By Joe Beck
Eleanor Miller had lived a peaceful life for much of her 83 years in a modest home on South Funk Street in Strasburg until around 4 a.m. Friday when an unidentified man appeared in her darkened bedroom.
Within minutes, he shattered the safety and security she had known by tying her up in bed, wrapping her wrists with what she thinks was duct tape, slipping something over her head and pawing through drawers and furniture around the house.
Miller estimates her ordeal lasted about an hour before he cut her loose, and then piled some objects from another bed on top of her before leaving. He took mostly cash, and a bottle of the prescription painkiller Vicodin.
Miller spoke from a chair in her living room Wednesday, familiar surroundings that no longer seem quite the same since the home invasion.
"I never thought in a million years that this would happen to me here," she said. "He came into my house and did this to me."
Strasburg police continue to investigate, but have made no arrests and are appealing to the public for leads. Police Chief Tim Sutherly said the case appears unrelated to another recent home invasion in New Market.
Miller said she went to bed at about 11:40 p.m. the night of the home invasion. Around 4 a.m., she noticed what appeared to be a light around her bedroom window. She thought it might be a car headlight from the street.
"That's what I thought it was, until a hand went around my mouth," she said.
Miller said she is proud of having lived her life without fear of anything. She admits that she hadn't paid close attention to locking doors and windows around her home, never worried much about crime until that moment.
"I thought at first I was dreaming, I really did," she said. "I couldn't believe it."
Soon enough, she realized the nightmare was real. The intruder put his mouth next to her ear and warned her.
"He said, 'I swear to God,' if you don't listen to me and do what I say, I'll hurt you and I'll hurt you bad,''' Miller said.
Miller noticed he reeked of cigarette smoke and another unfamiliar odor as he stripped the blankets away and bound up her wrist and ankles.
"I was hogtied, and I don't mean maybe," she said.
He prowled the bedroom, kitchen, living room, and basement, looking for anything valuable enough to steal. At one point, he asked her if she had a credit or debit card. She told him she did not.
She described the jewelry he took as "not high power or expensive, but it was sentimental to me."
The robbery ended when he returned to the bedroom and declared that he was about to cut her loose, a statement she believed to be completely the opposite of his real intentions.
"I thought I was dead," Miller said, "but he did cut me loose."
But he wasn't done threatening her. Miller said he left her with a warning that he knew who she was and where she lived. And he would be back.
"That scared the goose grease out of me," she said.
She was unable to see him well enough in the dark with her head covered to give a description to police, although he appeared to be shorter and lighter than average.
Miller said she didn't have much trouble getting out from under the objects he piled on her to hold her down after she had been cut loose. She dressed and managed to make her way to a nearby neighbor's house, despite a recent knee replacement operation that has made it hard to walk.
"I don't know how I got down the road, to this day I don't, until I got to my neighbors and beat on their door with my cane," Miller said.
Miller, a widow who has also outlived her only child, describes herself as angry and fearful. She has trouble sleeping and eating. But she is also determined to remain in the house she has lived in since 1955, surrounded by friends, neighbors and church members. Since the home invasion, they have helped her with everything from emotional support to locking down her home's windows and doors in a way they have never been before.
She said she initially didn't want to speak publicly about her experience, but then decided it was important to remind other people to be more careful in protecting their homes against intruders.
She admits she is scared, but fear hasn't dampened the desire to see her assailant pay for his actions after police find him.
"I'm mad now about what happened," she said. "If the day comes when they catch him, I'd like to take my cane and bash him in the head."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or email@example.com