Home invasion: Man tells of terror on Cleveland Ave.

Wyatt warns others to lock their doors.

It was just before sunrise on Saturday morning, December 6, when 84-year-old James Wyatt was awakened in his Cleveland Avenue bedroom by a nightmare.

This nightmare, however, didn't end when he opened his eyes. A hooded figure loomed over his bed in the still darkened room, pressing a gun to the octogenarian's face, screaming garbled demands. As the haze of sleep evaporated, Wyatt realized with horror he was in the middle of a home invasion–- and now he wants to make sure no one else suffers a similar fate.

"Totally traumatizing," says Wyatt, a retired interior designer and World War II pilot, who had accidentally left a sliding door unlocked, allowing unfettered access to his home, located in the 500 of block of Cleveland Avenue off of Fifth Street.

Sadly, his experience, while horrific, is not unique.

In July 2007, two men burst into a Park Street home and held two residents at gunpoint while the invaders robbed the house. The husband and wife were pistol whipped, but survived.

Later that year, another young woman was not so lucky.

On Thursday night, November 8, 2007, Jayne McGowan, a 26-year-old UVA grad who'd recently returned to Charlottesville to work at a nonprofit, was at home in her tiny rental cottage on St. Clair Avenue after an evening at a friend's house. Sometime after 10:30pm, according to court documents, two men came to her door. They had apparently selected her house randomly, and set about committing one of the most disturbing crimes this town has ever witnessed.

They robbed her of her computer and her car, and shot her multiple times–- the last time, allegedly, as they were leaving the house and realized she was still alive.

Concerned colleagues discovered McGowan's body the next morning after she failed to show up for work. The two suspects, William Douglas Gentry and Michael Stuart Pritchett, are charged with Capital Murder in her death and will stand trial next year.

While McGowan didn't live to testify against her assailants, Wyatt will be able to tell prosecutors exactly what happened during the invasion at his home–- if police are able to apprehend the perpetrator. At press time, police had not returned the Hook's call.

"I said, 'What are you doing in my house?" Wyatt recalls. Although the intruder's shouting was difficult to understand, Wyatt says he finally comprehended the message: "I want your cash."

Forced from his bed with the gun inches from his face, Wyatt retrieved his wallet from a dresser. The wallet contained less than $40, and under cover of darkness, Wyatt says, he was able to palm his credit cards.

The whole time, Wyatt says, he stayed focused on remaining calm–- particularly because he feared his physical response could lead to serious health repercussions.

"I'm a stroke victim," he says, "so this was going through my mind also: 'You cannot lose it.'"

The intruder, Wyatt says, seemed to be a young, African American man, between ages 25 and 30, although his hood and the dark room conspired to obscure his features. Wyatt estimates his height to be the same as his own– about 5'10." He also seemed to be under the influence.

"He was either on something or just desperate," says Wyatt. Once Wyatt had handed him the cash, the intruder forced him back into his bed, then fled.

Wyatt called 911 just before 7am, and police arrived in minutes.

Although the invasion was over, Wyatt says his fear remained.

"It wasn't until the police came and kept saying, 'Are you alright?' that I realized I wasn't breathing. I literally was holding my breath," he says, describing the terror as, "Like trying to scream and not making a sound."

Although his children wanted him to stay with them the night after the attack, Wyatt says he needed to sleep in his own bed–- a trick for overcoming fear he learned as a pilot more than six decades ago.

If you crashed your plane, Wyatt recalls, "The first thing they'd do was put you in a plane and make you take off. It wasn't easy, but it's the best thing you can do."

Still, he's making some changes in security. He now locks not only his external doors but his bedroom door as well, and he says he's planning to install an alarm system. But he still feels the anxiety.

"It's going to take a month for me to feel that the house is my own again," he says, "if it ever does."

He says his message to other area residents is simple.

"I allowed this to happen by carelessness," he says. "Make certain, don't take a chance, check your door, check your windows. If I'd closed that door, he wouldn't have been able to get in."


Violent crime in his city, it's gonna get worse before it ever gets better.

Once again, With the history of violent home invasions in this city, this is exactly why Charlottesville police officers shouldn't park their cars blocks away out of sight and be out on foot trespassing and circling residents property late at night in total darkness. It places both the officers and residents in grave danger.

As some of you may recall, one of my outdoor dogs alerted on somebody trespassing and circling my home back in February of 2005. I saw no cars unknown to me sitting out front, and I couldn't see who was circling my home on foot. Before my dogs woke up the entire neighborhood, I decided I needed to go outside and see exactly who it was and what they wanted.

What if I had exited my home with a firearm? Especially considering the fact that when I did finally exit my front door all I saw was three people rushing towards me from the left rear of my home dressed in dark clothing. At this time I still couldn't see any police patches or badges.

One of the officers later stated he was attempting to peep in my windows. A cold February evening, 10:30 p.m., extremely cold outside, and attempting to peep in windows? After already parking marked police cars out of sight? WTF! Who trains these rookies nowadays?

It wouldn't have taken a rocket scientist to get dispatch to look up my phone number in the phone book and call me on the telephone. As a matter of fact, 48 hours later when they needed to speak with me again, they did exactly this... called me on the telephone first.

I still have nightmares about what could have happeend with somebody circling my home attempting to peep in my windows.

When some criminal gets his head blown off the others will learn. I hope a video of it makes Youtube.

And whoever does the blowing faces a minimum of $75,000 to $100,000 in attoney fees presenting his self defense claim to a jury. Don't ever assume the cops and commonwealth attorneys in this area wouldn't place murder charges because you were defending yourself, your home, or your family.

Had Mr. Wyatt been sleeping with a firearm under his pillow and blown this burglar away, there's no doubt in my mind he would probably be in jail right now with a $250,000 bond and awaiting a preliminary hearing and trial.

In the event I described above, if things had not gone south real quickly, I would have at a minimum been charged with brandishing a firearm on my own property.

Again--I will go out on a limb--if and when this mutant is arrested, I will bet anyone on this site a steak dinner that he will have priors AND at least one case where the justice system let him off too easy (I know, that is a subjective criterion).

For any of you who is interested, you can purchase nice black t-shirts from the Upper Darby, PA police department (outside Philly) that have the UDPD shield on the front, and the saying "Not in my town, scumbag." Just Google UDPD Upper Darby. Perhaps more of these t-shirts should be seen on the downtown mall instead of "Well behaved women rarely make history."

The poor lady on St. Clair, this retired soldier...are you getting the feeling that there are more of them than us?

Peace, love and Bobby Sherman to all!

There are indeed more scumbags of all demographics. It's true in society in general. However, instead of holding them accountable for their behavior and lack of any involvement as productive citizens, the welfare state that Charlottesville has sadly sunk into supports their ongoing degeneracy and then make apologies for them.

Sorry to hear that Mr. Wyatt had to endure this. Glad to know you're okay.