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Shop owner waged life-or-death battle

A bloody life-or-death struggle took place inside Lil' Honey's Boutique Tuesday morning of last week while unsuspecting neighbors went about their business and motorists passed by on Second Street.

For 15 minutes or more, 5-foot-2, 120-some pound Mary Johnson used every self-defense tactic she could recall to fight off an apparently psychotic 23-year-old man who later told police he had set out that day to kill someone.

"She saved her life. I am convinced of that," said Hudson Police Chief Richard Trende. "Her actions saved her."

The perpetrator, Michael Daniel Anderson, is in the Mendota state mental facility in Madison on a 60-day emergency detention because he has threatened to kill himself.

St. Croix County District Attorney Eric Johnson said he planned to file criminal charges against Anderson late this week. The district attorney said he is considering charging Anderson with attempted first-degree homicide, felony battery and false imprisonment, among other things.

"There's a variety of things I'm looking at," said Johnson (no relation to Mary Johnson).

Mary Johnson's husband, Ron, talked to the Star-Observer about the attack because he said his wife wanted other downtown shop owners to know the details so they could take whatever measures they think are appropriate to protect themselves and their businesses.

He said talking about the attack is still too upsetting for her, but she wanted him to reassure shop owners and the public that it was a random, freak occurrence.

"She wanted people to understand that it wasn't a robbery attempt and it wasn't a sexual assault," said Ron. "Obviously, he (the attacker) had some mental issues and had been ill for quite some time."

Ron Johnson said Anderson told police he had been thinking about killing someone for a long time because he wanted to experience what is was like.

"He actually set out that morning (with) a to-do list. And his to-do list was to kill someone."

Ron said he was told that Anderson was from the Twin Cities, but had been living on Ward Avenue in Hudson. He didn't know how long Anderson had been in Hudson.

Ron was willing to talk about the attack because he thinks other people can benefit from hearing about what Mary did to survive.

"That's what the story is - that she survived. And other people can too, I hope, knowing that it is in them," he said. "Obviously, (Mary) is strong and surprised a lot of people."

The attack

Anderson came into Lil' Honey's Boutique, a children's apparel and gift shop at 408 Second St., at about 11 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 16, according to Ron Johnson's account of the attack.

Mary had a bad feeling about him from the start, perhaps because he didn't look like her typical customer. She considered phoning Jeff Johnson (no relation), owner of Johnson's Body Shop next door, to ask him to come over to her shop, but decided against it, thinking she was being too suspicious.

A couple of other customers came and went after Anderson entered the small shop, but eventually the two were alone.

Mary again became nervous when she looked in her overhead mirrors that give a view of the entire shop, but couldn't see Anderson. She then checked the aisles and found him squatting behind some merchandise racks, looking at baby toys.

Anderson said he was looking for a gift for his pregnant sister when she asked him if she could help him.

Mary showed him some items and talked about baby clothing sizes, according to her husband, and then returned to the check-out area when he said he was going to look around some more.

A short time later, he said, "I'm ready," and approached her holding two items. Mary, reassured that he was a legitimate customer, turned to walk behind the check-out counter.

Anderson then lunged at her, grabbing at her throat from behind.

Ron said Mary remembers details of the bloody fight that followed, but isn't certain of the order in which they occurred.

"By the force, his demeanor, the way he attacked her throat, she knew immediately that he was trying to kill her," Ron said.

Anderson didn't try to choke her, Ron said, but grabbed at the center of her throat and twisted. He thinks Anderson was trying to rip out her windpipe.

She screamed, "What are you doing?" and dropped to the floor, escaping his grip. She then picked up a display rack loaded with merchandise and swung it, hitting her attacker over the head.

"What shocked her is that it didn't even slow him down. She could not believe that someone could take a blow from that rack and keep moving," Ron said.

As she was backing away from Anderson, she tripped and fell, and Anderson was on top of her.

She was able to get into a wrestler's defensive position on her hands and knees and after he landed a couple of punches to her face.

She thinks the blows must have hurt his hand, because he reached into a pocket and pulled out a carabinder that he wrapped over his knuckles.

He got a choke hold around her neck and proceeded to strike her repeatedly on the top of her head with the carabinder, an oblong metal ring used in rope climbing.

The emergency room staff at Hudson Hospital later put 40 staples into her scalp and stitches on her forehead to close the wounds. Remarkably, she didn't have a concussion or any broken bones.

