It was one of those many visits Tara Anne Landgraf and her mother often shared at a northeast gas station.
Brenda Landgraf worried about her first-born who was caught in the grips of a drug addition that hijacked her life, but the two were always close and met on a regular basis.
That day, the conversation with her 37-year-old daughter and the very sight of her appearing so thin and vulnerable made Brenda worry even more.
But the mother who tried her best over the years, albeit in vain, to be an ally against a destructive addiction that shackled her child, felt powerless to convince Tara to do what had to be done to set herself free.
About a week after they met at that Esso station someone would savagely attack her daughter, leaving her dying on a residential street mere feet from houses.
“She said she had to get off the streets because something was going to happen, it was getting scary out there,” Brenda recalls.
“You can’t make them get help — it would be nice if you could force people into doing things but you can’t, especially at her age.
“That was the last time I saw her.”
In the early-morning hours of Aug. 5, 2007, police say Landgraf, who was staying with a friend at the nearby Shamrock Hotel, went to meet someone — an encounter that proved deadly.
Police said the fact she was a drug user might have put her in peril.
And they say evidence shows Landgraf, who was stabbed, fought and ran for her life.
“We believe it’s not random, the victim knew her attacker,“ homicide Staff Sgt. Doug Andrus says.
“She was found partially clothed and that speaks to the level of violence and also the fact she may have fought back against her attacker.”
In a case that disturbed detectives, Landgraf collapsed and screamed for help.
People later admitted hearing her cries but chose not to summon any aid.
Instead, she was all alone where she crumpled to the ground, beaten and stabbed, for as much as 20 minutes before emergency crews arrived.
It was too late.
Andrus is not entirely surprised, saying some people might not want to get involved while others might have assumed someone else did.
But it’s sad so many didn’t call 91, he says.
“People heard her moaning and her calls for help but no one called 911,” Andrus says.
“It’s possible if police had been notified we could have responded and intervened in the attack.”
Haunted by knowing whoever killed her daughter still eludes police, Brenda says it still hurts no one stepped in to try and see her daughter saved.
Had help arrived sooner, the attack might well have been the rock bottom her child needed, the experience that might have finally forced her to pull free from her addictions.
But she didn’t get that chance.
“You keep on hearing about people who have near-death experiences and then they turn around and change their lives,” Brenda says.
“If somebody had called and she made it — it might have been her.”
Brenda says it’s been at least a year since she’s spoken to police about the investigation.
She hopes the silence doesn’t speak to a lack of effort going into finding Tara’s killer.
“I think one of these days I’ll win the lotto and put out a $100,000 reward,” the mother says.
“But it’s just been so long, I wonder if anything will happen.”
Brenda has many good memories of her daughter — going to garage sales together, images of Tara feeding geese at the park or hanging out at her parents’ home and playing with their cats.
Intertwined with it all, however, are images of how drugs took a toll, sending Tara on a downward spiral, leaving her too many times broke, homeless and desperate.
Brenda knew it was a toxic trap but she never foresaw the horrible end someone would deliver to her daughter’s life.
“Not like that, not ever like that,” she says.
And then, there were those gas station meetings Brenda often made before or after work, annual dinner outings on Tara’s birthday and the frantic phone calls that came at all hours from a daughter with nowhere else to turn.
“I don’t miss those phone calls in the middle of the night because of the lifestyle she was in,” Brenda says.
But it wasn’t like Tara didn’t try to get off drugs, many times, spending six weeks in rehab in the year prior to being killed.
Now, her mother wonders whether things might have turned out differently if she had chosen not to listen to addictions experts who cautioned her against foster Tara’s habit.
“They told me, ‘do not enable her,’” she says.
“Quite frankly, I wish I did. I wish she would have called and I wish I would have gone and got her.”
It is exactly what the dedicated mother did for years — woken up in the middle of the night only to go to wherever her daughter was — needing a place to stay, cash or simply wanting her mom.
“Sometimes she just wanted to come home for a bit or needed money or I would take her to the food bank,” Brenda says.
“She was always able to come here but we have rules.”
After Tara was killed friends donated to shelters she had relied on, like Inn from the Cold and the Mustard Seed.
Her family bought a park bench in her memory that now sits in the Ramsay green space where Landgraf was slain, near Burns Ave. and Alexander St. S.E.
They have revisited it, along with Landgraf’s friends, on anniversaries of her killing and even for sombre celebrations to share cake on what would have been Tara’s birthday.
“We never thought this would happen,” she says of losing her daughter to violence.
“It’s always other peoples’ children, it’s not yours.”
For all those things done to keep Tara’s memory alive, there are reminders that painfully point out she is no longer here.
That Esso gas station where Tara would often climb into her mother’s car for their visits — including the last one they shared — is one of them.
“I can tell you, probably for the first two years, every time I passed by there I had tears in my eyes,” Brenda says.
“I can’t imagine how the person would live with themselves knowing what they have done ... it would certainly be nice if somebody could come forward and give us some closure.”
Shortly after Landgraf’s death a memorial was set up where she died, people mostly strangers who live in area, left notes and flowers for her family.
These are a few of the notes.
“Dear family of Tara. I am so sorry I did not hear her cries ... I feel deeply saddened. I have been praying for you and placed a yellow lily at the site. Not all of us in Ramsay are so hardened that we would not reach out to help a fellow human being.”
Another reads: “I live three blocks away and promise you I would have helped in a second if I heard anything. I am so very sorry we were not there to help.”
A third laments a life cut short too soon.
“She is not to blame for what happened to her. I did not know Tara but know that the fact that she struggled doesn’t mean she had no value. I was not close enough to hear ... Her cries echo in my heart though.”email@example.com