2 Md. women tackle, rout S.C. attacker Feisty pair, 71 and 67, wield a big wine bottle

March 28, 1992|By Michael James and Joe Nawrozki | Michael James and Joe Nawrozki,Staff Writers

As senior citizens, Lois McFadden, 71, and Frances Wode, 67, have done everything together, from enduring flash floods in Spain to seafaring on the Gulf of Mexico.

But when they disarmed an armed robber Wednesday in South Carolina -- a struggle that ended with Mrs. Wode chasing the criminal while wielding a large wine bottle -- it marked a new plateau in a friendship spanning 35 years.

"We try to do as many different things together as we can. We are extremely active senior citizens," Mrs. McFadden, a widow who lives in the Roland Park area, said last night. "But I never thought we'd be put to this kind of test."

She added, "I figured he was either going to shoot us or we were going to overpower him -- and I didn't like the odds."

Mrs. McFadden and Mrs. Wode, who lives in Ellicott City, had just returned from a cruise to Mexico and were to stay overnight at a motel in Florence, S.C. On their way into their room, a hooded stranger calmly followed them in.

In Florence, about 70 miles east of Columbia, a few recent robberies have involved senior citizens, according to sheriff's officials. In each case, a stranger has forced his way into motel rooms, locked the senior citizen in a bathroom and stolen possessions.

But this time, Mrs. Wode said, "he ran into the wrong pair of old ladies."

Mrs. Wode, who said she immediately knew the young man was up to no good, said she and her friend were bringing their luggage cart into their room when he walked in.

She recounted the ordeal this way last night:

"I instinctively pushed my friend [Mrs. McFadden] into him, and they both fell to the ground. She started struggling with him -- she later told me that she felt a gun pressing against her abdomen -- and then he decided he'd better try and get away.

"I had a big bottle of wine in my hand and I started chasing him. Oh, if I'd caught him . . . but then I remembered my friend was still on the ground. So I had to go back."

She returned to the room and Mrs. McFadden was only shaken up, perhaps more by the .32-caliber bullets lying on the floor -- they had fallen out of the man's pocket -- than by the actual struggle.

"We made quite an impression on the sheriffs down there. They don't think this guy will be back for awhile," Mrs. Wode said somewhat proudly. "My husband said we shouldn't have done it, that it was too dangerous to take him on, and I guess we shouldn't have. But my adrenalin was going."

The man jumped a fence behind the motel and got away, authorities said.

"I guess they just surprised him by grabbing him. They started a'screaming and shouting and the guy got scared and ran to his bicycle," said Capt. Wayne Jeffords of the Florence County Sheriff's Office.

Mrs. Wode and Mrs. McFadden, who both said they had a wonderful cruise, have traveled to many places together since the death of Mrs. McFadden's husband, a doctor.

In the last three years, they have driven through New England by car, toured the West Coast -- including California, Oregon and Seattle -- by bus, and flown to the villa Mrs. McFadden owns in Spain.

They arrived back in the Baltimore area to much fanfare about their exploits.

"We seem to attract excitement," Mrs. Wode said. She recounted how two years ago, during their trip to Spain, flash flooding occurred. "We had lots of stories to tell about that trip, too," she said.

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