I had a funny feeling I was being watched but nothing could have prepared me for what happened next…
By Ruth Reynolds, 33, Walsall
I fastened Mia into her buggy and grabbed my keys.
‘Are you ready for an adventure with Mummy?’ I said, planting a kiss on her little cheek. Mia returned a huge grin to me.
As I wheeled my baby daughter out of the door, I caught a glimpse of the gate to my front garden wide-open.
The hairs on my neck stood on end. Not again.
I made sure it was firmly latched on the way out and desperately scanned the walkway for the guilty party. I wanted to send a firm message to whoever had been entering my garden during the night.
This was the first house I had lived alone in with my daughter since I had broken up with my abusive ex. I wasn’t going to be chased out of my new home easily… Even if someone was out to get me.
I’d begun feeling like I was being watched in the spring of 2011.
It didn’t matter if I was safely behind closed doors in my house or out and about in our neighbourhood, I always felt like someone had their eyes on me.
As I grew increasingly paranoid, I thought I was going mad. I even wondered if my ex was playing tricks, purposefully trying to freak me out for ending our relationship.
Then in June that year I popped over to my neighbour’s place for a cup of tea and a gossip.
‘My gate was open again this morning,’ I complained over a brew. ‘I could swear someone is coming onto my property when we’re asleep.’
‘I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about,’ Kelly replied. ‘There must be some logical explanation.’
I shrugged and gave a hollow laugh. ‘Either that, or we’ve got a very sophisticated cat living near-by. But seriously this is really getting to me.’
When I returned later that afternoon, I discovered my back door wide-open.
I sighed. I’d completely forgot to lock it.
I walked into my kitchen and found that my dirty laundry, including my underwear, had been pulled out of my washing machine.
What is he going to do next? I shuddered.
Horrified, I called the police immediately to report it but without any evidence there was little they could do.
I tried to brush it all under the carpet and thankfully everything died down. That was until October when I arrived home to discover a wheelie bin had been hurled through my middle room window.
I trembled with fear as I surveyed the damage. Someone had it in for me. But who?
I went to the police and kept my fingers crossed they would catch the culprit soon. I didn’t know how long I could go on living my life looking over my shoulder. I was becoming a nervous wreck.
Then a couple of days before Halloween, I was rummaging through my underwear drawer as I was getting ready for a party when I stopped in my tracks.
One of my chicken fillets was missing. I hadn’t used them for years since I’d had surgery to correct my left breast which hadn’t developed during puberty… so where was it?
I didn’t have time to search so I shrugged it off and headed out to meet my mates.
When I returned in the early hours of the evening, I pulled off my tutu and cat ears and clambered into bed.
I was dead to the world until I woke up in the pitch black with the sound of footsteps on the stairs. Clutching the duvet in horror, I realised the underwear thief was here.
My heart was in my mouth as I watched his shadow loom bigger on the landing. That’s when it dawned on me. I’d drunkenly left my mobile phone in the bathroom. I couldn’t call for help.
I clamped my eyes shut and prayed he would leave me alone. Take whatever underwear you want, I repeated to myself.
But as he neared my bedroom I knew the pervy prowler wasn’t here to steal. He was here for me. I reached under the bed and grabbed the golf club I had stashed there since my troubles had begun. I gripped it tight.
But I froze when he tip-toed into the bedroom, stopping within touching distance. I could feel his gaze upon me, his heavy breathing breaking the silence.
I have to act now.
Terrified but determined, I screamed from the bottom of my lungs and he fled.
However I was unsure if he was still in the house so I jumped out of bed and swung the golf club around my head like a helicopter in self-defence. I had no idea what his true intentions were, but I wasn’t letting him near me.
When I was sure he was gone, I grabbed my mobile phone and called my dad Kev, 65, who had thankfully been looking after Mia to allow me a rare night out.
‘You need to get over here quick,’ I sobbed, adrenaline surging through me.
‘What’s happened?’ asked Dad.
‘There was a man at the foot of my bed,’ I explained, still unable to fully process the events of the night. ‘I’ve chased him away I think but I’m scared he will come back for me.’
I could hear the sound of my dad leaping out of bed.
‘Call the police!’ He yelled. ‘I’ll be over as soon as I can.’
Dad raced straight over while I went over every detail with the police.
When they arrived to forensically examine my home they discovered he had meticulously taken the time to unscrew the temporary window he had smashed a few weeks previous.
He had left the screws in a neat pile on the window sill before climbing through the gap into my house.
‘We think we know who our man is,’ the detective told me. ‘We could set up mini-cameras and catch him when he returns.’
I bit my bottom lip. ‘Does that mean staying here?’ The thought made me judder.
‘Yes but your house would be surrounded with police,’ he carried on.
‘I’ll need to think about it,’ I whispered, my voice strained from all the screaming hours before.
I finally agreed but lasted one night before packing my bags to go live with my dad for a couple of weeks.
I knew the detectives needed enough evidence to convict him but I literally couldn’t take anymore. I was at breaking point. There was no way I was going home until the pervy prowler was caught.
A few days later, officers raided the house of local man, Graham Lees, 36, who had recently been released from prison and rehomed in allocated accommodation around the corner.
They found bags and bags of women’s underwear which he’d stolen from houses in the neighbourhood, and I instantly picked out my pants and chicken fillet, not that I wanted to be anywhere near his creepy stash.
Lees pleaded guilty to four counts of burglary and two of stealing more underwear from washing lines near his home. He also admitted a further charge of growing cannabis for his personal use.
A psychiatrist who examined Lees said that he suffered a mental disorder of sexual preferences, namely a fetish involving a sexual attraction to women’s underwear that had appeared from the age of 14.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief when he was jailed for four years. Now that the knicker nutter was locked up, I could finally sleep easy without listening out for every little noise.
However in March 2014, knowing that he was due to get out, I made the decision to move away. There was no way I could stay in the house he had targeted me in again and again. Who knows what he might do next?
Chillingly, the last I heard was that he had failed to notify the police of a change of address in May this year, thus breaching his sexual offenders notification requirements.
I don’t know if they’ve managed to locate him yet. I’m just glad the pervert can’t find me.
When Ruth caught her knicker thief at the end of her bed, she was terrified. Bravely, she decided to share her story with other women when we sold her story to That’s Life! magazine. If you have a crime story you want to tell, complete the form on the right and we’ll give you a ring to chat through the process.