On April 6, 1990 Genny Zitricki was found murdered in her bathtub at the Hidden Lakes apartment complex in Greenville, SC. She had been beaten to death, placed in the tub by a cold-hearted killer who entered her living room through her sliding glass door.
In June of that same year, just a mile or so down the road in an apartment complex called The Landing, set up very similarly to Hidden Lakes with the lake and walking path around it in the front of the complex, promoting peace and serenity, my life changed forever. The news was still abuzz about the Zitricki murder and the fact that nobody had yet been charged. There wasn’t even a suspect. I was a 26 year old single mother of a four year old boy. I lived a careless life. Hit the clubs when my son was with his father, didn’t always lock my doors, met lots of strangers, safety wasn’t my main concern.
At that time, I worked at Lockheed. I left home at 6:30 AM to be at work by 7:00. For several months leading up to the “main event” strange things had been happening. I’d come home and smell fresh cigarette smoke in my apartment and ashes in the sink. I have never smoked. I called the complex office to see if maintenance had been there and they assured me they had not. One day I came home and all my kitchen cupboards were open. Another day, my furniture moved. I was slightly concerned but chalked it up to leaving early in the morning and maybe being so tired I didn’t realize I had done it or that maintenance must have been in my apartment and the management just didn’t know it.
My apartment was in the back of the building on the bottom floor. My sliding glass door opened up to an unlit grassy area that was banked by a small hill. I’d walk across that grassy area in the dark many nights going back and forth to the laundry room and about a week before the “main event” I noticed the screen had been taken off my bedroom window. The windows were rather low, low enough to climb in if open. I assumed some kids had taken it or it had simply fallen off.
The night of the “main event”, that warm June night I was asleep in my bed with my son next to me. The hall light was on because I was afraid of the dark. It shone into my bedroom, easily lighting up the visibility inside my apartment. At exactly 3:15 AM I awoke with fear too intense to describe. Fear that told me before my eyes even opened, not to move. As I laid still, not a muscle so much as twitching, I heard what I thought sounded like someone crawling across the carpet. I have always believed in God but did not attend church, or read my Bible, or anything else remotely close to having a relationship with God. However, that night, the instant I awakened, I immediately, without thought or hesitation began saying the Lord’s prayer repeatedly in my mind. I listened to this sound of someone in my apartment for what seemed like forever. My window was right beside me, close enough to touch. I finally realized, as I continued to hear what I believed to be someone moving in my apartment that I could hear the crickets chirping outside. After what seemed like eternity, I moved only my eyes to the window and and saw that my curtains were moving. I first contributed that to the air conditioner however didn’t hear it running. It was then I realized my window was open. With my mind being confused and in a fog from being awakened in such a state, it was hard to think clearly. I now believed someone was coming in my window and someone else was on the carpet beside my bed. I continued to stare at the window and all of a sudden I heard someone take off running through the darkness out back. There had been a gap between the curtain and the wall and my best guess now as I look back is that I must have looked at him or he saw I was awake and got scared.
I jumped from bed, still thinking there was someone in my apartment and called the police. My reasoning was, if I got attacked, at least the police were on their way. When they arrived, they searched my apartment, finding no one, and let me know in no uncertain terms that they believed I dreamed it and proceeded to tell me stories they felt I would find humorous about things people had dreamed and called them about. I’m no idiot, I know the difference between a dream and reality. I also knew there was a murderer in the area that had not been caught.
It took time to piece things together. The sound I thought was someone sliding across my carpet was actually the window being opened. I sat up the rest of the night too afraid to go to sleep. I realized I had half awakened earlier in the night to a very soft knock on the door but didn’t wake up enough to answer it. I think it was a test to see if I was asleep. At my insistence, the police came out the next day to take finger prints. There were hand prints inside the window placed exactly where one would place their hand if they were getting ready to climb inside.
I consider myself a pretty tough cookie. I’m independent and fairly fearless. But if you have never been through something like this you can’t imagine what your reaction will be. The next day I began getting hang up phone calls, one after another. All day long. Never ending.With my closest relative living 3000 miles away, a friend of mine came to stay with me and brought her gun. A few nights later she was up late talking on the phone with her boyfriend and frantically came to wake me up (I wasn’t really asleep, and wouldn’t sleep for about another year) at 3:00 AM. She said someone had knocked softly on the door and then tried to open the sliding glass door.
The police told me someone was probably watching me (which probably means stalking) and that I shouldn’t let my son out of my sight. The changes in my life were huge and real and drastic. I moved to a new apartment complex a week later. The police said it wouldn’t matter, if I was being stalked he’d see me move. I’m not altogether convinced that one or more of those times I came home and smelled cigarettes this person wasn’t in my apartment hiding in a closet or behind a door. I dropped out of college because I was too scared to come home after dark. In fact, around 4:00 every afternoon as evening starting setting in and I knew darkness would soon come, I’d begin my “craziness” that I didn’t understand – but also did understand. I really thought I was going crazy. I’d lock the doors and then spend hours making a circle around my apartment checking and rechecking them. I slept for months sitting up on the couch so 1. I’d be aware if someone came in and 2. I wouldn’t put my head down because I was afraid covering up one ear would prevent me from hearing danger. I talked about what happened constantly, to the point of it annoying people. I couldn’t stop. I know I sounded like I was going off the deep end. For years if I did sleep, I’d wake up at 3:15 sharp. One time when I was in the grocery story I passed a man in an isle who calmly walked past me and said under his breath and without looking at me, “Good to see you again.” I knew I didn’t know him, left my groceries, went straight home, and locked my doors. I spent weeks trying to figure out if I imagined it.
Gradually over time my symptoms faded. It took a long time – years. I had thought I was losing my mind and didn’t understand what was going on or what to do about it. I’m a counselor now. I remember the first time I read about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was like the skies opened up and the light bulb illuminated so bright my name might as well have been listed in the diagnostic manual. That’s what had been wrong with me all those years ago. I now know that the best treatment for PTSD is talk therapy. Makes sense why I needed to compulsively talk about what happened. The silver lining is that I can relate to clients who have lived through trauma. I also know that it was God who spared me. I have no doubt something bad was going to happen to me.
I am now very safety conscious and careful. My door are always locked. Ironically, I ended up as a counselor working with murderers in a correctional facility. Never once was I afraid to work there. I understood the environment and the danger involved. We had many violent situations. I refused to show fear. I refused to be afraid. Maybe I was taking control of the fear that controlled me for so long. Genny Zitricki’s murderer has never been found. The person who terrorized me has never been found. Who knows, maybe I have met him.