I grew up in a lovely old neighborhood in the south with trees and grass and a house with a wraparound screened in porch. It was shattered with paranoia when the Pajama Ripper, as the locals dubbed him, would strike.
The only place he would strike was at the Oakland Apartments a block and a half away from where I lived. These were cheap starter apartments good for young marrieds and college students and retired people because they were quiet.
There is shady, tree lined alley cutting through the apartment complex that is unlit in the dark. It deadends into a chain link fence about ten feet high. No barbed wire, just a fence to keep out loiterers. But the other end of the alley is accessible to the street for anybody to walk through and pass most of the units.
There is a very small gap in the fence that a little kid like me (I was seven) can squeeze through. I think the local kids were the only ones who knew about it. Even a short, skinny adult couldn’t possibly get through it. To get over the fence would take a strong, fast, well coordinated person with at least some athletic ability. I could climb it right now but I wouldn’t be very fast. And jumping down would be like jumping off a six foot wall. You would have to be in good shape.
The Ripper was such an individual. I always wondered if he actually lived in one of those apartments because he would’ve known the floor plan, which would’ve enabled him to move easily in total darkness. The place had a strict no pet policy that would’ve helped him. That way he wouldn’t be confronted by an angry dog or step on a cat’s tail.
He seemed to be a talented lock picker because he went through the locks like they weren’t there. Even the deadbolts didn’t stop him. And he always politely locked the doors behind him.
And the only reason this was personal is that my mother lived there with her new second husband Gene. Their apartment was right on that alley.
The Pajama Ripper never hurt anybody when he would come into your apartment in the middle of the night. He’d rip open your night clothes and look at you and go away. He ignored the men and went after the women until he broke into my mother’s apartment. When he visited that place he ignored Mom and went after her husband. Notably, he didn’t rip Gene’s clothes as usual. When Gene woke up he was completely naked. His t-shirt and shorts were folded neatly at the foot of the bed, like a lover or a wife would do. I think the Pajama Ripper really liked Gene. And this is hilarious because Gene was an extreme homophobe.
It was also remarkable because Gene had been in a war and was a very light sleeper. He’d come awake swinging his fist if my mother touched him in his sleep, which she learned after a black eye or two. But the Ripper had a very light touch.
In homosexual panic Gene, who was an electrical engineer, built a burglar alarm out of spare parts in a few hours. He rigged it so that if a door or window was opened a contact would be broken and set the alarm off. And it was loud! Loud as standing next to the track when an engine toots.
It was pointed out to Gene that The Ripper had never broken into the same apartment twice, but Gene liked to play it safe. And the Ripper mustve really liked Gene because although he never went in the same apartment twice, he made an exception and went back to see Gene. As soon as he opened the door the alarm went off and Gene chased the Ripper up the alley until he disappeared in the dark. The Ripper was really fast.
Finally the cops started really watching the apartments. They surprised the Ripper one night as he was breaking into another apartment and chased him down the alley toward the fence. The officer that chased him got close enough to see that it was a white guy that was completely naked. The cop said that the Ripper went up and down the fence “like an ape.” He ran down a side street and got away. He was never heard from again.
It sounded like a fraternity prank that got out of hand.
Fast forward to a few years ago. I was watching the network news when there was a brief mention of a guy breaking into houses, slashing open their clothes, and just looking at them. It was in Philly or Jersey or some place like that. I never heard about it again. The Ripper would’ve been too old to relive his past glories. And why would someone else copycat an obscure series of crimes more than two decades later?
The truth is out there.