ELYRIA — It is the kind of crime that prompts neighbors to lock their doors and stay inside: An unknown assailant approaches a middle-aged woman in the garage of her neighborhood and stabs her before running off.
But in the case of Joanne Palange, 55, of Longfellow Street, the story she told police and the story police say is true differ. As a result, the wife and mother faces criminal charges after police say they determined she stabbed herself and made up the elaborate cover story.
Elyria police Capt. Chris Costantino said Palange could be charged as soon as today, with possible charges to include filing a false police report, inducing panic and obstructing official business. The city’s Prosecutor’s Office will determine the charges.
“But charges are going to happen,” Costantino said.
When Palange called 911 Monday evening, the police response was immediate and dramatic. Nearly a dozen officers — Elyria police as well as Lorain County sheriff’s deputies, Ohio Highway Patrol troopers and North Ridgeville police — descended on the east-side neighborhood.
Listen to the 911 calls:
Palange said she was in her garage at 430 Longfellow St. when a stranger came up behind her and punched her on both sides of the face. The blows knocked her to her knees, she told police. Then, he proceeded to get behind her and slash her on the left side of her chest and left forearm with a knife.
Palange even gave officers a description of her supposed attacker, saying he was a tall, dark-skinned male in an off-white T-shirt.
She was taken to EMH Elyria Medical Center for treatment of her injuries. She told a 911 dispatcher she had lacerations to her chest and her arm was cut open.
By Tuesday, police were calling the attack random and asking for the public’s help in finding the unknown man.
The social media traffic related to the incident blew up with people expressing a sense of fear.
“This is very scary. I live on this street,” one commenter on Facebook said. “Seems like there isn’t any safe side of Elyria anymore. Too much crime and drugs. More scary is that he hasn’t been caught.”
By Wednesday, after police prodding, Palange’s story began to unravel and soon the truth came out.
“From the very beginning, we were running two investigations,” Costantino said. “There were some immediate cues at the scene that told us it possibly didn’t happen that way, but we didn’t want to put blinders on in the case this was truly a random crime.”
Costantino said Palange finally broke down after detectives found inconsistencies in her statements.
When confronted with these inconsistencies, she admitted she fabricated the story and actually harmed herself with a knife. Palange even told police where they could find the weapon she used.
“Of course running two investigations made things a lot more complex, but we had to wrap this up quickly to assure the public there was no reason to be afraid,” Costantino said. “I’m very proud of the way my officers handled this case. We don’t see this type of thing too often.”
Once the truth came out, Costantino said it was decided that Palange needed to go back to the hospital for help, and she was taken back to EMH.
“We just felt it was in her best interest to talk to someone,” he said. “Obviously, from the injuries she already inflicted on herself, this was needed.”
Naturally, public sympathy has also swayed away from Palange.
“She had a lot of people worried that some random guy was going around hurting people, including myself. Charge her,” a Facebook poster said.
Another poster wanted to see the city reimbursed for the cost of the investigation.
“Not only was EPD involved but there were state highway patrol officers up and down (state Route) 57,” he said. “She needs to reimburse the city for this. And, the highway patrol. She took officers away from their zones where they could have been catching real criminals.”
The most disturbing piece of the story for NAACP President Betty Moody White was Palange’s insistence that a black man had committed the fictitious crime.
“This could have turned out bad with police arresting or going after anyone,” Moody White said. “That area she lives in — Elyria — has blacks all over that wouldn’t know she just made them a target. Things like this cannot happen.”
Moody White said the story brings to mind for her the 1994 South Carolina case of Susan Smith, who strapped her two sons into their car seats and drove her car into a lake. Smith initially told police a black man had taken the car with the boys inside.
“This should not keep happening, but if she made this up it’s obvious she is a sick woman — very mentally sick,” she said. “We can only hope she gets help and the due process of the courts handles her.”
Carole Caruso, coordinator of the St. Jude Neighborhood Block Watch, said she did receive some calls about negative activity going on in the general area, but her take on the stabbing was much different from the very beginning. She is not surprised to hear it was a lie.
“I know bad things do happen in the daytime,” she said. “But a person who wants to do something wrong like that would not do it in the daytime on a cul-de-sac. They would want a way to get away and hopping a fence is not that way. I questioned this story from the very beginning.”
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or email@example.com.