Guest column: New Year’s Eve, 1972

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part column from Sequim resident Robin Auld. See part two in the Jan. 4 edition of the Sequim Gazette. — MD

Another New Year’s Eve has come and gone, and I once again am drawn back to another time when I was young and thought I had seen and done it all.

I was a young prosecutor in Chicago in the state attorney’s office. Like so many young and eager lawyers, I got caught up in a political broo-haha in August 1972, and foolishly took sides with another young prosecutor against the man who had hired us. Edward V. Hanrahan was the state’s attorney who had been indicted for either perjury or obstruction of justice (I can’t remember) and after a brief bench trial had been acquitted by a Mayor Daley Machine judge.

Hanrahan’s opponent had been Bernard Carey, a milk-toast Republican. My colleague in the state attorney’s office and I had rather publicly supported him — to the ire of the entire office, which was very loyal to Hanrahan. Long story short: Carey won the election … and I was fired. After about five weeks of unemployment, I was the first Assistant State’s Attorney hired by Carey in mid-December when he got sworn-in, but he didn’t clean house and sweep out the old loyalists. When it came time to hand out unpleasant night duties, I pulled New Year’s Eve night desk at the office’s suite in Chicago police headquarters.

Chicago’s coldest nights of the year are typically between Christmas and New Year’s … and this year was to be no exception. I pulled by car into the Chicago Police Department parking lot and hurried from my car into the entrance at 11th and South State Street, then took the empty elevator up to the empty fifth floor, and empty suite of offices that was to be my home for the next six hours, from 6 p.m. ‘til shortly after midnight. I watched TV while taking phone calls from outlying police departments around the county as well as local requests for advice in charging. I then wrote up a short report on each call, and my recommendations and advice, into the log book.

Sometime that night a call came in from a south suburban department. It seems a woman had gone to Florida to see family and wasn’t expected back until the next night. Hoping to surprise her husband, she caught an earlier flight and arrived at their home a night early. She let herself in quietly, not making any purposeful sounds. Her husband had been upstairs watching television, and heard something downstairs. Not expecting his wife for another day, and knowing that someone was quietly moving around downstairs without announcement, he retrieved his pistol went to the head of the stairs, and as a figure in the darkness began slowly climbing the stairs he fired. His aim was good enough, because he managed to kill quickly his wife of many years.

Police wanted my opinion as to what charges, if any, to bring. It didn’t take much legal analysis to come to the conclusion that her death had been accidental. Police weren’t pressing hard for any charges, saying the man was devastated and completely distraught over his wife’s slaying at his hand. I recommend no charges be brought, and wrote the matter up in the report. I returned to the television for the duration of the shift.

When midnight came, I watched the festivities around town locally for a few more minutes, then called in the main dispatch desk that I was going home for the night, and gave them my phone number in case anything else came up. Once home, I knocked back a couple of beers, watched a little more TV and then went to bed, probably about 12:45 a.m., and was out quickly.

The phone call came in about 1:15 as I best recall. The 18th District Precinct down on Chicago Avenue just a little bit south of the Rush Street area. The report was short, sweet and to the point: an off-duty police woman had shot and killed a guy. Would I come down to the station house and take her sworn statement before a court reporter?

That was a bucket of cold water in the face. I was quickly wide awake.

In terms of liveliness and things going on, a police station in the big city is always a well-choreographed exercise in chaos most nights, especially on the weekends. New Year’s Eve I expected worse, but things were actually not too bad. Just life, and people coming in out of the cold, and blowing on cold hands and drinking coffee. The usual broo-haha of night people well into their act.

I was led into a small conference room where I was to meet the policewoman in question. I expected to find a middle-aged, menopausal woman with a chip on her shoulder, maybe a man-hater to boot. I wasn’t expecting what I found.

Looking up at me from a chair with a cup of coffee in her hand was an Angel. A pretty young woman I pegged to be mid-20s, brown hair, blue eyes and scared to death. She had a very fair complexion, trim build and the farthest thing from what I had expected to find.

She said her name was Ann Leybourne, and she was a recruit at the Chicago Police Academy. She was from Michigan originally, and had just decided in the last year she wanted to be a cop — in Chicago. Now, she had just shot and killed a man, and I had to get her version of what happened.

She had picked up a friend earlier in the evening, and had gone to a party together. Sometime around midnight she had taken the friend home and was getting out of her car in front of her apartment when she was approached by a man with a gun. He jammed it into her and told her to just shut up, to not make a sound and get back into her car, a Ford Maverick. He had her slide over into the passenger seat area with her knees on the floor and her head and shoulders down on the passenger seat. Holding his gun in her face in his right hand, he proceeded to drive away with her, steering with his left hand.

The man was Robert Ellis, known throughout Chicago as the infamous Friday Night Rapist, who had terrorized the Near North Side’s young women in the summer of 1969. While other young people were going to Woodstock, Ellis was letting himself into young women’s ground level apartments by sliding open patio level glass bedroom doors, and waiting for them to return home, at which time he raped them at gun or knife point, then left.

He had been arrested, though, and remained in jail for a year on a high bond. His public defender had gotten the case thrown out on a photo line-up identification issue, however, and he was back on the streets. On this particular New Year’s Eve, he had Ann Leybourne on his radar screen.

But you don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask off the ol’ Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with a police woman, even though she’s still in the police academy, and who is required to carry her department issued .38 revolver on her at all times. Ann did.

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.