The Reads are about as normal a couple as you would find in Dewey Beach. Len Read is tall and friendly, and he enjoys a good cup of coffee. His wife, Sally Read, is slim, graceful and her love of gardening is apparent from the rich green lawn dotted with hot pink and yellow flowers in front the couple’s home.
But looks can be deceiving, and two men recently found out the hard way that the Reads are tougher than they look.
The couple’s house was broken into over Memorial Day weekend, and faced with a situation where others may have cowered, the Reads stood their ground.
Len, 63, is no stranger to violence. He said he grew up in rural Iowa. After earning a college degree in chemistry, he relocated to Washington, D.C., in the early 1970s to work for the federal government. “I took the first job I could get,” he said.
Len spent four years as a forensic chemist for the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. For 13 years, Len said he collected physical evidence and reconstructed mail bombs for the Postal Inspection Service Crime Lab.
Len said any major bombing or murder within the postal service was sent to the lab where he worked; he even worked on a case involving Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber.
Len also spent 10 years as a postal engineer, testing automatic equipment. “It was kind of fun,” he said, smiling. “I got paid big bucks to break things - best job in the world.”
While living in Alexandria, Len said he met Sally through a mutual acquaintance at a New Year’s Eve party. “It was arranged,” he said. “She didn’t realize until we got married five years later we were the only two single people there.”
Sally was living in Kenilworth, Md., where she worked as an elementary school teacher. Len said the couple decided to meet halfway, and they bought a house in the woods in Annapolis.
Sally, a true-blue local, grew up in the house next door to the one she lives in today on Cullen Street in Dewey Beach. She was born in a house on Rehoboth Avenue. “My mother didn’t make it to Beebe,” she said.
The house the Reads live in today is the site of Sally’s grandmother’s home; Sally inherited the home when she was 29 and later inherited her childhood home next door.
Sally went away to college to learn the ropes of teaching because, she said, she liked children and was often asked to babysit. After college, Sally decided she did not want to pursue a career in her hometown, so she and a friend from Ocean View accepted jobs in Prince George’s County, Md. “It was as good as any other county at the time,” she said.
The Reads spent 25 years in Annapolis before they moved to Dewey Beach in September 2005. Annapolis was growing so fast, Sally said. “I like the small town,” she said. “I love the beach.”
Sally also said she likes living in a community with other people who are retired and of a similar age. The summer season brings some problems, Sally said.
A recent break in at the couple’s home made those problems more tangible.
According to police files, two men forced their way into the Reads' house at 4 a.m., May 27. Len said violent pounding on the front sliding glass door startled him. When he opened the door to see what was going on, one of the men tried to force his way in.
“I tried to keep him out,” Len said. Stitches on his hand are evidence of the struggle. He said the man wasn’t big in stature, but he was as strong as an ox.
Len said Sally came downstairs to see what was going on; he told her to go back upstairs and call the police. Len said the man forced him aside and ran up the stairs after her.
Sally said she grabbed a pistol with one hand and the telephone with the other. “I told him if he took one more step, I was going to shoot him,” she said. “Thank God he didn’t take one more step.”
Sally said her heart sank when a second man approached. Thankfully, she said, neither man moved forward toward her.
By the time police arrived, the men were running out the front door. Len was in the kitchen, and Sally had made it outside in bare feet with the couple’s two small dogs in hand.
After police arrived, they arrested both suspects.
The Reads declined to comment on the situation in detail because, they said, they do not want to jeopardize the prosecution against the intruders. Len did say one thing: “Those two kids were a six-pound trigger pull away from getting killed.”
Len said he has always tried to stay out of Dewey Beach politics, but since the break in, he said he feels a stronger need to speak out. “We are very upset with what’s going on,” he said.
Len said Dewey Beach Police, while capable, focus mostly on the commercial area along Route 1. “This area, I think, doesn’t get enough attention,” he said.
Most residents on the north end of the town are more than 65 years old, and many of them live alone. He said the intruders just broke into the wrong house.
“Or the right one,” Sally said.
Len also said police neglect the northern residential area where group houses are scattered up and down the streets, and the Jolly Trolley drops off dozens of intoxicated people in the early hours of the morning directly in front of his house.
Besides a stronger police presence, the Reads say they hope Dewey Beach bars act responsibly and don’t serve patrons who are clearly intoxicated. “There’s just too much alcohol being passed around,” Sally said.
While they hope certain changes can be made to keep Dewey residents safe, the Reads continue to play their part in the community. Sally talks passionately about the Village Improvement Association, which raises money for various charities. She joined the association four years ago, following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother.
Len has been a member of Dewey Beach Lions Club for three years. The group held its annual Community Carnival June 2. He said with a smile hundreds of children attended the event.
“It’s kind of a lifestyle change, coming down here,” Len said. But he said he gets excited for hunting season every fall, followed by a freezer full of venison. “It’s just fun to get out in the woods,” he said.
Len said it was a long road from living in the cornfields of Iowa to living one block from the Atlantic Ocean. “What more could you ask for?” he asked.