(or How Following in the Footsteps of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Can Lead to Serious Trouble!)
With the long overdue disclosures of many brave women around the world who have suffered sex abuse at the hands of, mainly powerful, men, I thought it was time to revisit a terrifying experience I lived through on my first visit to Hong Kong in 1968. Young and naive I was, perhaps, but nothing could have prepared me for this encounter with such a seasoned, skilled and determined sexual predator.
By Caroline Kennedy
“Och, Caroline, it’s so good to hear you! You’ve arrived then!”
On the other end of the phone the Scottish accent immediately brought back a surge of memories. Ian had been a friend in London until he had left for Hong Kong three years earlier to take up the job as chief news correspondent on the South China Morning Post.
Ian sounded genuinely pleased to hear from me.
“Wait right where you are and I’ll send a car to pick you up. You’ll be staying with me, of course!”
So far, so good. Nothing sinister, nothing threatening. Just a warm Gallic welcome. In fact it felt good to hear Ian’s lilting voice again. And it was fun that evening to wander around Hong Kong with him, chatting about the direction our lives had taken since we last met and how our dreams for the future were evolving. It was breathtaking riding the cable car up to the highest point of the island, gazing out at the picturesque junks in the harbour at sunset, watching the seething mass of humanity below us, rushing this way and that in their eagerness to get home for their evening meal.
That night I went to bed exhausted but exhilarated and made plans to visit the consulates of Vietnam and Laos the next day to apply for my visas.
How could I have possibly foreseen that those first innocent perceptions of Hong Kong I had acquired that night would end up changing so swiftly and so dramatically?
After filling in my visa forms in the morning at the respective consulates, I followed Ian down to his office. It had been some time since I had sat at the news desk of the World Telegram & Sun in New York and I realized now how much I missed the buzz, the clatter, the camaraderie and the thrill of the scoop.
All talk that morning was of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the guru who had inspired not only the Beatles but many other soul-seekers of my generation pursuing spiritual answers to their lives. He was due to arrive on a Cathay Pacific flight from Los Angeles and was scheduled to hold a Press conference that afternoon at the Overseas Press Club on top floor of the Hong Kong Hilton.
Ian was cursing. It had just dawned on him he couldn’t attend. His whole afternoon, he told me, would be taken up discussing the recent spate of serial rapes with the local police chief, Murray Todd.
“Ach, it’s too bad” Ian said, shaking his head despondently, “I really wanted to go. Tell you what though, Caroline, why don’t you go instead of me? You could write the story. Will you do that for me?”
Would I do it for him? Was he mad?
“You know you don’t even have to ask that question, Ian,” I laughed, “of course I will!”
Here I was with an opportunity, out of the blue, to actually meet the strange, enigmatic Maharishi, the man responsible for influencing the lives of so many young people around the world. How could I possibly refuse?
So at 3pm that afternoon I found myself on top of the Hilton Hotel, notebook and pencil in hand. And, as I arrived, in my long flowing robes, with beads dangling around my neck and my hair tumbling half way down my back, flashbulbs began to pop incessantly.
“Excuse me, Maharishi, how does it feel to be in Hong Kong?” one reporter beside me asked.
I looked behind me. I saw nobody.
“Is this your first trip to Hong Kong, Maharishi?” another reporter piped up.
Where is he? I wondered, I can’t see him. Who on earth are they talking to?
“Will you be staying here long? “ a third reporter chipped in.
I was nonplussed.
“Will the Beatles be following you here?”
“How do you spell your name, Maharishi?”
The questions were coming thick and fast. I looked around. The Maharishi must surely be somewhere nearby?
But no, I was alone. To my amusement, it suddenly dawned on me that these Chinese photographers and journalists had not been very well briefed by their editors and had actually mistaken me for the ubiquitous Maharishi! Feebly I tried to explain to them their error, that the real Maharishi had not yet arrived but they were so determined I was the guru that it proved futile trying to explain otherwise.
An English voice at my shoulder whispered:
“Play up to it. I just heard the guy’s not coming. He’s missed his flight. You’re the story now!”
And so it was. The next day in most of the Hong Kong papers, under a headline about the elusive Maharishi who failed to show up, was a story about the hippie girl from London who took his place.
And thus a very real nightmare began. It started innocently enough with a phone call.
I was sitting in Ian’s flat, munching my breakfast and silently giggling at my photograph and unexpected write-up in the morning papers. Ian had left early, hot on the trail again of Hong Kong’s latest scourge, the serial rapist.
I picked up the receiver.
An Indian voice asked, “Is this Miss Caroline Kennedy?”
Foolishly I answered, “Yes” but then instantly regretted it. Who was this man? How did he know where I was staying? Who gave him my telephone number? Why was he looking for me? What did he want?
He went on: “My name is Professor Khan. Professor Nadir Khan. I read the story in the paper today. I too was at the Hilton Hotel yesterday. I wanted to introduce myself to you then but you were busy. Have you been following the Maharishi’s teachings for a long time?”
“No, no I…..I was just…..” I stammered. I was about to tell him how I happened to be there, that it was all an innocent misunderstanding but Professor Khan butted in.
“I think you have. I think you are interested in meditating. I, too, have been studying these things for a long time. It’s part of my research in comparative religions for the University of Bombay, you see. Would you mind if I interviewed you?”
By this time I had slightly recovered my composure. Thinking quickly I surmised that in order to have my phone number this Professor Khan, whoever he was, must have already spoken to Ian at the newspaper, which meant that either Ian knew him or, at least, had approved his credentials.
“Well, I really don’t practise TM,” I said, “I’m probably not the right person to speak to. “
There was a mutter of disappointment down the line.
“But,” I added, “I am still fascinated by the whole Maharishi phenomenon.”
“I thought so.” The Professor sounded somewhat relieved. “Perhaps we can meet to discuss this. These interviews I am doing will form part of my thesis, so I would be grateful if you would consider it. “
“Well, I’m not sure I have anything relevant to say…” I stuttered truthfully.
Undaunted Khan continued, “Where would you like to meet?”
“I don’t know Hong Kong too well. In fact I only just arrived the day before yesterday.” I paused, and then added imprudently, “But I do know how to get to the Hilton Hotel.”
“So how about the coffee shop downstairs?”
