August 23 2009 at 07:19AM
By Vivian Attwood
While she was bludgeoned, bitten and repeatedly hurled to the floor by a young assailant who screamed: “Who is this God you call for?” an 82-year-old Berea resident battled to fathom the horror that had invaded her lifelong home.
Ella Horne, who has lived in the wood and iron Victorian house at the corner of Sydenham and Essenwood roads since her birth, is known and loved by many residents in the area. Her home, which is almost a century old, is admired daily by passersby as a reminder of a bygone age. It is thought to be the only remaining dwelling of its kind in the city.
Horne is a former concert pianist who worked for the Daily News for 20 years until her retirement at the age of 70. Despite her advanced age she still takes an active interest in the community, does her own housework and reads newspapers avidly.
The members of St Thomas Anglican Church, of which Horne has been a member since childhood, have been particularly hard hit by news of her terrible ordeal.
Describing Horne as “very devout, and one of the most cheerful people around”, congregant Charmaine Silcox said she and others had tried over the years to persuade their friend to relocate to a retirement village, without success. “The only positive aspect of this brutal event is that now she will relocate to a safer and more comfortable environment.”
Horne has agreed to settle in a retirement home once she has recovered from her ordeal.
The nightmare began at 12.30pm on August 14. From her hospital bed Horne described how she was woken by the sound of breaking glass. “I went to the back of the house to investigate, and then moved to the front bedroom. As I opened the door the picture window exploded, and then he was on me, with his fingers around my throat. I didn’t stand a chance.”
Her assailant launched a savage and protracted attack, punching her repeatedly in the face and doing his best to strangle her. He also smashed a heavy china fruit bowl against her skull. “I prayed so hard,” said Horne. “‘Dear God, protect me.’ Then my strength started to go. ‘I’m dying,’ I said. I closed my eyes and tried not to let my breathing show. He left me then, and started to trash my home. Finally it was quiet. I lay there, covered in blood, with my darling cat beside me.”
The assailant ransacked the house and stole a television set, electric irons, radios and an unspecified number of other valuables. Horne was to lie unattended for more than 16 hours before a passing motorist noticed the broken window and alerted the police.
“After a very long time I heard voices, and then two policemen were by my side. They were wonderful. When the ambulance arrived, the rescue medics also treated me very gently. I cannot praise them all enough,” said Horne.
Medical personnel have expressed amazement at Horne’s resilience, particularly since she had a triple heart bypass some years ago. While her blood pressure was initially dangerously high, she is responding well to treatment and her brother, Stan, 86, and niece Andrea, who rushed from Gauteng to be at her side, hope that she will be discharged soon.
Margaret Horne (no relation), who has been Ella’s neighbour and friend for more than 30 years, condemned the savagery of the attack, but said she was not surprised Ella had survived.
“She is a formidably strong woman, and her mind is as sound as a bell,” she said.
Horne is almost more concerned with the welfare of her beloved ginger tom cat, Cheeky Boy than she is about her own plight. “He must have been so frightened. I do hope that I can find him a new home where someone else will love him as much as I have done,” she said.
Of her attacker, she had this to say: “I do not hate him and I am not filled with anger. He did not know what he was doing. No one taught him right from wrong.”
Her magnanimity is not shared by her neighbours and friends. Neighbour Allan Reinecke has vowed the community will clamp down on crime. “We will not take acts like this lying down. If criminals keep targeting Berea, they should be warned: we will take firm action.”
This article was originally published on page 8 of Tribune on August 23, 2009