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Stony Brook Assault

Part of the Sillan house on Stony Brook Road, from a contemporary newspaper photo

The news that federal help is being sought in the search for 2 suspects in a Stony Brook Road sexual assault brought back memories of another even more heinous crime on that same road, nearly 50 years ago.

According to the November 23, 1962 issue of Time magazine:

On Veterans Day last week, the sun had risen to brighten woodsy Westport, in Connecticut’s suburban Fairfield County.  It was a holiday for schoolchildren and some of their parents.  At 9 o’clock in the morning, Westport looked just like the sort of place people think of when they want to epitomize a sophisticated, upper-middle-income suburban community.  Manhattan is only 52 miles away, but Westport. with its carefully tended property and its comfortable homes, seems impervious to the cacophony of city life.

By 9, Textile Designer Pierre Sillan had left his $75,000 Westport home for his Manhattan office.  His two sons were not at home; one was with the armed forces in Germany, the other at college. His 14-year-old daughter Gail got out of bed, put on a bed jacket and started downstairs.  Suddenly, a tall, mustached Negro grabbed her, looped a cord round her neck, dragged her back into her bedroom, locked the door and began choking her.  She fainted, and when she awoke, she heard noises downstairs.  Rushing into the living room, she found the man strangling her mother.  She leaped on him to tear him away, but the man was too much for Gail and her mother.  He forced them into the mother’s bedroom.  Mrs. Sillan pleaded with him:  “Do you want money?”  “No,” he replied.  “Why are you doing this?” cried Gail.  “Why do you hate us?”  Said he:  “Not because I hate you. but you wouldn’t understand anyway.”

With that, he again began choking Gail.  Again she lost consciousness, and when she came to, the assailant was choking her mother on the bed.  Gail screamed, and the man dragged her to her own bedroom, tied her hands and returned once more to attack her mother.  Soon, he got back to Gail, wrapped her in a blanket, hauled her out to his car, threw her in the back and drove away.

For hours he cruised aimlessly around the countryside. Once, when he stopped to light a cigarette, Gail asked,  “What are you going to do now?”  “I haven’t made up my mind yet,” he said.  He drove off again, stopped at one point to move Gail into the trunk of the car.  Later, after sundown, he put her back into the rear seat, tied her hands to a door handle, went into a grill in nearby Norwalk, bought a chicken sandwich and gave it to Gail.  Then he raped her.

Afterwards, she begged him to get her a drink of water, and when the man got out of the car, Gail painfully slid her bound wrists off the door handle, pushed the door open with her head, and staggered away toward a house in the neighborhood.  It was around 8 p.m.  An hour earlier, the police had arrived at the Sillan home.  Pierre Sillan had returned and found his wife dead.

The terror and tragedy that had struck the Sillan household left Westport in shock.  Householders locked doors, double-checked windows and waited in dark apprehension, as if time itself had been suspended.  The police, meanwhile, worked methodically and got on the trail fast.  They discovered that a handyman named Harlis Miller, 31, had not reported for work the day following the crime; he had disappeared with his common-law wife Rosalie.  He fitted Gail’s description of a handyman she had seen working in the neighborhood; he had worked once at the Sillan place.

George Marks was one of the officers who flew south, after a 4-day nationwide manhunt.  Earlier today — long since retired — he recalled the trip.
Because Miller and his wife were handcuffed, the airlines refused to let them board.  Marks and another officer rented a car, and spent 24 hours driving north.  When they stopped for food, or to use bathrooms, it was at small police stations along the way.
Westport has been lucky.  We’ve had very few crimes like this in our history.
But long-time residents — especially Marks, and those on Stony Brook Road — have never forgotten the Sillan family.

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