I remembered the coffee shop. Its windows looked right out onto a busy main street. Surely, I reassured myself, it couldn’t be too risky to meet there?
“OK, “ I said. After all I had finished my business at the consulates for the time being and I didn’t have any other immediate plans. “What time?”
“2pm. Will that be alright?” he asked.
“2 o’clock. Fine. I’ll see you there. But how will I know you?”
“Don’t worry, Miss Kennedy, I’ll know you! I saw you yesterday, remember?”
The phone went dead. Professor Khan had replaced the receiver before I had a chance to consider how foolish and impetuous I was being and change my mind.
I toyed with the idea of phoning Ian to check out my mysterious caller. But I restrained myself, arguing that he would certainly not have given out his home number to just anyone, particularly when he was currently investigating a pretty grisly story about a serial rapist. In fact, even before he had left me alone that morning he had impressed on me to double-lock the apartment door after him and warned me not to open it to anyone.
“You can never be too careful in this business,” he had told me gravely and was off. Dutifully I had bolted the door behind him and gone back to my coffee and newspaper.
And so it happened, that afternoon I found myself at the Hilton Hotel Coffee Shop, an hour later than our scheduled appointment. I was hoping that, by the time I arrived, Nadir Khan would have given up on me and decided to leave. I looked around. The place was packed. People, tourists and locals, singly, in couples and in groups, mostly chatting gaily, paid scant attention to me, other than checking out my hippie garb or wondering, perhaps, to themselves whether it was my face that had stared back at them from the pages of their morning paper. But no one came over to claim me. No one appeared to show the slightest interest so I sat down, ordered a cold drink, took out my book and waited. But not for long.
I was aware of someone, rather large, hovering over me. How did he suddenly appear? I wondered. Where had he come from? I had purposely had one eye on my book and the other anxiously surveying the entrance. I hadn’t seen him enter. Confused, I looked up and saw a wide smile displaying flashing immaculate white teeth.
“Miss Kennedy?” He extended his hand towards me. His eyes were hidden behind a magnificent pair of mirrored sunglasses. All I could see were two disconcertingly distorted images of myself.
“Yes, that’s me.” I put my book away and stretched out my hand to reach his.
“Nadir Khan. Would you join me at my table? “
So, I surmised, he had been there all along. He must have been watching me. It was all a little disturbing. I picked up my book and dutifully followed him to his table in the corner.
“Please,” he said, gesturing to me to sit down.
He helped me with my chair and then slumped down opposite me, took out a handkerchief and mopped his damp brow.
“Hot, even for me!” he smiled. Then, reaching into his top pocket he withdrew a rumpled business card and handed it to me. I looked at it. It read, “Nadir Khan – Professor in Religious Studies, University of Bombay”.
From the letters following his name, Professor Khan appeared to have several academic qualifications, none of which I recognized. But, instead of finding this fact alarming, I reassured myself that Indian doctorates would probably have very different abbreviations from English ones. I watched myself through his sunglasses forcing a smile at him. Although uncomfortable with not being able to see directly into his eyes, I was feeling a little more secure.
“Can I order you something?” he asked.
“Thank you. Tea would be fine.”
The Professor beckoned the waiter and ordered us both some black tea. He then proceeded to ask a lot of questions. Attempting to put me at ease, he started with questions about my family, my schooling and my aspirations in life.
“Do you have any family here in Hong Kong?” he asked, smiling broadly.
“No, none,” I replied, “they’re all in England. I’m on my way to Laos and Vietnam. I’m just stopping here to pick up my visas.”
“So you don’t know anyone here?” He slurped his tea noisily, his mirrored eyes waiting for my response.
“I have an old friend, he works for the South China Morning Post, Ian Black, you probably know him?”
The Professor nodded then, taking out his notepaper and pen, abruptly changed the subject.
“Do you get comfort from meditating?”
“Look, Mr. Khan,” I said, “I’m sorry but I told you on the phone, I’ve never meditated in my life. My personal opinion is that the Maharishi is a big fake – but still fascinating for that. And I don’t rate any of the other so-called gurus very highly either.”
Professor Khan appeared somewhat upset by these remarks but made a point of jotting them down nevertheless.
“But I thought you must be a disciple of his?” He stammered, perhaps mad at himself for having selected this most unwilling of converts.
“I’m sorry,” I repeated, “but I did try to warn you over the phone. I was only at that press conference because I was asked to cover it by Ian who was out chasing some story.”
“But why your photo in the newspaper then?”
I laughed. “Never heard the newspaper expression “slow news day”? They had to fill the allotted space with something, I just happened to be there.”
Eventually, he put his pen and paper down, apologizing.
“I’m sorry, you’ve been very patient. But, perhaps, if you can be patient a little longer I can tell you now about an extraordinary woman I interviewed recently? I think you’d be very interested to meet her.”
I looked at my watch.
“Oh, do you have time?” he asked, suddenly concerned.
I nodded reluctantly. I wasn’t quite sure where all this was heading. I had agreed to pick up Ian at his office towards the end of the day and then we were planning to go out for dinner. So I still had plenty of time.
The Professor went on to describe the woman in almost euphoric terms.
“She’s only a native Chinese but, it is my belief, she is far superior to the Maharishi. This lady has a way of helping people relax, breathe properly and reduce the stress in their lives. She’s well respected here in Hong Kong. But she really should be more famous than she is. If only the world could know about her. You’re a journalist, if you met her, perhaps you could write about her work for the British newspapers, help to get her recognized?”
“Perhaps. But I shan’t be here for long. “ I was skeptical. “As soon as I get my visa I’m off to Vietnam to write about the war. So there’s not much point as I won’t be back in England for another two years.”
Professor Khan persisted. “But, forgive me, how can you create peace among others, Miss Kennedy, if there is no peace inside yourself? Let me, at least, introduce you to her. You can make up your own mind then.”
I thought about it. There couldn’t be any harm, I supposed. “OK. I’ll meet her.”
He could probably determine by the tone of my voice that I didn’t sound very enthusiastic. Despite this, the Professor grinned and shook my hand vigorously.
