'A Stranger Tried to Kill Me in My Own Home'

In 2000, I was living in Hollywood, California and I was about to start a new job that I was really looking forward to. I was 32 and single, living in an apartment that wasn't fantastic but was good for what I needed at the time, and I liked the area. Life was feeling kind of promising.

My apartment was on the ground floor with a kitchen door at the back that led to a small parking area. One evening in July, I came home from work and noticed that my kitchen door was wide open. I just thought I had slammed it shut in the morning and it had bounced back open.

As I walked into the house and looked around, I could see that my TV, computer and stereo hadn't been stolen, but that items had obviously been moved around. A landline phone that had been in a linen closet was now on my bed and my lingerie box had been taken out of the closet, put on my bed and been pawed through. A camera I normally stored in a kitchen closet was on my desk. It was weird, and I remember feeling confused.

I had previously loaned my camera to a friend and I thought he may have come to return it. But when I called him, he reminded me he'd returned it a month or so before and suggested I call the police. The police came a few hours later and said that because nothing was stolen and schools were out, it was probably kids who had broken in as a dare. That sounded so reasonable to me.

A friend persuaded me to meet her that evening and so I went and met her for a drink. I came home around midnight. I recall that I checked to make sure that there was no one in the house because I still felt a little on edge. I had closed all the windows when I went out but I had to open them again because the A/C had been removed and there was a heatwave. It was so hot that I slept naked, but with the light on for reassurance.

At 4.17am I woke up, looked at the clock and turned off the light. I remember actually thinking that if no one had broken in to kill me at that point, I was probably OK.

But I had to go to the bathroom. So I got up, and when I got to the bathroom, there was a naked man standing there. It flashed through my mind that perhaps it was the guy I'd loaned the camera to, or an old boyfriend. Then an alarm of "stranger danger" went off in my brain.

The man lunged at me and pushed me against the wall. He was trying to cover my mouth while I was struggling and trying to get a good look at his face. I saw something on the bathroom counter behind him. I never, ever leave anything out so I knew that it wasn't mine. Part of me was wondering if it was a weapon and the other part of me was flailing.

The man soon became more aggressive and there's between 15 seconds to a minute that is completely blank for me; I have never been able to access those memories. But either right before or right after it was very clear to me that I was fighting for my life and that this man was trying to kill me.

Attack, violence against women, self defense
Stock image. Getty/iStock

When I am in shock I lose my hearing, so I wasn't aware that I was screaming and I don't know if he said anything, but his intention to kill me was extremely clear. While I was still on my feet he was trying to cover my mouth and was hitting me, but once he had pushed me to the ground, he grabbed me by the hair with one hand and was just beating my face with the other.

He was beating me repeatedly around the eye and temple, hard enough that my head was whipping around. At some point he hit me so hard and my head whipped around so forcefully that he actually tore my hair out, and ended up with a fistful of it. The doctor told me afterwards that a patch of hair about the size of the dime had been pulled out from the root.

This actually freed me for a second so I started to crawl towards my kitchen. The man grabbed me, turned me over and began beating my face again. I was looking at him and wondering if he was going to rape me, but it was clear from his body that he was not aroused. I remember saying then: "Why are you doing this to me?"

All of a sudden he stopped beating me and took a stance that indicated he was preparing to do something else. I never found out what, thank goodness. Because, all of a sudden, he stood straight up, reached behind him into the bathroom and grabbed whatever was on the counter, jumped over my head into the living room, pulled open the front door and ran out. I remember thinking "not that door" because it was chained and locked. So it was shocking to me that he pulled it right open. A few hours later I realized he had prepared that as his exit.

My hearing then came rushing back and I called 911, which was very hard because I was shaking violently. Then there was pounding on my door and I heard my name being called. All neighbours from the entire building were there and told me that they had heard screaming. I learned later that I had screamed loud enough to wake up three apartment buildings.

Two girls who also lived on the ground floor told me later that they had heard the man hitting me and seen his silhouette run by their window. They had also called the cops and, for some reason, told them it might be domestic violence.

The police arrived around 45 minutes later and asked me what had happened. I told them that I'd been out earlier to meet a friend for a drink, returned home and went to bed. Hours later, a man had broken into my house, and attacked me. I said was naked, and that he had also been naked. They thought I had picked up a man at a bar, promised him sex and then changed my mind and he had gotten mad. As they insisted this must have been what happened, I had to tell them that none of that had happened, I hadn't spoken to any man that night or in the past 48 hours apart from people I worked with.

As the cops moved through the apartment they found the police report from the day before showing that I had been broken into. They then said that the break in report changed things and they called back to the station.

I had told them that the guy who had attacked me was a little bit taller than me, with white skin and dark hair. A short while later, another patrol car said they had found the guy and asked if I could ID him. They had stopped a large Black guy who wasn't wearing a shirt and was barefoot. I had to tell them again that I had been attacked by a white man.

Later that morning a detective and forensics officers came over and discovered how the attacker had entered the apartment; he used a cinder block to crawl in through the living room window.The detective helped me make the connection that the person who had broken in earlier had probably done so preparing to come back later.

When forensics eventually found a whole set of prints, they weren't attached to anyone the police had on their records. I went to the station a few times and looked at books of mug shots, but the guy wasn't in any of them. So he was never found. I had a copy of my police report but I destroyed it, years later. I wanted to move on. I've since been told that I need to go in person to get another copy of the report because it's more than 10 years old, so I imagine it sits in a cold case file now.

I moved out of my apartment immediately after the attack and stayed with friends for at least a month before finding a new place. I also started therapy within days and continued that for two years.

But something that became really evident to me in the weeks following was that during the attack, I couldn't control my body; I simply reacted. So, about six weeks later, I started the Japanese martial art Ninjutsu. The teacher at the school had some experience with women who had been through violence and recognized that in me immediately. All he said was, "something happened didn't it?" and when I replied yes, he said, "you're safe here." It always makes me tear up when I think of that.

Attack, violence against women, self defense
Susie Kahlich (standing) demonstrating a self defense move. Khalich founded Pretty Deadly Self Defense, a series of self defense programs for women, in 2016. Hannah Kugel

I was at my school in LA for eight years and during that time I began wondering why I hadn't taken self defense classes before I was attacked. My Ninjutsu teacher ran a self defense class but he was quite old school and the class was terrifying; focusing on the danger women were in and featuring horrible stories. I realized that self defence can be counterproductive because it can retraumatize women.

I understood then that the way I could help people was by changing the way self defense is presented and taught and doing so in a way that is helpful and not disempowering.

I moved to Berlin in 2016 and officially launched my self defense program, Pretty Deadly Self Defense, in the same year. We run three programs for women from beginner level onwards. Through our classes, women are able to discover how self defense works and how to respond in realistic ways. They are able to learn that they can be powerful without having to be muscular.

I would say that 98 percent of the people who have been through the program have a positive experience. One of the easiest ways for us to measure the impact of our regular programs is that about three classes in, there is always at least one person who has changed their hair. It's something that men don't always understand the significance of, that way of showing internal change, outwardly.

The majority of women who have taken our classes have found it has helped them to make a profound change in their lives and pursue their dreams, which is wonderful for me to see.

Although I still have no idea what happened to the man who attacked me, I never wanted him to have power over my life, and through my work, I've made sure he doesn't.

Susie Kahlich is the founder of Pretty Deadly Self Defense, based in Berlin, Germany. You can find out more at prettydeadlyselfdefense.com or follow them on Instagram @prettydeadlyofficial.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.