Linda Yalem. A name, comprised of two words, of a young woman, a fellow student of mine at the University at Buffalo (UB). Linda Yalem. 😦 Tears come to my eyes as I remember her, and the suffering and tragic loss of life that she experienced at the hands of the now-convicted Bike Path Rapist, Altemio Sanchez. Linda Yalem (June 8, 1968 – September 29, 1990) – and other girls and women – were raped and/or murdered by Sanchez during approximately a 30-year period. It took police investigators more than 16 years from the date of Yalem’s death on September 29, 1990 to apprehend Sanchez, who was convicted for the murders of Yalem, Majane Mazur, and Joan Diver, on August 15, 2007.
In 1990, I was a sophomore at the University at Buffalo, just as Linda was. While I never personally knew Linda, I quickly came to know of her upon her death. Linda’s death was very personal to me because she could have been me. I was an avid runner like Linda was. While I did not run distances more than a couple of miles at a time, nor have I ever trained to run in a marathon, I was out there all of the time, whenever I could. I ran around UB’s Amherst Campus, my home at the time, at night and under the sidewalk lights that lined the roads. I always wanted to remain visible while running and to exercise in highly-trafficked areas.
Linda lived in the Ellicott Complex Dormitories at UB, very close to the Ellicott Creek Bike Path that winds through UB and Amherst for about eight miles. She often ran on the scenic, peaceful, and “safe” bike path – sadly, the perfect haven for a serial rapist and murderer to commit his crimes. Linda could have been me had I ever run on the Bike Path, but I never did. While at UB, I took one look at the Bike Path from a main road and got a bad feeling about it.
As was with Linda, I also never knew there had been previous rapes of women on the Bike Path. But, no matter how safe and beautiful people told me the Bike Path was – and how “perfect” it was for running, I never set foot on it. To me, it was much too secluded. There were weeds and high grass, as well as wooded areas along it. There were many areas which someone who was lying on the ground could go unseen. I had an eerie feeling about the Bike Path; I did not believe it nearly as safe as everyone professed. I preferred to run at night, under the lights on campus, along highly-trafficked areas. In 99% of instances, I ran alone, was always highly vigilant and aware of my surroundings, and did not listen to a Walkman radio with headphones. When running outside, it is never a good idea to be tuned out from one’s surroundings, no matter how safe an area may appear.
I can relate with Linda, a fellow student, a fellow sophomore, a fellow runner, and a woman like myself. It was obvious that Linda loved to run, much as I do. For her to have chosen to run on the Bike Path rather than along the roads through the campus, inside Alumni Arena on the indoor jogging track, or after hopping the fence to the outdoor track to run there as I did, one can surmise that Linda loved the outdoors, as well. While I never knew Linda, I miss her and think about what happened to her like it was yesterday.
Immediately following Linda’s disappearance and the moment that I learned of it, I was shocked at the amount of time that had passed. Linda went out to run on the early afternoon of September 29, 1990. She was not reported missing until about 9:30 PM that night. A search along the Bike Path was undertaken until nightfall and resumed the next morning when she was not located. As a UB student resident at the Governors’ Complex Dormitories, I did not hear word of her disappearance until about 6 PM following the day she disappeared. A panicked fellow female student who resided in my building personally informed me about it at that time. I asked her how she was informed of it, and she said it was on the TV news and she received a general informational memo in her mailbox about it. I was upset because I had checked my mailbox the previous day, but had not yet checked it on that day. I immediately went to check my mailbox, and indeed, found and read the memo that was inside.
Additionally, I had not left my dorm building all day due to studying, so I had not seen any of the fliers posted around campus about Linda being missing. In fact, when I went out to investigate, I saw fliers, but they were few and far between. I was angry. Not only were students informed late, but some, such as myself, heard it by word-of-mouth by fellow students who had watched the TV news! I was even more angry because I had gone out to run around campus under the lights at night on the day that Linda was killed. I couldn’t fathom that approximately 30 hours had passed from the time that she was last seen until the time that I became informed of her disappearance!
It was absolutely incredible to me regarding the amount of time that had passed since I learned of Linda’s disappearance. I believed that University officials should have been doing so much more to have helped both prevent her disappearance and death, as well as to better-inform the University community of these tragic events. I felt that dormitory residence hall directors and/or floor leaders should have called residents to a meeting to inform students about what had occurred, at the very least. I am still incredulous to this day that I was informed about all of this by a fellow student, by word-of-mouth!
