Though he's blind, Duane Bowie's hearing is perfect. And recalling what he heard three weeks ago makes his blood run cold and his temper boil.
Alone at home Aug. 4, his wife working and children with friends, Bowie heard the sounds of someone talking outside an east bedroom window. He dismissed it as a service worker.But when his wife, Suzy, returned home, she realized a burglar had entered the family's West Valley house while her husband rested on their bed. A screwdriver was jabbed into an outside window frame, holding up a sliced screen. And the window was open.
"I knew somebody had been in the yard . . . but I thought it had been utilities: Mountain Fuel or UPS," Duane Bowie said. "I just assumed it was someone reading the meter. He was probably already in the house."
Bowie rose from the bed after hearing the voice and walked into the kitchen. He now believes he likely brushed by the startled burglar - an unsettling image.
Clothes and household items were discovered missing: their son's new school clothes, daughter's underclothing and a child's guitar.
The couple's house was burglarized a month earlier and, again, they suspected the same young punk from the neighborhood. Previously, the thief got away with assorted compact disks, along with prescription medication and Bowie's extensive tool collection.
"I haven't replaced the tools. I can't afford to replace them right now," said Bowie, 36, a worker at Utah Industries for the Blind, a west Salt Lake textiles manufacturing center for the visually impaired. "That's 20 years of tools, some my granddad gave me. There's a lot of sentimental value, too. For me to buy those tools will take twice as long as the average guy working."
And just knowing that someone was inside the house has spoiled it for them. They're now looking to move and, in the interim, have installed an expensive alarm system.
The Bowies' story is one of frustration with the system, anger at the violation of being robbed in their own house and of fear that the incident has altered their lives forever.
Federal crime statistics show the West Valley family is not alone.
Nearly three-fourths of all crimes in 1993 were property crimes - burglaries, motor vehicle thefts or thefts, according to a newly released U.S. Department of Justice report.
Some 6 million household burglaries occurred that year. And, as at the Bowie house, nearly a third of the burglaries - 1.9 million - constituted forcible entries. In most cases, the property thefts involved items of less than $50 value.
But while the value of stolen items is often little, the impact of such intrusion is longlasting and eventually takes its toll on the victim's professional and personal lives.
"This is not `life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness,' " said Suzy Bowie, 35, an assistant director at Montessori Child Discovery Center Inc. "Somewhere in there it should say we have a right to our home."
A former oil rig worker in Wyoming, the Dakotas and Montana, Bowie is uncomfortable in the role of having a disability. He asks for no pardon because of his loss of sight and good-naturedly refers to himself as "the blind guy."
He's gained a reputation as a talented guitar player in several local bands, but in recent weeks removed all his music equipment from the couple's house in an effort to foil any future burglaries.
Basically, there's little left in the house worth stealing, they say. Yet they were hit again, on Saturday, with a bag of clothes earmarked for the Salvation Army stolen from their steps.
"One day the guy discovers our house and after that, every day is an adventure," Suzy Bowie said. "I walk around the house first each day to see if anyone has come through a window."
They've spotted the suspected burglar in their West Valley neighborhood and in Salt Lake City.
When the couple tackled the man after spotting him at a Salt Lake 7-Eleven Aug. 5, he struggled and got away. They were later advised that, without concrete evidence the man had robbed them, they had no basis to hold him and could be in violation of the law themselves.
The man, 26, has since been formally identified as a suspect in the Bowies' numerous cases. His criminal past fills several sheets, and he currently has pending warrants in local courts. Through the grapevine, the Bowies have learned of threats he made against them and their two children for the fuss they've stirred up with police.
In recent weeks, they've enlisted neighborhood folks and others to help track the man's whereabouts.
"I'm so angry . . . it's like a slap in the face," Suzy Bowie said of the man's bravado, his apparent lack of fear of any retribution for his suspected acts. "There's nothing I can do and yet I feel like I'm a prisoner in my house. I just want everyone who is in this situation to rally together. Things need to be changed."