) that way.
“Do you remember the radio being on?”
“Could you identify the station, the disc jockey? Could you remember what songs were being played?”
“All I remember is that the same song was being played, it seemed like over and over again. Roberta Flack’s ‘Killing Me Softly With His Song’.”
We know what poignant strength smells and images can have on a person’s power of recall, flashing back as a time traveler to another time, another place.
But it doesn’t have to be New Year’s Eve for me to remember that night so long ago; just a song with a nice melody, and catchy lyrics that served as Ann Leybourne’s soundtrack.
Happy New Year.
Robin Auld is a former prosecutor (Chicago and Southwest Colorado), coupled with 37 years of a general trial practice in four states. He and his wife Belinda are presently retired in Sequim, where he belongs to Sequim Sunrise Rotary Club and plays lots of golf.