In Catherine Ventura’s right wrist, beneath the long scar, is a metal plate that doctors inserted two years ago after the bones were broken by a man who tried to kill her. She jokes now that she can predict the weather as reliably as any geezer in a rocking chair, but it was a long time before Ventura cracked a smile about what happened that day.
On an unseasonably warm afternoon in March 2007, a then 22-year-old Randall Bean broke into an apartment on the 1200 block of Circle. There he stabbed Debbie Burnett. Authorities have said Bean was high on the hallucinogenic drug, PCP.
From Burnett’s apartment Bean dashed through an alley and onto the sidewalk in front of Ventura’s home on Marengo. He saw Ventura sitting on the front steps of her porch where she was watching her youngest son play. Bean pounced.
The deepest wound, said Ventura, was in her thigh, where Bean managed to sink an 8-inch blade cleanly. But the scars that bother her most are on her hands and forearms; injuries sustained as she fended off Bean’s blows and tried to save her life. She sees those marks all the time, said Ventura, and they are a constant reminder.
Bean, now 24, was sentenced last month in Cook County court, two years and five days after he stabbed Ventura. He was given 14 years in prison after pleading guilty to attempted murder. He also pled guilty to attempted murder charges for stabbing Burnett and Ventura’s son, who was injured on the back of his shoulder.
“I’m just glad it’s over,” Ventura said of Bean’s case. “Quite frankly, the sentence doesn’t mean anything to me. The sentence is about his life. I’ve moved on.”
Ventura, her husband, Orlando, and their two children moved to Forest Park just a few years before the attack. The family has made friends on the block and on the day she was stabbed, Ventura had been watching a handful of neighborhood children play. Others who were there that day remember that most of the kids had drifted home for dinner just moments before Bean came through the alley with a knife.
“I was talking with Catie and she was sitting on her front porch,” said Jacqueline Morelli, who lives across the street at 1228 Marengo. “It was the first beautiful day of the year. It was, like, 70 degrees.”
Just after 6 p.m., Morelli said she walked back to her home to meet a landscaper who had come to remove some mulberry trees. Her neighbor suddenly screamed, said Morelli, and she saw a man lying on top of Ventura. Initially, Morelli said she thought it was Ventura’s husband being playful. But the screaming continued.
“He turned around and showed us the knife,” Morelli said of putting eyes on Bean for the first time.
According to Morelli, she and Bean looked directly at one another and she began to run toward the alley behind her home. Just as Bean made his way onto her property, one of the landscapers grabbed a shovel and chased Bean. Police later credited the landscaper and a neighbor with preventing Bean from attacking anyone else.
Morelli, too, was shaken by the experience. She altered her landscaping plans and had a fence with a locking gate installed.
“I never lay out in the sun without having my gate locked,” Morelli said.
The physical and emotional trauma of the attack kept Ventura out of work for more than a month. She didn’t come home right away either, and stayed with her parents who live nearby. In part, those arrangements were logistical, she said, because the injuries made it difficult for her to walk and care for her children. She also had a hard time returning to the neighborhood, her mind replaying the incident every time she saw the front porch.
“It was like you were reliving that scene every single day,” Ventura said.
Her two boys, now 4 and 8 years old, have vivid memories of what happened. They asked questions in the way that children do, she said, trying to understand why that man hurt their family. She didn’t know what to say.
“It’s hard to parent that,” Ventura said.
Counseling sessions with her children have helped immensely, she said. Coincidentally, their last session is just days after Bean was sentenced.
The family’s home is only a block north of Betsy Ross Elementary where the kids walk to school each day. Letters and cards from the students there were greatly appreciated, said Ventura, and her neighbors couldn’t have been more supportive. Standing on the porch where she was stabbed, Ventura chuckles and looks at the house next door. That family was in the process of buying the home when the stabbings occurred, she said, and meanwhile her porch was decorated with police tape.
“People were pretty rattled,” Mary Ellen Budas, who lives across the street at 1230 Marengo, said.
Ventura said she and her husband thought about moving. Burnett, the other woman who was stabbed, left town because she couldn’t bear the memories, said Ventura. But there are other memories – good ones – that the Venturas didn’t want to leave behind.
“I didn’t want to give that to my attacker,” she said. “I didn’t want him to drive me from my home. I didn’t want this man to take all of that away from me.”