Back in the late 1990s, my mother worked part-time as a receptionist at a dry cleaner. At this point in time, she was in her late 40s, but still looked like she was in her early 30s – typical strong jaw/high cheekbones/strong brows/super voluminous, hip-length hair. She was no stranger to unwanted attention: guys would pull up to her at the traffic lights and ask her out, and once someone cut off a lock of her hair during the grand opening of a casino. She quickly became adept at turning people down in a very polite way.
The dry cleaner she worked at was on the other side of town, and she coordinated her hours with my school pick-up time. Sometimes, she’d finish early, allowing her to take a more scenic route home. On one such day, she chose to stop at a beach car park. It was a half-way point in her drive, and a cruise ship was docked at a nearby port and it caught her attention. She parked her car, exited the vehicle and sat on a nearby bluestone sea wall which provided a better view.
Although her focus was initially on the boat, she noticed a man walking up and down the beachside path. The area was relatively isolated at the time, mostly apartments and restaurants under construction, and she noted there was no reason for the man to be doubling back multiple times. Her observation was accurate – after a few minutes, the man walked up to her. He introduced himself as a doctor with an inner-city clinic. His manner of speech was rehearsed, but confident. He steered the conversation almost immediately to the idea of him buying her a hot chocolate from a nearby cafe. My mother was, and is, extremely health-conscious, and accordingly rejected his offer, citing a dislike for milk.
This threw him off. He had no idea what to say, and clearly didn’t plan for rejection. He awkwardly brought up the idea of tea, and asked my mother to come back to his place so that he could make some for her. She laughed at him and said she had somewhere to go, but he wouldn’t relent – he kept suggesting a time and day for her to visit him in his home for some tea. This remark crossed the line – she said thanks, but no thanks, and she had a daughter (me!) who needed to be picked up from school, and laughed again at the absurdity of the situation. He was clearly upset by her laughter and emotional disinterest in him, and slunk away in a dejected state.
Later, on the drive home, she told me the story and remarked on how specific the man was about the initial hot chocolate – she thought most adults would opt for a coffee over hot chocolate (particularly in our city, which has a vibrant coffee culture), and that he seemed incredibly immature for a doctor (in terms of his demeanour, speech and age). Additionally, why would he buy hot chocolate from a cafe, but insist on making tea at home? Her only description of him was that he resembled a Greek friend of hers.
Although the experience rubbed her the wrong way, she didn’t think anything of it. The initial reports detailing the “Hot Chocolate Rapist” described him as a man who preyed on younger women at clubs, and she thought it was a coincidence that a similar tactic was used on her – she wasn’t young, and it happened during the day at a beach, not a club at night, and she felt the poor guy was just super socially awkward after she said no to the hot chocolate; surely the man the police were looking for would be a typical suave sociopath kind of dude. When he – Harry Barkas – was caught in 2010 and jailed, a small courtroom sketch of the man was published in the paper. She knew who it was before she read the article.