- He has clearly listened to Teddy Roosevelt’s advice: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
It’s a common scene in Saturday morning cartoons and comedies. An elderly person, be it a grandma or grandpa, grabs a walking stick and chases someone around while beating them around the head.
Usually such an instance of violence is used to elicit laughs from the audience. But there was nothing funny about it when an octogenarian Illinois man actually had to resort to the same trick to defend his home from burglars.
Dan Donovan, an 81-year-old former Marine, and his wife Barbara have lived in Niles, IL, for the past 50 years. Niles is a fairly quiet, roughly 30,000-resident town, and the Donovans know it like the backs of their hands.
So when a man claiming to be from an electric company showed up at their door and asked to get in, they had no reason to doubt him. But as it turns out, you can never be too careful.
The man turned out to be a criminal. Luckily, Dan had his grandfather’s old walking stick on hand and chased the burglar and his accomplices away.
The Donovans came out of the ordeal rattled but unharmed. The same can’t be said for the burglars’ noggins.
The Stranger at the Door
It all began on November 4. The Donovans were having a quiet afternoon at home when they heard a knock on their front door.
At the door stood a man in a reflective high-visibility vest and a face mask. The masked man said he represented an electric company and was there to check on the Donovans’ fuse box.
He sure seemed to be geared like an electrical worker. To top off the illusion, the man also carried a tool box with him.
Dan said that their electric company had actually contacted them saying that work would be carried out in the neighborhood. As a result, the residents could expect some short-term power outages.
“We had received a letter from the electric company the day before, so when he said he was with the electric company, we let him in,” Dan told Chicago Tribune.
The couple led the supposed electric worker into their basement and pointed out the fuse box for him. The man, however, soon started behaving strangely.
Barbara said that she became suspicious of the man when he repeatedly kept asking her to come over to the fuse box.
“I kept backing up and he kept saying: ‘Come over by me.’ He said: ‘If you’re home alone, you won’t know what to do,’ and kept telling me to come closer to him. I thought that was kind of weird,” said Barbara.
There was a reason for the man to try and keep the Donovans downstairs. You see, as soon as they had gone to the basement, two other burglars had sneaked into the house through the now unlocked front door.
It was a good plot, but the “electrician’s” accomplices weren’t exactly stealthy. Barbara said that suddenly she heard floorboard above her head creak, as if someone was walking on them.
She yelled to her husband that there was someone in their bedroom. Together, the couple dashed up the stairs, closely followed by the third burglar.
It’s Whacking Time!
Indeed, when they got to the top of the basement stairs, Dan and Barbara came face to face with the two additional criminals. One of them was carrying a pillowcase from their bedroom.
That’s when Dan grabbed his grandfather’s shillelagh.
An explanation is in order. The shillelagh is an Irish invention – a walking stick that doubles as a handy cudgel should trouble arise.
The stick is usually made from hard, sturdy wood and has a large knob or handle at the top. It features prominently in Irish folklore and is a kind of a national symbol for Ireland.
“I was trying to find some type of persuasive weapon, so I picked up the shillelagh and that turned out to be the equalizer because I managed to chase them out of the house,” said Dan.
With the shillelagh in hand, Dan went in swinging. He hit the man carrying the pillowcase on the back of the head.
The burglars realized that the time had come for them to cheese it. They ran outside – still carrying the one pillowcase.
But Dan wasn’t about to let them get away scot-free. Barefooted, he chased the men outside to the SUV they had parked in the Donovans’ driveway.
With the men in the car, it was time for the vehicle to face Dan’s wrath.
“I managed to get a good swing at the windshield and the rear window. I think I cracked them both,” he said.
As the burglars took off from the driveway, Barbara was already on the phone with the police. The law enforcement officers arrived soon after.
All’s Well That Ends Well
Luckily enough, the burglars weren’t armed – or if they were, they clearly decided that it would better to run from Dan and his walking stick. The Donovans came out without a scratch.
“They just scared the heck out of us,” Barbara admitted.
However, the couple is blaming themselves for falling for the burglars’ ruse. Then again, they had just received a letter from their electric company. It made sense that there would be electricians around.
The elderly couple also isn’t quite sure what the burglars were after. They did make it out with the one pillowcase, but apart from that, they haven’t found anything else missing.
Dan praises his wife for catching on to the criminals before him. Barbara, on her part, is swooning over her husband’s heroics.
“I felt a lot better when I saw him with the shillelagh because he was chasing them out of the house,” she said.
Dan said he hadn’t been looking to seriously hurt the criminals, but the situation forced his hand.
“Hopefully they got nothing more than a headache and hopefully they pursue another occupation,” he concluded.
If nothing else, at least the burglars learned a valuable lesson: never underestimate an elderly person holding a whack-worthy stick.