"Of course, the blood was flowing. But she doesn't remember any of that," Ron said. "She just remembers looking up and gouging and scratching and ripping at his face. She knows that several times she actually put her finger right in his eye socket. She remembers that distinctly."

"She kept thinking of all the things that she's ever heard of about how to defend herself ... she targeted specific things on him."

She was able to shove her hand into his nose, but wasn't able to reach his crotch.

Ron said she screamed for help and screamed, "Why are you doing this?" throughout the assault. She also fought to stay near the front of the shop, hoping someone passing by on the sidewalk would hear her cries or see tumult inside.

"She had her wits about her to try to figure out what it was that was going to get her out of this," Ron said.

As the fight wore on, racks were overturned and pools of blood collected on the floor.

The Johnsons later learned that some of the blood came from Anderson. Mary bit one of his fingers so hard, according to Ron, that is was nearly severed from his hand.

At times, Anderson would rest, and Mary would lie still, too, saving her energy for when he resumed the attack. Her face was covered in blood that ran into her eyes, making it difficult for her to see.

About 15 minutes into the attack, the combatants knocked down a bookcase that fell in front of the entrance. The fallen bookcase added to Mary's fear because it was another obstacle to her escape.

But at that point, Anderson stopped assaulting her and said, "What have I done?"

According to Ron, he hadn't spoken until that point in the attack. Mary told Ron that Anderson wore an emotionless expression that was frightening.

Anderson reportedly then said, "You fought so well you deserve to live. I'm going to kill myself."

Mary noticed someone walking past on the sidewalk and screamed. Anderson tackled her again, pushing her to the other side of the shop, but didn't follow up with more blows.

Instead, he said he was going to call the police and repeated that he was going kill himself. He asked her to go into the back room.

Mary refused to leave the front of the shop, however, and told Anderson about a back door he could use to depart.

"She was lying (on the floor) and couldn't look up at him because blood was pouring into her eyes...," Ron said. "Then she looked out the corner of her eye and she couldn't see him - she didn't know where he went - and that's when she bolted for the front door. She was thinking, if he grabs my leg, I don't care, because I'm going to get that front door open and scream for help."

But Anderson was gone.

Emotional harm the biggest concern

Mary looked like a bloody monster when she walked into Jeff Johnson's office a few feet away at noon and announced that she had been attacked, Ron said.

Her physical injuries aren't what worry him, however.

The doctors were amazed to find that she didn't have any broken bones, and she's pleased that she won't have lasting scars on her face as a reminder of the attack.

The emotional wounds will be harder to overcome.

She does fine when she has her family around her, Ron reports. (The Johnsons have five children and a large extended family.) But being alone is difficult for her.

"She's thankful, but she's angry and she's scared," Ron said. "She would like to reopen the store. She plans on it. But we still haven't figured that out."

He's considering different types of security systems he could install to make Mary feel safer.

"We're trying to figure out what it is going to take for her to be down there. And I don't know," said Ron, the owner of Timeline Communications, a Hudson-based film, video and television production company. "I mean, I can put in security systems, but I just don't know how that is going to make her feel."

He said Mary at one point said she wasn't going to let Anderson rob her of her dream.

She had thought about a career for a long time after the children were old enough to take care of themselves, Ron said, and had found something she was good at and enjoyed in Lil' Honey's Boutique.

"We were very confident that it was going to be highly successful, not just something for her to do," he said. "She knows what she'd doing and she's very serious about it."

A proud family

Ron said the first thing he said to his wife when he arrived at the hospital following the attack was, "I'm so proud of you."

He said later he heard the same thing from other family members and friends, and has drawn strength and confidence from it.

He watched Mary give birth to their five children and deal with the death of her mother, so he knew she was strong, Ron said, "But no, I wasn't aware of this strength."

When the entire Johnson family was home together later on the day of attack, Mary told her husband and children they were the reason she fought so hard.

Ron said she was glad to hear that Anderson was apprehended shortly after leaving the shop because she was worried that he would harm someone else, too.

She's grateful to members of the downtown business community who have extended their sympathy and support to her, he said.

"She's hoping that some good can come out of this," Ron said. "We've got to take some steps to figure out how to take care of these shop owners downtown... That's what comes out of these sorts of horrific events. Let's figure out how to prevent it."

Randy Hanson can be reached at

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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