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Burglar threatens study abroad student in South Africa

A University student studying abroad in South Africa was robbed and threatened Friday after a man broke into her house.

Alison Bartlett '99 was alone in her Mowbray home when an unidentified man in his early twenties broke into the house searching for money, she said.


To gain entry, the suspect kicked in a rear door – the only means of egress without steel bars – after jumping a locked fence that surrounds the property.

"I heard something in the back of the house. I went back and I saw a man in (my housemate's) room, and he saw me," Bartlett said.

After intruding on the suspect, Bartlett said she was held captive for a total of five to 10 minutes. The perpetrator fled when two of Bartlett's housemates, Renee Hsia '99 and Whitney Shinkle '99, returned home after a day of shopping in nearby Cape Town.

Four University students – including Bartlett, Hsia, Shinkle and Ajla Merdanovic '00 – moved into the house last week for their semester of study at the University of Cape Town.

Seeking money

The suspect left with a pair of jeans and a necklace he tore from Bartlett's neck. He also had a backpack stuffed with stolen goods from the house, but he dropped it during his escape, said Bartlett, a politics major who is studying South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The suspect's initial goal – to find money – went unfulfilled, said Assistant Dean of the College Nancy Kanach. "He threatened her. He said he didn't want to hurt her – he just wanted money – although he (was willing to) hurt her," she said.


After the suspect left, the police and University liaison Ida Cooper arrived at the house, Kanach said. Cooper immediately arranged for Bartlett to talk with the head of a local trauma center. Bartlett gave her deposition to the police later that day and also tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to identify the suspect, Kanach said.

In a telephone interview from South Africa, Bartlett said she was initially rattled by the incident, but is determined not to let it ruin what otherwise has been a positive experience. "He was a kid. He was our age," Bartlett said. "I think he was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. He just wanted money," she said.

Heightened security

At one point, Bartlett attempted to escape from the unarmed robber. "I ran to the door, but he chased me and pulled me back into one of the bedrooms," she said.

Throughout the ordeal, the perpetrator repeatedly assured her that he would not hurt her, although he added that his guarantee was conditional. " 'If you scream or run, I'll rape and kill you,' " Bartlett quoted the suspect as saying.

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"If he had wanted to rape me or kill me, he could have. But he didn't," she added. Bartlett said that –though she feared for her personal safety at the time – she realizes in retrospect that it is unlikely the burglar would have harmed her.

In response to the robbery, the landlord has agreed to heighten the house's security, which already includes an alarm system and an alert system for emergencies. Barbed wire will be added to the exterior fence, the backdoor will be secured and a guard has been hired to watch the house.

"I feel completely safe living in this house," Bartlett said.