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A Journey to the Center of the Mind, Book II, The Police Officer Years

James R. Fitzgerald
Bonus Chapter

Chapter 28a
The year 1980 was behind me. It was a tough year on multiple fronts, and I was glad to
say goodbye to it. 1981 would be better for me and at the same time mark an important
transition in the Bensalem Police Department - and in my life too.
But ‘81 didn’t end before yet another police officer I knew was killed in the line of duty.
This murder and media coverage of the convicted killer would seemingly never end and even
develop into a twisted Hollywood cause-celeb with long-standing international implications to
follow. (This incident and its after-effects are covered in JCM II.)
In the meantime, however, I focused on my family, to include my wife, young son, and
my mother.

My mom, Alma, was doing pretty well. She was still living in the 3rd Street home in
Olney in which she and Wally raised me and my three older sisters. At least twice a month, if not
more often, on one of my scheduled days off I would travel there with Sean and/or my wife,
Eileen, to visit her. She would enjoy making lunch for us if it was a daytime visit, cooking an
occasional meal for us during an evening visit, or every once in a while we’d take her out to eat.
There weren’t too many decent eateries left in her immediate Olney neighborhood anymore, so
we’d have to travel almost halfway back to Bensalem to find a restaurant, diner, or other eating
establishment that we could all enjoy, including the rambunctious little Sean.

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To my mom’s credit, on the days when I couldn’t visit her, she stayed busy with her
group at St. Helena Catholic Church. She and the senior citizens there would play bingo, watch
movies, enjoy the organized free bus rides (which included free slot machine tokens and free
lunches) to the newly opened Atlantic City casinos. She told me she’d drop the provided chips
into their slots, eat the free lunches, and then barely spend another cent while there. The casinos
weren’t making any money from my mom and many of her church-going friends, that was for
sure.
To her even larger credit, through her St. Helena Church group again, my mom learned of
and decided to go on several international trips. Now in her late 60s, and after attaining a
passport for the first time in her life, for two years in a row she travelled on charter flights to the
Holy Land. By the mid-1980s, her travels included visiting the shrine of Our Lady of
Medjugorje in then-Yugoslavia (now Bosnia and Herzegovina). I had never even heard of this
shrine to the Blessed Mother when she told me she was going there, but upon her return she
raved about the beauty of the land and the friendliness of the people. Little did she know that the
country, to include the area of the shrine, would be war-torn and decimated within a decade and
look nothing like the beautiful cities and bucolic countryside she so wonderfully described after
her trip there.
Alma, nearing 70 years of age, was certainly more of a world traveler than me at that
time. Besides my trip to Ireland in ’78, there had been no other international travel for me,
although a trip to another country was in the planning stages for me and my immediate family
for later this year.

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In the spring of ’81, we finally convinced my mom to get rid of the family car in which I
was taught to drive. That would be the 1966 Ford Fairlane. Actually, we gave it to my sister
Cass’s 21-year old son, Billy Jones. My mom wanted to stick with a Ford though, as her
husband/my dad had done his whole life. So, she wound up buying a brand new Escort. This
came after a long day of driving her around to different Ford car dealerships in Northeast
Philadelphia to find just the right model, color, and cost. She finally found one which was the
same light-blue color as the old Fairlane. Upon initially seeing it she told me that was the one
she wanted. After I undertook the requisite negotiations with the salesman, she got the deal she
wanted, paid cash, and drove it off the lot that afternoon.
My mom, upon first driving this significantly smaller car than that which she was used to,
and with power steering no less, was in vehicular heaven. She loved it. She would drive it
occasionally to visit me in Bensalem and to see my sisters in their respective suburban towns.
However, a few years later when she started getting lost on the way, Cass, Alma (remember, the
middle of my older sisters had the same name as our mom), Marilyn, and I sort of suggested that
her driving should perhaps be limited to just the local supermarkets, church, and the like. We
would drive to see her, instead of her driving to see us. She reluctantly agreed.

I was really upset for my mom when she called me one day after food shopping. She told
me that while in a local supermarket, pushing her cart and minding her own business, a “nice
young woman” came up to her and started asking numerous questions about a certain food
product, how to cook it, etc. She said the woman was “pretty and polite” and she (my mom) felt
glad to help in her alleged dinner plans for her (the stranger’s) children that night. But, alas,
when mom turned back around to push her cart to continue shopping, she eventually realized that

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her purse was missing from the foldout child seat portion of it. Yes, she was scammed and her
purse stolen by what was most likely a two-person team of female con artists.
Luckily, mom had her keys in her coat pocket and she could still drive home. She
naively drove all the way back to 3rd Street, then called me to ask me what she should do.
Luckily, I was at home when she called as I was working a later shift. I told her to call the
Philadelphia police right away. She did, and an officer came over to take a theft report.
As one can imagine, nothing more ever came of it. Her money and ID were never
recovered. I believe she only lost around thirty dollars’ cash in the theft, and some identification
cards. If she had a credit card back then, it wasn’t with her that day, so that wasn’t a problem for
her.
Since I was off the next day after this theft, I drove to the house and had lunch with my
mom. I brought Sean with me too. I told her I wanted to go to the same supermarket as where
the theft occurred the day before. We went there, the three of us, and walked around for a while
looking for the woman who approached her. No luck. We talked to the supermarket manager,
advised him of what happened, and he quietly informed us that my mom wasn’t the only one this
had happened to over the last few months. It was always an older woman victim, with reports of
one or two younger female thieves. But none of them had been identified or caught to date.
Afterwards, we even walked around the parking lot and looked into some bushes and
trash cans for mom’s wallet and purse. We knew, of course, the money was gone. But, maybe,
just maybe, her purse and other items could be retrieved. Nothing was found.
Mom was upset about this theft and at first couldn’t believe that the woman who
approached her with cooking related questions could have possibly been involved in the crime. I
eventually convinced her though that more likely than not it was, in fact, her and an accomplice.

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She said she felt taken advantage of by this woman. I agreed with her that she was and that’s
how these con-people commit their crimes. My sisters and I later advised her that she should
carry a different sort of purse and wallet from now on, one with a strap she could hang over her
shoulder to the other side of her body. She agreed, she bought such a purse, and never became a
victim of a crime again.

Otherwise, the ‘80s were a good decade for my mom as she began to flourish in her new
independence as she watched her family grow with more grandkids being born almost every
year. She missed her husband/my dad Wally, of course, as we all did. However, we were
moving ahead in our respective lives the best we could, and still maintaining a close relationship
within the ever-growing Fitzgerald extended family.

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