“Good, good. A wise decision. For the peace we seek in the world cannot appear until its flame is first lit in our hearts. I assure you, Miss Kennedy, you won’t regret it. She lives in Kowloon. You can take the Star Ferry. It leaves every five minutes, you know. Perhaps we can meet in the lobby of the Peninsula Hotel at 3pm tomorrow? I’ll make the arrangements with her.”
“3 o’clock in the Peninsula lobby. “ I confirmed. “I’ll see you there.”
In the meantime, I thought, I’ll find out more about this curious Professor Nadir Khan.
I actually had no intention of keeping the appointment. I told Ian about it over dinner. He didn’t appear too alarmed. On the contrary, he was rather intrigued by the curious Indian Professor and his new Chinese “guru”.
“What the hell, “ I said, “I might as well go. Meeting this woman in the Peninsula Hotel can’t hurt, can it? And besides,” I reflected, “I think I actually quite liked him”.
It was true. On the whole he had struck me as being unaggressive, polite and well mannered. There was no doubt in my mind that he was what he said he was, namely an academic. From our conversation he had appeared well read, quoting liberally from what seemed to me like an impressive list of classic and contemporary religious works.
“No harm in it then, I don’t suppose,” Ian said, “and you might even get a good story out of it, who knows? Tell you what, Caroline, if you feel nervous at all, I’ll come with you.”
Our conversation naturally drifted away from the Professor as we tucked into my first real Hong Kong meal. My taste buds were caressed by spicy prawn won tons, shredded chili beef, Peking duck and an avalanche of other equally delicious gourmet recipes.
The following afternoon Ian and I made our way, along with hordes of others, onto the Star Ferry and across the water to Kowloon.
At the other end we decided to split up and approach the Peninsula Hotel by separate doors in order to avoid being seen together. I entered from the near side and Ian walked around the building to enter from the far side. As soon as I walked in, I could see Professor Khan strutting up and down the lobby. There was no sign of any Chinese woman with him. I saw him stop briefly to look at his watch. I checked mine. It was exactly 3pm. He caught sight of me, waved enthusiastically and rushed over to meet me. He then whisked me back out through the same doors I had just entered where a taxi appeared to be waiting for him, engine running. I tried to slow down the pace to give Ian time to catch up but Khan was in a hurry and he managed to bundle me inside the taxi before I was fully aware of what was happening.
Now I truly began to panic. I instantly regretted being so impetuous. This assignment, embarked on in simple curiosity, could no longer be considered an “adventure”.
Unwelcome thoughts flooded my mind. The Chinese woman was probably a hoax. She probably didn’t even exist. It was all just a ploy to kidnap me. The possibility of being sold into white slavery, raped, abducted or, worse still, murdered on some back street in Kowloon, now looked very real.
I tried to think clearly what I could do. As the taxi sped off I saw only two courses of action. Either I could open the door and risk my life by ejecting myself through it onto the teeming sidewalk. Or I could try to cause an accident by somehow diverting the driver’s attention.
I had to think fast. Which was it to be? Would I have the nerve to do either? Was I simply over-reacting? Or was I caught up in something beyond my control?
My hand reached furtively for the door handle. However, even before I had time to turn it, the taxi stopped abruptly and I was unceremoniously dumped out into the street.
Was this my opportunity? Could I now make a dash for it while Khan was paying the driver? But, the Indian had attached a vice-like hold to my wrist and I sensed the more I tried to wriggle free the stronger his grip would become. Oddly too, he made no attempt to remove his wallet, so I surmised he had either paid the taxi driver in advance or there was some secret arrangement between the two of them. This sobering thought made me more convinced than ever I was now in real danger.
Khan, clutching my arm, proceeded to frog-march me down a side alleyway. I had no idea where I was. And, despite my pleas for help, the bustling hordes of Chinese going about their daily business displayed little interest in us.
At the end of the narrow alley the “Professor” propelled me roughly inside what looked like a derelict tenement block. It appeared to be entirely empty, unlit and falling apart. At the far end of the interior courtyard I could just make out a dilapidated staircase with a handrail that had been ripped away in large sections. The building must have been condemned for many years and I imagined there was little likelihood that, even if Ian sent out a search party, it would never consider looking for me in here.
My heart pounded so furiously I thought it might explode. But I was feeling so numb from fear that I knew I was incapable of putting up even a weak struggle. Breathing heavily, Khan pushed me up four crumbling flights of stairs. I was convinced now this was my last hour upon the earth unless I could somehow untangle my disordered thoughts and dream up an effective method of escape.
On the fourth floor I was pulled through a maze of small, bare rooms. I was fervently praying that, if only by the instinct of pure terror, I would be able summon up the strength to wriggle free from Khan’s grasp and negotiate my way back through these gloomy, winding passages if an opportunity arose. I attempted to make some feeble excuse to leave.
”Look, Professor Khan, I didn’t realize how late it was. I have an appointment at the newspaper in half an hour. I really must be getting back now. If I’m not at the office by 4.30 they’ll start looking for me.”
My voice trembled. I was only too aware how lame I sounded. And, anyway, I should have known my excuse would fall on deaf ears. The “Professor” just wasn’t in the mood to listen.
“We’re here!” he announced, his fist still locked tightly around my wrist.
Strangely, as is often the case in life-threatening circumstances, I suddenly felt calm. Whatever was going to happen to me would soon be over. Everything was now out of my control. It was puzzling but I found that my fate, whatever it may be, was welcome.
There was a small room in front of us. A man was sitting behind a desk reading the racing pages of a newspaper under a naked bulb swinging from a single wire attached to the ceiling. I noted that beside him was a telephone so, at least, I thought, if it worked there was some form of communication with the outside world. Despite the fact that I knew I would never get the opportunity to use it, this thought provided me with the faintest glimmer of hope.
The man looked up briefly. “Good afternoon, Sir, take number 11 as usual. The lady will be with you in a minute.”
From this remark it was not hard to surmise that the “Professor” was a regular visitor to this “establishment”. The man behind the desk proffered a key in his hand, without looking up from the sports pages. Khan then manoeuvred me roughly down a passageway lit only by another bare bulb. Cockroaches and woodlice, alerted by our approaching footsteps, scattered in all directions as we made our way down the wooden corridor.
