Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Teen and the Handyman

Gripping First-Hand Account of Kidnapping and Murder 
by Robert A. Waters 

At 9:00 a.m., on normally peaceful Stony Brook Road, violence exploded inside a well-kept two-story home.  For many years, textile designer Pierre Sillan, his wife Isabelle, and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Gail, had lived a comfortable life in Westport, Connecticut, about 50 miles north of New York City. 

On that morning of November 12, 1962, Pierre had already gone to work when Harlis Miller, 32, crept into the home.    

The following police statement given by Gail Sillan describes a thirteen-hour ordeal of murder, kidnapping, and rape: 

"I awoke suddenly and I thought my watch had stopped.  I couldn't seem to figure out what time it was.  I put on a red wardrobe over my flowered nightgown and I went out into the second-floor hallway.  I was going to check the time on a grandfather's clock downstairs. 

"As I walked into the hallway, a man was standing there. He was a tall, light-skinned Negro.  He had worked in our house as a handyman about two weeks ago. 

"He grabbed me and put a piece of cord around my neck and started choking me.  I tried to pull the cord loose and he forced me back into my bedroom, and held me with the cord as he locked the door.  Then he started choking me again.  

"I fought him as hard as I could, but he pushed me back onto my bed.  Just then, my mother must have heard me struggling and choking and she started pounding on the door, and shouting my name.  I guess then I must have fainted. 

"Apparently [Miller] went to the door, unlocked it, and started choking my mother.  When I came to I ran out into the hallway and the man was bending over my mother and was choking her with the cord.  She had been forced down to the floor and was fighting and screaming.  The man then forced us into my mother's bedroom. 

"My mother asked him if he wanted money, and he said he didn't want any money.  She then asked, 'Why are you doing this?' and he said, 'You wouldn't understand.'" 

Gail spoke to him.  "Why do you hate us?" she asked.  He then lunged at her and said, "I don't hate wouldn't understand."  He began choking her and she again lost consciousness 

"I kept fainting and waking up, fainting and waking up," Gail said "When I came to he was choking mother again and I screamed, 'Stop. Stop.'" 

The man then ran to Gail and dragged her into her own bedroom.  He tied her hands and feet.  She said he then retreated to her mother's room and she heard him pulling out drawers and dumping items on the floor.  "I called to my mother but there was no answer," Gail said. 

She didn't know it, but her mother had been strangled to death. 

Gail continued her statement: "When the man returns, he wrapped me in a blanket after warning me to keep quiet and took me downstairs and outside where he put me in the back of his car on the floor.  We drove around for a long time, and then he stopped in a lonely place and put me in the trunk of the car.  My hands were tied behind my back." 

She said the attacker drove her around again, and then the car stopped near what she later learned was a restaurant. 

"He opened the trunk and asked me if I wanted some chicken sandwich.  I shook my head and told him I wanted to go home." 

She told police the assailant moved her to the back seat of the car, pulled up her nightgown, and raped her Then he placed her on the floor with her hands tied behind her back and used another rope to tie her to the door-handle.  After he left to return to the restaurant, Gail said, "I then pushed the handle with my head and fell out." 

Gail ran blindly down the street in her blood-soaked night-clothing, her hands still tied behind her, sobbing, and frightened that her attacker would pursue her.  She ran to the nearest home and kicked at the door.  It was shortly after 6 p.m.  She had been a prisoner for more than ten hours.  

Mrs. Mary Burgo of Norwalk found Gail on her front porch and ushered her inside.  After hearing the terrified teen's story, Burgo called police.  Then she called the Sillan home to let her family know that Gail was alive.  The victim was then transported to Norwalk Hospital. 

A police officer told reporters that "she is a very brave girlNo one could have gone through a more terrible experience, but she is feeling much better today and eventually she will have to know about her mother." 

Gail quickly identified her attacker as Miller. 

Immediately after Gail escaped, Harlis Miller returned home and went to bed.  The next morning, he and his common-law wife left Connecticut and drove to his mother's home in Soperton, Georgia. 

Police launched a nation-wide manhunt to track down the suspect.  Three days later, Georgia police arrested Miller. 

Tried and convicted of first degree murder and rape, Miller was sentenced to life in prison.  On appeal, that decision was overturned by the Connecticut Supreme Court because detectives had searched Miller's car without a warrant.  A few months later, the murderous handyman was convicted once again and again sentenced to life in prison. 

Gail Sillan later attended the New York School of Interior Design and worked for many years at Vital Enterprises in Vista, New York.  She died in 2013, at 64 years of age.