Ann Brown, Linda’s sister, sued the University and the Town of Amherst for not informing students about the rapes that had occurred on the Bike Path prior to Linda being raped and killed. While she was not successful in her law suit, I applaud Brown for her actions in bringing the law suit. I am one who believes in prevention, and prevention is certainly not something that occurred in the disappearance, rape, and murder of Linda Yalem. A prior, brutal, horrific attack and rape was experienced by a woman on the Bike Path, and students and the University community were not informed of it. I did not hear or read anything about it until after Linda’s death. Keeping such information about such a brutal crime undisclosed to students in the UB community did nothing to maintain Linda’s safety or that of others. It opened the door for such horrible crimes to occur and continue to occur, even after Anthony Capozzi served more than two decades in prison for crimes that Altemio Sanchez committed.
On August 15, 2007, Altemio Sanchez was convicted for the murders of three women, among them Linda Yalem. He was sentenced to 75 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to murdering Linda, Majane, and Joan. By the time he was apprehended, the statute of limitations for prosecuting rapes in New York State had already expired for all of his victims and/or survivors. For 30 years – or perhaps longer – Altemio Sanchez hid among regular, everyday people, seemingly as a “great” guy, committing his brutal and horrific crimes. Girls and women were preyed upon much like wild animals stalk, hunt, maim, and kill their targets. Just because a man appears to be a great guy does not mean he is.
Today, the Linda Yalem Safety Run was held at UB. When I ran in this race during the first two years that it was held in Linda’s memory, it was called the Linda Yalem Memorial Run. I believe that the latter name is more fitting in honoring Linda’s memory since that former name points to blaming her as a victim. In society, we must take great care not to blame victims and survivors of crimes. While we may certainly have different views and do things in different ways, identifying this race as a “safety run” places the blame and responsibility for Linda’s death upon her. I believe that is wrong. There were opportunities to prevent the tragedies that Linda and others experienced, and they were not taken. Most of all, authorities and officials could have informed the university community on an on-going basis about the “safe” Bike Path that was, in fact, unsafe. That was not done, and tragically, women – including Linda – discovered that for themselves, at cost to their own lives.
All day today, I have worn purple to show my support of Linda and other victims and survivors of sexual assaults and rape crimes. At church today, I wrote Linda’s name in the prayer book. In years past, I have attended “Take Back the Night” walks and ceremonies at UB and Canisius College in Buffalo. I also organized a “Take Back the Night” while I interned at Hilbert College in Hamburg, New York many years ago. Following Linda’s death, I also attended the memorial service that was held in her memory at UB’s Amherst Campus, in her own dormitory complex. I still have the program from that memorial service.
Memorial Service Program Cover in Memory of Linda Yalem,University at Buffalo, NY Ellicott Complex, 1990
Currently, I am a member of several professional groups that are aimed at preventing sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape, as well as toward supporting survivors and victims, of all ages and backgrounds. I am one who strives to inform others about the effects of sexual abuse and sexual assault on others, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder, suicidality, and psychosis. I am also one who attempts to recognize and understand – but not excuse – the fact that many sex offenders were sexually abused and sexually assaulted, themselves.
We, as a society, need to do more to inform and educate about the effects of sexual violence, as well as about sexual offenders. I believe that our country has come a very long way in prosecuting sex offenders; requiring sex offenders to become part of a national, public registry; and implementing endeavors such as the Amber Alert. However, sadly, it remains taboo and unfavorable in our society to speak about sexual abuse and sexual assault. Victims and survivors should not have to go into hiding in order to discuss their pain, and experience victim-blaming that causes them to feel criminalized, to lose hope, and to potentially kill themselves because of it, as many have. Society must do more to reach out to those who have been hurt by sexual violence, as well as to recognize and support them, so that they are protected and supported, so that they may continue to live their lives in dignity rather than fear and shame.
Linda Yalem was lost to a man who raped and murdered her 23 years ago. Much more could have been done to protect her and prevent her death. Crimes of sexual abuse, rape, and murder must be exposed and publicized so that predators are not protected rather than victims being unprotected. And, let us not blame the victims, but honor and support them. Please take a moment to remember Linda Yalem, and all those whom we have lost to crimes involving sexual violence and murder, both directly and indirectly. I remember you, Linda. I will always remember you.
Altemio Sanchez. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altemio_Sanchez. Retrieved September 29, 2013.
Linda S. Yalem [Photographs]. Find a Grave. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=77350461. Photo credit: Shirley Ann Horrocks White. Retrieved September 29, 2013.
Morrison, K. (2007). On the trail of the bike path rapist. Dateline NBC. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/20603452/ns/dateline_nbc-crime_reports/t/trail-bike-path-rapist/. Retrieved September 29, 2013.
Springer, J. (2002). Hunt for the bike path killer: The Linda Yalem murder. Court TV Online. http://news.findlaw.com/court_tv/s/20021104/04nov2002192341.html. Retrieved September 29, 2013.