I noticed there were plenty of doors off each side. Some closed tight, others half open. I was able to catch a glimpse inside one or two as we passed. Each room appeared to contain a double bed, some of them already occupied by gyrating, moaning couples. It was obvious now I was in some seedy illegal brothel. Khan skilfully guided me into a room at the end of the corridor, the number 11 amateurishly marked out in flaky white paint on the door. He slumped down on the bed without a word, panting slightly from the exertion and the oppressive heat inside the room. I realized I still hadn’t seen his eyes and, for some reason, this thought scared me most of all.
I perched on the rough wooden chair nearest the door, my mind less agitated. I had to plan my escape. But, at the same time, I was acutely aware that any plan I concocted would be doomed from the start.
“I would like to explain what’s going to happen.” Professor Khan abruptly broke his silence. It dawned on me this was the first time he had spoken to me since our meeting in the hotel.
“The lady will deal with me first, so you will watch. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask. Understand?”
I nodded weakly.
“Good. You will have to undress, of course,” he continued. “Anyway you will see the procedure with me and you will do the same!”
It seemed more of a command than an invitation and I noticed the corners of his mouth turn up into something that could possibly pass for a smile. I remember wondering if this was how he addressed his pupils at the University of Bombay. But this sordid little brothel was a world away from the academic ivory tower I had imagined the “Professor” inhabited in his professional life.
I had no intention of showing him how terrified I was and how helpless I felt. But I realized, too, it would be hard to disguise the paralyzing panic that was again beginning to numb my brain and freeze my limbs.
There was no doubt in my mind I had to get out of there, no matter the physical risk to myself. The question was, how? The woman would appear in the room at any minute. I could no longer delude myself that she was some amazing guru waiting to be discovered by the world. It was obvious now she was Khan’s main accomplice. And, if that was the case, I knew I wouldn’t stand a chance against two of them. Deep down I feared the “Professor” might become excessively violent if his sexual plans for me were thwarted.
Silently I begged him to remove his glasses, if only for a second. How could I possibly read his thoughts without seeing the eyes behind them? As he started to undress I was momentarily mesmerized by two kaleidoscopic images of myself, reflections of a girl, rooted to her chair, too terrified to run.
“I have to go to the bathroom!” I gasped, the words almost suffocating in my throat.
Those unfamiliar images of myself in his sunglasses had finally spurred me to do something or say anything just to get out of there. Khan waved his hand towards the adjoining toilet beyond the bed. This would have meant passing further into the room, adding unwelcome distance from my only escape route. I muttered some feeble excuse about needing privacy, bolted out of the room and back down the passageway. I knew Khan was following me. I heard his panting breath and the sound of his heavy footsteps clattering on the uneven wooden floorboards behind me.
“The ladies room, please!” I shouted to the man behind the desk. He pointed to a room opposite him without raising his eyes from the paper. I dashed inside and locked the door.
I made all the appropriate sounds, turning on the taps, flushing the lavatory, scrunching the harsh toilet paper, while, at the same time, trying to compose myself sufficiently to conjure up an escape plan. But this didn’t prove easy under such pressure. Panic, I discovered, has a numbing effect on the mind and, just when I needed it most, my brain obstinately refused to function coherently. All I could think of how I could I have been so stupid to admit to Khan I was alone in Hong Kong? Perhaps, that naive admission alone had been enough to persuade him to abduct, rape and, possibly, murder me?
There was nothing I could do. I was trapped. So, in the end, I dutifully emerged, submissively proffered my bruised wrists to the “Professor”, who was lounging outside the toilet, casually zipping up his flies. He immediately latched his big sweaty palm onto my arm and dragged me back to Number 11, muttering all the time what I assumed must be Hindu curses under his breath.
By the time we entered room number 11 again the Chinese lady was already there. She beamed and nodded at her Indian accomplice, scrutinizing me up and down. She muttered something to him in Chinese as she locked the door behind us. I noted with immense relief that she failed to remove the key. So, mercifully, there was a glimmer of hope. As long as I remained vigilant and as long as I didn’t fumble with the lock there might still be a chance. Thankfully Khan too, in his eagerness to get down to business, had overlooked confiscating the key.
In a fleeting moment of clarity I decided I would pretend to go along with Khan’s plans while, at the same time, preparing my escape. I began asking him some pertinent questions to make it look like I had a keen interest in his accomplice’s work. I tried to eliminate the panic in my voice by speaking slowly and calmly. I made a point of feigning an interest in his replies. In this way the “Professor” slowly regained his confidence in me and, while answering my queries, began to remove all his clothes. He then lay on his back on the bed, stark naked, his vast dark belly protruding upwards obscuring his vision of his stirring genitals below. The Chinese lady poured creams and oils over his legs and torso and began massaging him rigorously while reciting some soothing Chinese incantations.
The “Professor’s” glasses, the last vestige of his modesty, mirrored the steamy image of her plump little fingers pummeling away at his huge hairy chest and then down towards his massive thighs. And, while he was evidently enjoying the erotic stimulation from her experienced fingers, he ordered me to start getting undressed.
I had no way of knowing whether his eyes, still hidden behind the steamy glasses, were open or closed so felt I had no alternative but to obey his instructions. Very slowly I started undoing the buttons on the front of my dress. And when I considered Khan was sufficiently overcome by the musky-smelling oils, the suffocating heat of the small airless room and the over-efficient pumping of the plump little fingers, I decided to make a dash for freedom.
While trying to create the illusion that I was aroused by the events taking place on the bed in front of me and anxious to do as I was told, I slowly inched my way backwards towards the door. Careful not to arouse suspicion, I continued unbuttoning my dress with one hand while, with the other, I gently groped behind my back for the key. Gradually, and without once averting my gaze from Khan, I twisted the key anti-clockwise desperately praying someone had bothered to grease it recently. Furtively I turned the handle, felt the door silently release itself, then abruptly swung my body around and, clutching my dress around my waist, ran blindly back down the narrow corridor towards what I hoped was the main exit.
I took a few wrong turns but eventually saw the collapsing exterior staircase in front of me. The little man at reception didn’t lift his eyes from his newspaper as I leapt down, four or five steps at a time, praying they wouldn’t give way beneath me.
I didn’t dare turn round, my ears constantly alert for the dreaded sound of heavy breathing and pounding footsteps in my wake. I heard a few angry shouts but was fairly certain that Khan could not be following immediately on my heels considering the state of undress I had left him in.
