Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Close Encounter with the Wrong Kind

By Chester Campbell

Ben’s post about his home invasion got me thinking about my only close encounter with the wrong kind. It took place at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC back in the 1980s.

I was executive vice president of the Tennessee Association of Life Underwriters, a trade association made up of life and health insurance agents, general agents and managers. Our national association was having its annual convention at the Shoreham, which is adjacent to Rock Creek Park near the Connecticut Avenue and Calvert Street intersection.

One of my tasks, along with a volunteer leader, was to look after the “Tennessee Suite,” which had a large reception area that was a gathering place for Tennessee delegates, wives, and others. I always arrived a few days early to attend an association executives conference and get the suite set up. My room, which I shared with the volunteer in charge, was just down the hallway.

It was on a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon in late September. Most of the delegates would arrive the following day, but I had opened the suite for a few early birds. My roommate would not get in until later in the afternoon, when we would go out to buy snacks and booze for our bar.

One of the early arrivals paid me for something he owed with three twenties. I stuck them in my pocket and headed back to my room to pick up some literature for the suite. I unlocked the door and walked in but didn’t close it since I would only be a minute.

Hearing the door close behind me, I looked around. A black man, his face covered with a handkerchief, stood there with a shiny revolver aimed at me. He wore a white jacket like a room service employee.

“Turn around,” he ordered.

I did.

“Empty your wallet on the bed.”

I dropped my bankroll of $23 as instructed.

“Take off your shoes. Hand me your belt and put your hands behind you.”

He tied my hands with the belt and ordered me to lie on my stomach on the floor. All the while I’m remembering those stories I’d read about robbers getting upset with their take and shooting their victims. But I wasn’t about to argue with that shiny pistol, probably a .38.

“You have any money in your pockets?” he asked.

Having quickly forgotten what I’d been doing, I said, “No.”

His answer was to reach in my pocket and pull out the three twenties. Then he said, “Stay where you are for five minutes, or I’ll shoot you.”

When I was sure he had left, I freed my hands and called the front desk to report what had happened. Then I went up the hallway and told my story to a group of wide-eyed life underwriters. Soon the hotel called to tell everyone to stay in their rooms until they were cleared.

Within minutes, a police helicopter appeared overhead and police cars swarmed about the hotel. Shortly afterward, a whole troop of motorized cops crowded the street in front. SWAT officers in paramilitary outfits combed the corridors, knocking on doors, checking out the rooms.

Later in the afternoon, after my roommate had arrived, two D.C. detectives came up to question me, and we learned the reason for all the commotion. The robber had entered the room of a delegate and his family two floors above me just before he caught me. Our calls to the front desk came at nearly the same time, and they assumed there were multiple robbers hitting the hotel.

The motorized cops had been attending some sort of celebration a few blocks away and were diverted to the scene.

The robber got away, of course. Neither victim could identify him because of the handkerchief. The lead detective said he had a pretty good idea who it was, but they wouldn’t likely be able to do anything about it.

The hotel sent me an apology and the money I’d lost. The lesson I took away was always close the door when you enter a hotel room. Fortunately, I've had no more encounters of that kind. But I still remember the lesson.


Ben Small said...


I have a good friend who was mugged in Washington D.C. He never went back. And one time, I was stuck in traffic in downtown Washington. Sat there watching as some guy broke into a car on the other side of the street. All my horn honking didn't faze the guy a bit, and nobody else seemed to care. If I never see that city again, I'll be happy.

Being one who's traveled far and wide and often, I was always very careful about hotel room doors. I had many friends who were robbed just like you were. Luckily, all of them survived.

Mark W. Danielson said...

I just received a security briefing that one of our crew members was violently assaulted in Paris, walking back to the hotel from the subway at night. I was checking out at a Safeway when a robber held up the teller I was checking out with. My former spouse walked into a bank robbery. My former brother-in-law cop was shot answering a call. My best buddy was held up at gun point twice at his hangar. My folks and myself have both been burglarized. It's a violent world out there, but these are also isolated incidences that have occurred over a lifetime. Playing it smart can keep you out of most situations, but not all. Sometimes it's just dumb luck. Glad you weren't hurt, Cheseter. The only up side to all of this is I never get picked for jury duty. Hmm -- I wonder why?

Beth Terrell said...

I know the world has always been a dangerous place, but it seems like our veneer of civilization is wearing thin in places.

Anonymous said...

You guys are scaring me to death! I live alone in an apartment complex. We actually had an abduction and murder here last year, but it was a fluke -- a rejected boyfriend pursued a young woman into an apartment where she was visiting. She didn't think he would harm her, and went with him voluntarily. He stabbed her to death in the car, on a busy street, surrounded by cops who couldn't reach him in time to stop him.

Well, speaking of guardian angels -- I traveled to exotic places all alone, in some kind of blind trust that I would be safe. And I was, and I was never afraid.

Pat Browning