Tourist killed in front of mother, children

April 05, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

MIAMI -- Barbara Meller Jensen brought her family from Berlin for two "pleasant" weeks on Miami's beaches. She died a violent death instead because, her husband said, nobody warned her about a street crime that's increasing in Miami: the fender-bender robbery.

The bumper-hitting technique, used by thugs to stop their victims, is familiar to many urban Americans. To Mrs. Jensen -- a lost foreign tourist driving an identifiable rental car -- it was a surprise.

"They just gave her a map -- nothing about the streets she should avoid, and nothing about the bumping of cars or how not to get out of the car," said Christian Jensen, Barbara's husband. "We are not used to that kind of crime in Germany. Normally when two cars bump, you have to get out!"

The horror was witnessed by the woman's mother, Annemarie Meller, and her two children, Alexander, 6, and Daria, 2.

Mr. Jensen and his wife were married for 7 1/2 years. She was a physical therapist for disabled children. He is a biologist working on his Ph.D. When he needed two weeks alone to finish a book, Barbara offered to take the children and her mother to Miami.

Her mother was worried about the visit, he said, but Barbara talked her into it.

Barbara Jensen had been to the United States at least twice before. The couple traveled extensively during two previous visits to the West Coast. They never had a problem.

"We loved to drive through your country and made more than 1,000 pictures both times," Mr. Jensen said. "The people were helpful and we were not afraid at all. We always felt so safe. Now, we are very upset at what happened."

Mr. Jensen complained that no one had told his family "these streets are dangerous."

Mr. Jensen flew to Miami to gather the rest of his family, and to appeal to the public for help in solving the crime.

His plea for information was one of several steps taken in reaction to the savage murder of his wife, 39, who was beaten and run over near Liberty City on Friday night:

* Alamo Rent A Car, where Mrs. Jensen got her car, announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the two men who beat and robbed her. The car had an Alamo plate in front and a "Z" license tag in the back.

* Gov. Lawton Chiles extended for another 60 days a program that allows owners of "Y" or "Z" tags to exchange them for a generic tag. The state already has stopped distributing license plates with the letters, which designate rented or leased cars, but about 580,000 such plates remain on Florida cars.

"I share the outrage of all law-abiding Floridians in deploring the brutal and senseless murder of Barbara Meller Jensen," Mr. Chiles said yesterday. "This heinous crime will not go unpunished."

Mrs. Jensen was the sixth tourist killed in Florida -- three of them have been Germans -- since December. She was on her way from the airport to a Miami Beach hotel, driving a red Ford Taurus, when she got lost and strayed into a rough neighborhood.

German Consul Klaus Sommer told The Miami Herald on Saturday that he may start warning Germans away from South Florida unless strong action is taken against thugs who prey on visitors.

Liz Clark, director of public affairs for Alamo, said rental companies can't warn people to avoid certain areas. "That seems to us to be 'redlining,' which the law says you can't do," she said.

But she said customers in Miami are given a brochure in English, Spanish and German of tips on how to avoid becoming a crime victim.

It wasn't known whether Barbara Jensen read the brochure, if she did get one.

Fighting back tears, Mr. Jensen said the hardest part is explaining his wife's death to the children. As he spoke, both ran around the police homicide office, seemingly unaware of what really happened.

"I'm very afraid, because Alexander still hopes his mother is living," Mr. Jensen said.

"But I am very proud of my little boy, that he is so tough, and that he has helped the police and gave them all the information they got until now."

Mr. Jensen and his family will spend a few more days in Miami. He wants to go sightseeing, so Alexander and Daria have something positive to remember about the trip.

He also wants his wife's death to make a difference, to help somebody else from becoming a victim.

"I hope that the death of my wife, the mother of my children, was not useless, so that the city of Miami should take better care in the future to inform tourists, sign the streets better and to give the police all the money they need to prevent such crimes," Mr. Jensen said.

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