I tugged hard at the heavy warehouse door and finally catapulted myself out into the welcome chaos of the Kowloon alleyway outside. I remember thinking at that moment, thank God for the ten million Hong Kong Chinese. Only then did I realize that here I was, in broad daylight, in the middle of a teeming Kowloon street, with my bra exposed and my dress hanging down to my hips.
But there was no time to fix it now. I ran as fast as I could, not knowing, or even caring, where I ended up. When I felt sufficiently confident that I was out of immediate danger, I dived off the main road into a side street and through the revolving doors of a small hotel. Slipping my arms back into my dress and buttoning it up as hurriedly as I could, I fell, gratefully, into the nearest phone booth and called Ian at the newspaper.
“God, Caroline, I’ve been worried sick about you. Where the hell are you?” Ian sounded genuinely panicked.
“I’ve no idea,” I sobbed into the phone. I was so relieved to hear his voice.
“I’ll come and get you, just tell me where you are…. Jesus, Caroline, you gave me a fright!”
“You frightened? How about me?” I sniffed. I wiped my eyes and nose on my sleeve. “God, Ian, I’m so happy to hear your voice.”
“What happened, for Christ’s sake? No, don’t answer that. Just get me the address!” he ordered, “now!”
I left the phone dangling off the hook and, still nervously buttoning my dress, made my way to the reception desk. The receptionist looked up at me, devoid of any expression, “Yes, can I help?”
“The name of the hotel, please, and the address. Quickly!”
The receptionist handed me a card and I returned to the phone.
“I’m here, just give it to me! Quickly!”
I heard him scribbling down the details. “Now you just sit tight and wait for me. Don’t go anywhere, promise me!”
“I promise. Please hurry!”
Half an hour later Ian turned up. I was so relieved to see a friendly face that I broke down and wept all over again. He put his arms around me protectively.
”Don’t ever do that again, Caroline, you scared the life out of me!”
Ian held on to my hand the whole way back to his flat as though he feared I might disappear again.
Like the good newspaper reporter he was he gently probed the story out of me, sordid detail by sordid detail. It was all so recent and so vivid in my mind that it made me fearful simply reliving it. I was constantly looking around me to make sure Khan wasn’t somewhere nearby on the crowded ferry watching us, ready to pounce again as soon as Ian’s back was turned.
Back home Ian sat me down and forced a glass of brandy into my trembling hand.
“But I’m a teetotaler Ian, remember?” I protested, starting to giggle hysterically.
“Just drink it, girl! It’s an order!”
I took a sip, made a face and handed it back.
“No thanks. You have it, you probably need it as much as I do!”
“You bet I do!” Ian grabbed it and swallowed the contents of the glass in one go.
“Now, Caroline, I want your permission to call my friend, Murray Todd, Superintendent of the Police Force here. I think he should hear this story.”
In fact I needed little convincing. So Ian picked up the receiver and dialed Murray’s home number. He described the events thoroughly, beginning with the Maharishi press conference and ending with his own heroic role in my salvation. Murray, evidently very concerned, asked if he could come around immediately to question me.
Ian looked towards me, “Are you OK to do it now?” he asked, “or would you prefer in the morning?”
I was keen to get it over with and besides, I thought, perhaps it would give the police a better chance of catching the bogus “Professor”. And once they caught him I could finally relax and enjoy the rest of my stay in Hong Kong.
“Now’s fine.” I said, “Let’s do it.”
Less than an hour later Murray Todd arrived. He was a rather large, avuncular, red-haired Scotsman who I instinctively trusted. Falteringly I described my ordeal, yet again, omitting nothing. He listened sympathetically, nodding occasionally, until I had finished. While I was talking he alternately patted my knee and squeezed my hand to demonstrate his sympathy.
“Well, you’ve not had a very good experience on your first visit to Hong Kong then?” he joked but immediately became serious.
“I’m really sorry for you, Caroline,” he said, “Dreadful ordeal!” he tut-tutted, “but I want to reassure you we will do all we can. In fact we have been aware of this man, “Professor” Khan, or whatever other alias he chooses to go by, for several months now. He is a sexual pervert and has raped several women, both here and, as I understand it from my colleagues in Delhi, also over there. So far we’ve never managed to get even close to catching him. But he doesn’t give up easily, that’s one thing about him we have managed to establish. He is very persistent and I am almost certain he will call you again. That’s his pattern. Now, if he does,” Murray turned to look me in the eye, “will you please make another appointment with him? Will you try to convince him that you didn’t really want to leave him but that you had a pressing engagement, or something, and you couldn’t have stayed a minute longer? Will you try to convince him you’re still interested?”
The red-haired Scotsman paused to look at me intently and, grabbing my hand to emphasize his point, he continued, “We desperately need help to catch this man and this is the first time we’ve been in a position to ask for it. I’m pleading with you, Caroline, and I don’t need to tell you, you’d be doing us a very great favour indeed.”
I looked doubtful. How could I willingly put myself through that ordeal again? But then, on the other hand, I thought, perhaps I should agree simply for the sake of other young women who could end up as Khan’s future victims.
My mind wandered back to 1964, to New York, to that horrific night that had had such a deep and enduring effect on me, the night Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death outside her apartment building in Queens. And I remembered, with loathing, the 38 people who silently witnessed her cold-blooded murder but had done nothing to help her, not even call the police. And I recalled vividly the soul-searching questions I had asked myself at the time. Would I have acted any differently? Would I have risked my life to save Kitty’s? Would I have been brave enough to put myself between her and her killer? Perhaps this, then, was the time for me to prove myself. Perhaps this was the time to make amends. Perhaps this was the opportunity I had been looking for to answer those very personal questions.
Murray obviously read my thoughts.
“I give you my word, Caroline, nothing can go wrong. A detective will be assigned to the case. He will be at your rendez-vous when you meet Khan and will apprehend him on the spot. You will be risking nothing, I assure you. Naturally we would prefer to arrest him and all his accomplices at the place where they operate, but I wouldn’t want to put you in any unnecessary danger.” He looked towards Ian, “In fact, my friend Ian would never allow me to risk your safety. Right Ian?”
