Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Precious last days stolen

Lavern Jansen would have told us, I suppose, that our time on earth is God's will. But she sure gave Him all the help she could.

After a heart attack and bypass surgery when she was 68, she hauled herself out of bed and walked. She'd circle the cul-de-sac where she lived for 23 years, a West Price Hill neighborhood not far from where she was born, not far from where she grew up and took Communion and went to Mass.

"Get your gym shoes and c'mon," she would holler to more sedentary neighbors. Some of them did. She was fun to be around. Her whine reflex was nonexistent, her laugh contagious.

Never flinching

Five years later, an aneurysm was pressing on her optic nerve. So, although the surgery was invasive, surely scary, she never flinched. Then, at age 79, she had an appendectomy, working to get back on her feet yet again. Determined.

Life must have been very precious to Lavern. Her family certainly was. She never married, never had kids of her own. "It wasn't God's plan," she said. She took a job in accounting at Formica when she was 17 and stayed to retirement. She cared for her parents until they died, and she was Aunt Bernie to her six siblings' kids. And their kids' kids. They adored her.

Beautifully tailored clothes for countless Barbie dolls. A musical pony for a grandniece who is a horse fanatic. State quarters for a grandnephew's collection. Knickknacks. Special keepsakes. Thoughtful. Generous. Funny. "Even now," says her niece Gerri Korfhagen, "every time I think of her, I smile."

Lavern considered herself a lucky woman - like the time she won at bingo, a big win, enough to buy a headstone for her father's grave. "She never really had much," says her nephew Don Jansen. "She gave everything away."

She also gave the gift of her own independence, her nephew Ed Korfhagen says. "She was feisty, never wanted to be a burden, walked everywhere, used the bus."

On March 19, just days short of her 81st birthday, Lavern was walking home after finishing some errands. A man followed her. Police won't say how she died, just that it was unusually brutal.

"We feel confident we know who did it," Cincinnati police Capt. Vince Demasi says. "Knowing and proving it are two different things. This case is still very much being worked."

When he says "being worked," he means not only sifting forensic evidence and knocking on doors.

"But you'll be at your kid's ball game and your attention wanders. You are always trying to put together a piece of the puzzle," he says. "Calls to Crime Stoppers at 352-3040 would help. Maybe you wouldn't think what you saw was important. But it could be that piece of the puzzle."

The captain is careful to say that homicide detectives believe every life is important. But some cases "really grab you."

She was the 17th homicide in Cincinnati this year. Numbers, of course, don't tell you anything in human terms. Sister to six. Aunt to 23. Beloved. Missed. Lavern Jansen made her time on earth count.

E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com or phone 768-8393.

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