Janice Johnson had just put her trash in the bin behind her Adams Street condo when she turned and headed toward her car. The 54-year-old nurse was on her way to a hair appointment so she could look her best at a high school reunion in Naperville the next day.
But Johnson, who works at a university medical center in Chicago, never made it to her car. As she stepped away from the Dumpster, a man she had never seen put a gun in her face. After taking her purse, he pistol-whipped Johnson to the ground, kicked her and threatened several times to shoot her, she said.
“In my mind, I thought I was going to die there,” Johnson said tearfully a few days after the July 19 beating. “I was wishing I could see my family and my boyfriend. I was wondering how my mother would survive this.”
Police suspect the assailant who attacked Johnson shortly before 12:30 p.m. that day may be responsible for a string of similar attacks. Left badly shaken by the ordeal, Johnson is recovering from a concussion and required several staples to close a wound on the back of her scalp. She has bruises and scrapes all over her body, including a massive contusion on her hip, where she said the man kicked her repeatedly.
Johnson said she remembers fighting to stay conscious through the assault, but at one point was surprised to find that her clothes were wet with “so much blood.”
“We have leads,” Police Chief Jim Ryan said of the case. “We’re optimistic. Our detectives are working very hard. It was a very serious and very violent attack on a 54-year-old woman.”
Though she feared being killed, Johnson said she made every effort to remember details of her assailant’s vehicle. She was even able to provide Forest Park police with a partial license plate number for the car she said her attacker was driving. At one point, said Johnson, the man realized that she was studying his car and ordered her to stop.
“Turn around so I can shoot you in the back of the head,” the man reportedly said after forcing Johnson to hand over her purse.
The vehicle described by Johnson draws parallels to other reports received by law enforcement in neighboring Oak Park, where police are looking into a number of armed robberies. As reported in Wednesday Journal, a sister paper to the Review, two men told authorities that on the afternoon of July 16, they were robbed at gunpoint. In one of the incidents, the alleged victim said his assailant stepped out of a car fitting the description provided to Forest Park police by Johnson.
“It’s the same individual,” Ryan said of separate incidents. “There’s no doubt about that.”
According to the Wednesday Journal, Oak Park Commander Clemet Harbour said his department suspects the robberies there were committed by the same man.
The violent nature of the attack is somewhat unusual for Forest Park, though not unheard of. Authorities continue to investigate a fatal shooting that occurred in December on the 500 block of Hannah Avenue and, in January, police arrested three men suspected of robbing several taxi drivers at gunpoint.
In Johnson’s case, investigators were able to speak with several witnesses who either saw the alleged assault take place, or noticed the suspect fleeing from the area. In fact, police were called to the alley behind Johnson’s home on the 7400 block of Adams Street by a neighboring condo owner who looked out her window when she heard someone yelling. According to a department report, the caller could see a man pointing a gun, but could not see Johnson.
Just steps from where Johnson was beaten is a small playground, though there is no indication that children were nearby when the incident occurred.
Several others in the area were also able to provide police with a description of the vehicle. One neighbor was pulling into the alley just as the alleged assailant sped away. He rushed to Johnson’s aid, bringing the injured woman to the fire station, where paramedics began treating Johnson for her injuries.