Ian nodded vigorously, “Damn right!“
“So we shall just have to be content with arresting him in the hotel lobby or wherever else he chooses to meet you. Will you do this for us, please? “ It seemed Murray Todd was almost pleading with me. “Again, I promise you Caroline, nothing can go wrong.”
I looked at Ian, who smiled at me.
“It’ll be alright, Caroline, I promise. If you can’t trust the police, who can you trust?” He winked and squeezed my hand.
So, foolishly, I agreed. Before he left Ian’s apartment later that night, Murray thanked me effusively, pumping my hand and kissing me gratefully on the cheek. He handed me his personal phone number.
“As soon as this bastard gets in touch with you and gives you a time and a place to meet, call me immediately and I shall assign our best detective to be there fifteen minutes earlier. I would also ask you to arrive there fifteen minutes ahead of time too so that the detective can make a sign to you to reassure you he is around to give you protection. OK?”
“OK, I’ll do it!” I answered impetuously but without a shred of enthusiasm. I felt like an unsung heroine. Here I was, I thought, offering to risk my life or, at least, my body for the glory of the Hong Kong Police Force and whether I ended up kidnapped, raped or murdered in a dingy rundown warehouse in the backstreets of Kowloon, who would ever hear about it, least of all who would care?
As Murray had so rightly calculated, Khan called me the very next morning.
“What happened to you yesterday, Miss Kennedy?” he asked abruptly.
“I’m so sorry,” I replied. Despite my pounding heart, I was trying my best to sound convincing, “I really did have to get back to the newspaper urgently. I did warn you I might have to leave early.” Hoping he believed me, I repeated, “I really am very sorry, Professor.”
For the sake of Murray Todd and the many, as yet, unmolested virgins of Hong Kong, I tried to sound suitably contrite.
Khan was evidently fooled enough to ask me, “Can you make it at the same time today? The Chinese lady is very anxious to help you. She thought you appeared extremely agitated and in need of a great deal of attention.”
You bet I was agitated, I thought. But aloud I said, “She’s probably right. I have been through a lot lately.”
“How about 3pm at the Peninsula again?” he asked. At least, as Murray had so correctly predicted, Khan was being consistent.
“OK, I’ll be there!” I tried my best to sound enthusiastic while, at the same time, relishing the spectacle of Hong Kong’s number one serial rapist being apprehended as soon as he grabbed my wrist again and tried to propel me into the waiting taxi.
Curiously just then, the words of Eliza Doolittle’s song from “My Fair Lady” sprang to my mind. “Just you wait, Professor Khan, just you wait! You’ll be sorry but your tears will be too late!” Despite my fear I was almost humming the tune aloud. You’ll live to regret this, I thought. I may appear dumb but I’m not as dumb as I seem. Believe me, Professor Khan you’re in for a nasty shock!
I telephoned Murray’s private number. I informed him that the rendez-vous had been arranged.
“Good,” he said, “I’ll make the necessary arrangements.”
The police chief called me back later that evening to brief me, giving me a physical description of Len Rogers, his “top” detective who he had assigned to the job. He told me his height, his hair and eye colour and even what clothes he would be wearing so I would have no difficulty identifying him immediately from across the hotel lobby.
I felt supremely confident, not to say patriotic above and beyond the call of duty, as I made my way to the Peninsula Hotel the next afternoon. I had never before been given the opportunity, in any capacity, to serve any police force and I was determined not to let Murray Todd down now by losing my nerve. I had little time to consider the real danger I might be in or the risk I was about to take on his behalf. Had I for a moment done so I probably would have acted very differently.
At 2.45pm, as instructed, I reached the hotel lobby. Casually I looked around me. No sign anywhere of a man matching Len Roger’s description. I waited until 2.50pm and then began to experience nagging doubts. Suddenly I felt very vulnerable, very exposed and very alone.
Doubts began to surface. Had I got the instructions right? Had Murray really ordered Len Rogers to be on duty? Had the detective forgotten, been held up or had an accident on his way here? Had he turned up at the wrong hotel? Had I mistaken the Hilton for the Peninsula? Had he? Was he supposed to make his presence known to me first, or I to him? Would he, in fact, ever turn up at all? Or was I now on my own?
All these questions and more threatened to overwhelm me. I crossed over the lobby to the front desk, in full view of the revolving doors, picked up a telephone and called Len Roger’s direct line. A woman answered. That can’t be right, I thought, and asked for him by name.
“I’m sorry he hasn’t come in to work today. I think he may be sick. Can I take a message?”
“No!” I gulped. My heart lurched.
“Can someone else help you?” The tone at the other end was flat, unsympathetic and indifferent.
I wanted to scream at her that I was doing her boss and her police force a big favour but I didn’t have time for explanations. So I simply replied, “No, somebody else can’t help!”
All the while I was fearfully scanning the lobby in case Khan, too, had decided to arrive early.
“You could try this number…” the woman offered robotically.
Heart palpitating, I took down the other number she gave me, dialed it and, once again, asked for Detective Inspector Rogers.
“I’m sorry, Miss, we haven’t seen him all day. He may be in tomorrow. Do you want to leave a message or would you like to speak to someone else?”
“No,” I whispered weakly. I replaced the receiver in shock. I was now trembling uncontrollably.
“Nothing can go wrong, nothing can go wrong!” I repeated Murray’s words to myself over and over like a wish-fulfilling mantra. But, deep down, I knew that, despite his reassuring words, something had, indeed, gone drastically and irrevocably wrong.
The telephone I had been using was right in the centre of the lobby and any minute now Khan would arrive and see me there. I rushed headlong into one of the darkened passages that connected to the reception area. I dived into the nearest open door, which happened to be a leather goods shop.
“Can I use your phone?” I pleaded, shaking visibly.
“There’s one in the lobby!” A girl, paying scant attention to me, gesticulated unhelpfully towards the direction from which I had just come.
I bit my lip trying, unsuccessfully, to suppress the tears and panic that were rising beneath the surface.
“Here, you can use mine!” A gallant male employee, who could obviously recognize a damsel in distress, pushed his phone across his desk towards me. He pointed to a chair in front of him. “You look like you need to sit down.”
