Only in New York

Only in New York: A homeless woman slipped into our apartment (and stayed overnight)

By Elise Pettus  | September 9, 2013 - 2:37PM
It was our second month into our new life in Brooklyn. We had moved from a condo in a 26-unit renovated warehouse in TriBeCa, where a doorman knew not only our kids’ names but the names of their best friends.  Our new home was a rental apartment in a 260-unit recently renovated warehouse condo in Dumbo.
A mere year earlier, it had been studio space for some of my painter friends who were still grumbling about being displaced. 
It was a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with an office/study space near the front door.  One evening after an evening out with the girls, I came home after my husband and kids had gone to bed.  In my sleepy, post prandial state, I forgot to check the lock button on the inside of the door.
In our old place, we actually didn’t worry much about our door being locked. In fact, it was the sort of building where neighbors would dress for Halloween in each others’ apartments and most of the time, at least four or five doors would be propped open every afternoon.
The next morning, my husband wakes up around 7 and goes to get the paper outside the front door. Suddenly I hear him running back down the hall and gasping in our bedroom doorway. “Elise, there is someone asleep in the office! Did you bring anyone home with you?”
I was groggy enough to have to think about this before answering, but no, I told him, I came home alone. 
He called down to the doorman and together he and I crept down the hall to take a look at the form huddled under a blanket on the sofa. The form sat up, and appeared to be a woman in her 40s wearing a dirty red down parka and jeans.  
She looked disoriented.
“Do you know where you are?” I asked her.
 “Yes, I’m at the  office,” she answered unconvincingly.  
In a confusing series of events, the front door opened, and a stricken-faced doorman tumbled in.  He lunged at the intruder grabbed her shoulders and began to push her out of our apartment.  It was so violent that my husband and I were both immediately moved to pull him off of her and go to her aid.
“Don’t worry,” she said “I’m going, I’m going.”  
“Please don’t be so rough with her!” one of us said.  
Somewhat more calmly, the doorman settled into a firm hand on her shoulder, steering her out the door of our apartment and ultimately out of the building. 
My husband and I collected ourselves.  Almost immediately, I rued my careless ways with door locks, and we both counted our blessings. While we had an intruder, she was thankfully not a violent intruder who could have done god–knows-what to us,  not to mention our two sleeping children.
Instead, when our sons, ages 6 and 8, woke up shortly afterward, we had the luxury of arguing over whether we should tell them or not.  They had noticed nothing.  And it was only later, when the kids were well into their school day that I noticed anything else.   But as I was gathering up the blanket she left, I found a sheet of paper on the tiny desk facing the office sofa.  It was a note, handwritten, titled “Memo: To be Typed.”
 It read: “You will  please deposit $1,000,000 into the account of Elizabeth Marvin Sayer (name changed), who is the one true profit [sic].”
There was another less coherent sentence, and a signature and handwritten social security number.  Next to the memo was a deposit slip printed with the same name and an address.  I ogled it for a time, called my husband at work and read it to him and then slipped it into a keepsake folder.
A week later, I received a call from a detective who informed me that our bank had received a visit from a woman who attempted to cash one of our checks for $1,000,000.   Apparently, when the teller asked her for some explanation, she came back with “it’s a love offering from George Bush.” 
Immediately after I learned that the bank had closed our account, causing checks to bounce left and right, including the first check I had written to our brand new babysitter (she promptly quit, convinced, no doubt, that my story about the intruder was some sort of made up, butt-covering hoo-ha).  
The detective explained that Elizabeth had been in and out of programs for substance abuse and mental illness.  He said he wanted to keep in touch. The following week, a second detective called my husband about the same matter.  But when he asked my husband to submit our social security numbers and annual income, he politely declined and hung up the phone.
 “What on earth would he need our social security numbers for?” we wondered out loud to one another, shaking our heads.  It was about time we wised up.  As brand new Brooklynites, we were not going to do the dumb thing twice.


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