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Panic Call : Elderly Woman Dies as Police Frantically Search for Her Apartment

Times Staff Writer

When 86-year-old Gertrude Roberts reached for the phone in the middle of the night to tell police about an intruder coming in the window, she didn’t dial 911. The mistake may have been fatal.

Roberts called the Anaheim police business line but was too hysterical to report her correct address. Frantically searching up and down the street, officers didn’t arrive for 12 minutes. By the time they got there, Roberts was dead of a heart attack.

Her apartment was only about a mile from the police station, Sgt. Jack Jansen said, and if she had called 911, “we would have been right there.”

The emergency 911 system automatically flashes a caller’s address on a computer screen. Without that information Thursday, police could not immediately find Roberts’ ground-floor unit in a senior citizens’ complex at 200 E. Lincoln Ave. On the phone, Roberts had told police her address was either 621 E. Lincoln or 621 W. Lincoln.

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“She was hysterical . . . she was hard of hearing and I guess she couldn’t understand our operator, who kept asking for a better address,” Sgt. John Haradon said after listening to a tape recording of Roberts’ 1:22 a.m. call.

Haradon said police finally located the woman by checking the senior citizens’ apartment buildings in the general area and looking for units with numbers similar to those given by the victim.

Investigators have no suspects and no witnesses in the incident at the Village Center, a three-story federally subsidized senior citizens’ apartment complex not far from downtown Anaheim.

Haradon said a window was broken to gain entry into the apartment, but “we haven’t been able to establish what’s been taken.”

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Although an autopsy established the preliminary cause of death as a heart attack, Haradon said, the case is being investigated as a murder because it was possibly triggered by the break-in.

“The extent to which the crime contributed to her death will be up to the medical experts,” he said.

Roberts’ death followed by two weeks another break-in at the seniors apartment complex, during which an 84-year-old woman was raped.

“We are not tying this to any other rapes or homicides,” Haradon said of Roberts’ death. “But we are keeping an open mind.”

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The incident cast a pall of anxiety and grief over Roberts’ apartment complex, which opened seven years ago, and the Anaheim Senior Citizens’ Club next door.

“People are very concerned and they’re a little worried because is this the second incident,” said Jan Stapler, the club’s program coordinator.

Residents Shocked

Club president Marie Kounkel said residents she had talked with were shocked because “the building is supposed to be secure. People feel quite safe there.”

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Despite being confined to a wheelchair and suffering from poor eyesight and hearing, Roberts was an active member of the club and helped make items that were sold at the group’s boutique, Kounkel said.

“She was a very pleasant lady and very happy in spite of all her handicaps,” Kounkel said.

Larry Conley, manager of the apartment complex, said that Roberts was well liked by other tenants and that “she would always come along and have lunch with all of us.”

Security Measures

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At the same time investigators were combing Roberts’ apartment and the surrounding area for clues, other officers were going through the complex talking with tenants about security measures they can take to protect themselves.

“We’ve also reassured them that we’re keeping a very close check on the area and encouraging them to use the 911 line in case of any sort of emergency,” said Capt. Randall Gaston, Anaheim police patrol commander.


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