I was too tense to sit so I just nodded my thanks, dialed Murray’s number and asked to speak to the police chief urgently. The efficient voice on the other end asked me to hold, Superintendent Todd was on another line. It seemed hours before Murray picked up the receiver, although it was probably only a matter of seconds. I felt instantly comforted when I heard his booming, reassuring voice.
“What’s the problem, Caroline?” he queried blithely, “Haven’t you met our Bob yet?”
“No, he isn’t here. I’ve been waiting for ten minutes already.” I was almost screaming down the phone. Then I froze. Bob? Who the hell was Bob? Who on earth was Murray talking about? This was a new name to me. Perhaps, I thought, all along I had been looking for the wrong man.
“Who’s Bob?” I asked, attempting to compose myself. Perhaps I was the one who was being an idiot, that had misunderstood.
“Len Rogers unfortunately couldn’t make it today. He’s off sick with the flu but I’ve sent someone else in his place. One of our best men, in fact. No need for you to worry on that score, Caroline. I’m sorry I didn’t have time to warn you. Isn’t he there yet? I ordered him to be there at 2.45pm prompt.”
“Well, how would I know if he’s there? I don’t know what he looks like and I don’t know what he’s wearing. No one’s approached me. What do I do now?”
The terror was welling up inside and I could feel myself beginning to sound hysterical.
Murray paused. “Well, can you go back into the lobby and wait a little longer? He will turn up, I promise you. Very reliable is our Bob.”
I was somewhat reassured but still apprehensive.
“Don’t you see, if I go back into the lobby and Bob isn’t there, well, it’s already 3pm. Don’t you understand? Khan will be waiting for me. He’ll grab me and make me leave and that’ll be the end of it. I don’t know if I can go through with it, Murray, honestly.” My tears were about to flow again.
“Please do this for us, Caroline. I know Bob’s there. He’s never let me down in the past. He’s probably even seen you already but hasn’t introduced himself for fear of blowing his cover.”
He let this sink in before proceeding.
“We have to catch people like Khan, Caroline, you can appreciate that. And you’re in a unique position to help us. Please. Bob is there. I know he is.”
My confidence had, by now, completely eroded but my sense of duty somehow prevailed. I agreed, reluctantly, to go ahead as planned. I replaced the receiver, sobbed my thanks to the somewhat startled young man in the shop for lending me his phone and retraced my steps into the lobby. As I approached, I took a long, deep breath to compose myself.
As I had feared, Khan was already there waiting for me and, as soon as he spotted me, he made his way swiftly across the lobby. I waited for Bob to miraculously materialize from behind a pillar, an armchair or a potted palm to apprehend him but nobody did. As far as I could see no one was paying us the least attention. Nobody, it seemed, could have cared less as I acted out my own little drama, praying that Bob would appear as if by magic and tap Khan on the shoulder. Perhaps I should try stalling, I thought, in order to give Bob more time to approach us.
“You’re late!” Khan reproached me frowning, “Come, we’ll have to leave right away!”
He seemed more edgy than the previous day sensing, perhaps, that something was wrong. He grabbed my wrist as we passed a large velvet armchair. I desperately tried to think of some aversion tactics. Risking breaking my arm, I twisted myself around and somehow managed to loosen his grasp sufficiently to allow me to collapse sideways into the deep armchair. He turned back in surprise, his mirrored glasses disguising his thoughts. Thoughts that I was sure were far from friendly towards me at that particular moment.
“I’m sorry, Professor,” I said, “I’m feeling just a little dizzy from the heat. I’ve been running around all day and I just realized I haven’t had anything to eat or drink yet. Do you mind if I order some tea and biscuits? Really I’m dying of thirst.”
And, without waiting for Khan’s objections, I beckoned a hovering waiter and ordered two teas. I desperately hoped that service at the Peninsula was as sluggish as it had been at the Hilton Coffee shop. Khan muttered something inaudible under his breath, reluctantly let go of my wrist and perched proprietorially beside me on the arm of the chair. He started drumming his knuckles impatiently on his lap, obviously frustrated by this unforeseen delay to his plans.
“You could have had some tea at the other place,” he snarled.
But, thankfully, the waiter had vanished through the swinging doors into the kitchen and Khan was unable to cancel the order.
And still there was no sign of Bob. I had to accept it now I was entirely on my own. The tears were welling up in my eyes again so, to help compose myself, I stared down at the floor, concentrating on the pattern in the carpet. But the thoughts wouldn’t go away. Where was Bob? How could Murray let me down like this? Why hadn’t Ian volunteered to come along too as back up, just in case? Did any of them really care at all what might happen to me?
The waiter arrived with the tea. I poured it out as slowly as I could, deliberately spilling some onto the embroidered tablecloth as a delaying tactic. I started mopping it up, playing for time, anything to impede our departure and give me time to prepare my next move. It was obvious I could not count on Bob any more. I would have to save myself from this situation. Now I was furious with Ian for not having insisted he come along for my added protection. He was the one, after all, who instigated this “mission”. As I proffered a cup of tea towards Khan I was thinking maybe I should create a scene in the lobby by shouting “Help me!” at the top of my voice and then, when I had people’s attention, I could tell them that Khan was a wanted man, that he was a serial rapist and he was trying to kidnap me. Glumly, I decided, they would just think I was the nut case and apprehend me instead.
The “Professor” pushed the teacup away.
“You drink yours. I don’t want any,” he said petulantly. Behind his glasses, he appeared to be scanning the lobby nervously. It was possible he suspected a trap. “I better call the Chinese lady to tell her we’ll be late.” Khan lifted himself off the arm of the chair and, without ever turning his mirrored gaze away from me, wandered slowly over to the telephone at the front desk.
There was no doubt in my mind, now was the time to run. I had worked out that Khan would have to pay for the tea and, hopefully, if he tried to avoid it, someone from the hotel would accost him on his way out. This would give me a couple of vital minutes head-start. I realized I had miraculously been given a chance and it would probably be my only chance. I must seize it at all costs. At the same time I was aware that both exit doors were in sight of the front desk. Khan could not help but see me leave. I looked at him and saw that, even now, his gaze had not left me for a second. Nevertheless I had no option but to run. I jumped up and flew out of the nearest exit. I knew Khan had spotted me but there was nothing I could do. I ran and ran, not realizing in my panic that I was running entirely in the wrong direction. I was sobbing uncontrollably and everything around me was blurred. But, for the moment at least, I was free!
I kept looking behind me. People in the street were suddenly aware of some small drama being acted out around them and briefly stopped what they were doing to stare at me. By now Khan, too, had emerged from the hotel and was giving chase, flailing his arms wildly in the air and shouting.
I realized he couldn’t have waited to pay the bill. If he had stopped to do so, I might have stood a chance to elude him. And now, despite his massive weight, he was gaining on me. It was then that it suddenly hit me. I had been running away from, rather than towards, the Star Ferry. This would have been fine if I had been content to run just anywhere. But all I could think of at that moment was the safety of Ian’s apartment. And that would entail doubling back past the hotel again, wasting precious minutes and, worse, risking running straight into the arms of Khan. But, being unfamiliar with the area, it was the only way I knew and, thus, there was no question about it, somehow I had retrace my steps.
All the time, through my tears, I saw the image of the wild Indian “Professor” streaking after me, accelerating his stride, shouting loudly and waving his fists. I wanted to call out to everyone – anyone – to catch him, to impede him, that he was a criminal wanted by the police. But I had no breath and certainly no voice. All I could hear above the noise of my pounding heart and the chaos of the Kowloon street were his loud cries. All I could feel was the weakness in my legs and the painful throbbing in my chest. And all I could see were people staring, gaping open-mouthed as I rushed past them full tilt.
No one volunteered to help. No one came to my rescue. I doubted if anyone even cared. I cut into a side street and plunged down some steps into a crowded basement shop. I watched, cringing, as Khan’s enormous legs thundered past the window. I waited a moment. Was it safe for me to go out? Would Khan double back if he didn’t see me ahead of him? Or worse still, would he suspect my hiding place and come looking for me? He would have no difficulty trapping me inside. Perhaps he had even seen me go in and was just waiting outside the door ready to pounce on me when I emerged. Certainly, too, he would have realized that I wanted to catch the Ferry so maybe he was already making his way there. Having established there was no telephone in the shop, I had no alternative but to leave. I glanced cautiously out of the door. Khan didn’t appear to be around, or, at least, I could see no sign of him. Gingerly, I retraced my steps to the main road and then ran as fast as I could in the direction of the Star Ferry. This time I did not look back. I did not want to risk taking the wrong turn again. Nor did I want to see the heavy, sweating image of Khan bearing down on me.
As I approached the ticket office, totally out of breath, I caught a glimpse of him in the distance approaching from the opposite direction. I believed, and hoped, he hadn’t spotted me yet. I joined the queue that, mercifully, was not too long, bought my ticket and passed through into the welcoming, dimly lit interior. I watched anxiously as Khan shuffled backwards and forwards in front of the entrance, apparently making up his mind whether to buy a ticket or whether to wait a little longer. He was looking at his watch. By this time there was a large crowd of waiting passengers behind me and I tried my best to blend in with it. My distinctive clothes and my long blonde hair did nothing to help camouflage my presence.
I saw Khan eventually join the queue to buy his ticket as the passengers in front of me started filing through the heavy metal gates towards the dock. I followed them, praying that, by the time Khan approached the barrier, the gates would slide shut in front of him, blocking his entry. At that precise moment he must have caught a glimpse of me and tried to roughly push, shove and fight his way through the human traffic to the head of the queue. I rushed with the crowd past the gates and onto the ferry. To look less conspicuous I huddled close to a group of tourists and watched his progress anxiously. To my immense relief, the large metal gates slowly started to close. I saw Khan shoving his way through the lines of people, desperately trying to reach the gates before they slammed together. He waved his arms hopelessly to the attendant to keep the gates open for him but, thankfully, the attendant appeared neither to notice, nor to care. Tempting a nasty injury, Khan somehow managed to squeeze his huge bulk through the closing gates and ran full tilt towards the gangplank. But, by then, the ferry was freed of its guy ropes and had started to shunt gently out of its moorings. To my relief I watched as Khan was left stranded at the water’s edge. The engine on the old ferry spluttered laboriously. I held my breath. We were moving so slowly away from the pier, would Khan risk jumping on board? Surely he wouldn’t be that desperate? If he did try it, would he make it?
Then I saw the welcome figure of the gate attendant, fearing for his job perhaps, spring towards Khan, altercate with him and then grab him roughly by the collar and shove him back behind the metal gates to wait in queue. Finally I was safe. I was really safe.
To the surprise of my fellow passengers, I sat down on the crowded deck and shed copious tears of relief. Within fifteen minutes I had arrived back at Ian’s apartment and bolted the door firmly behind me. It remained double-locked for five days before I dared venture out into the streets of Hong Kong again. “Professor” Khan, after all, was still a free man and, as Ian pointed out, if he had my phone number, he might also know where I lived. It was possible, too, that because he had failed, perhaps for the first time in his rapist career, he might want to exact his revenge on me. How was I to know?
Murray Todd dropped by Ian’s flat later that same evening. He was very embarrassed and extremely apologetic. As well you should be, I thought.
It turned out that the very reliable Detective Inspector Bob had drunk one too many beers during his lunch break that day and, by the evening, Murray had “retired” him from his job. Nevertheless, I swore that would be the first and last time I would ever be encouraged to act as a decoy for any police force. I had failed miserably on two counts. I had not successfully put an end to “Professor” Khan’s sadistic career, nor had I successfully avenged the brutal murder of Kitty Genovese. I had to face it, I was a pathetic failure.
Within a week officers from the Laotian and Vietnamese consulates had both advised me that my visas would take at least a month to process. So, all things considered, I decided it was probably now time for me to leave Hong Kong. I remembered the invitation from my friends, Betsy Romualdez and Henry Francia. to attend their wedding in Manila and the offer now seemed irresistibly attractive. There was no way then I could possibly suspect that this impromptu visit to the Philippines to attend a friend’s wedding would irrevocably change the course of my young life. But that’s another story!
4 thoughts on “HOW NOT TO CATCH A SERIAL RAPIST”
Wow! Glad to know you came out unscathed. Reading your story was like reading a thriller.
Thanks, Grace. Glad to know you were intrigued.
Heart pounding! U should write thriller novels as well!
Haha! If I wasn’t such a procrastinator and if I didn’t have a 6yr old distracting me!