By Jaci Webb, Billings Gazette
With a 7-inch gash down his neck, the left side of his face bruised and swollen, Ian Elliot was wisecracking in his hospital room at St. Vincent Healthcare on Tuesday, just four days after he was attacked by a tenant early Saturday.
He was released from the hospital Tuesday evening.
But the story he told of the attack by a 20-year-old man who overpowered him as Elliot tried to protect the man’s 19-year-old girlfriend and Elliot’s 85-year-old mother was horrifying. Elliot, a familiar face on the local arts scene who organizes Koncerts for Kids and has led various theater groups, tried to temper the grisly details with a few jokes.
“I’m a strong Scot,” Elliot said. “If you play bagpipes, you can survive anything.”
Elliot, 59, said he rented his basement apartment to a young couple about a month ago, selecting them because the woman said they’d have to sleep in their car if he wouldn’t rent them the apartment. Right away, Elliot wasn’t fond of the woman’s pit bull, but he said he felt sorry for the couple.
“I wasn’t just their landlord. I tried to be like an uncle to them. Just the day before, Dustin came upstairs and asked me for some salt for a casserole he was cooking. I tried to help these kids out,” Elliot said, referring to the woman’s boyfriend, Dustin Greg Kaufman.
Elliot had moved his elderly mother into his home in February and because she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, she often wakes up disoriented in the middle of the night. That’s what she did around 4:30 a.m. Saturday. Elliot said he heard his mother call for help on a baby monitor that he keeps in his bedroom. Elliot said he went into his mother’s room on the main floor of his West End home to comfort her. That’s when he heard loud voices coming from the basement apartment, he said.
“I heard ‘If you leave me, I’ll kill you.’ It led me to believe that something major was going on. I called 911 before I intervened, and that was important that I did that first,” he said.
Elliot said he asked the couple to quiet down, but the woman yelled as she ran up the stairs, ‘Just leave. He’s gonna kill me.’”
Elliot said he tried to calm Kaufman down and asked him to leave the house.
“He almost bought it and started back down the stairs, but then he turned and headed up. That’s when she got behind me,” Elliot said.
He said the three of them ended up in the kitchen next to the dining room, which Elliot had converted into his mother’s bedroom.
“She pulled me into the other room and we shut the door. I put a straw chair against the door, but it was too late. Dustin outweighs me by 60 pounds and he hit me hard. I turned to Mom and she was splattered with blood. It turned out to be mine,” Elliot said.
Elliot didn’t realize it at the time, but he had been stabbed in the neck. He had a gash in his neck just inches from his jugular vein. Elliot also was stabbed twice in the back and had lacerations on his face.
Elliot said he grabbed pans from the kitchen and hit Kaufman three different times, and the last time Kaufman stayed down for half a minute.
“I thought, ‘What if I killed him?’ But he got back up, and I figured maybe I should buy a cast iron pan.”
Three Billings police officers arrived minutes later. Elliot, his mother, and the 19-year-old woman all survived the attack. Elliot believes that without his intervention, the woman and perhaps Kaufman would be dead.
“I told the officer, ‘I want to press charges.’ I want him to get locked up, but I also want him to get treatment,” Elliot said.
He said he warned the young woman to break off the relationship.
“When they wheeled him out on the stretcher, he said, ‘I love you, babe.’ I told her, ‘You know this is not love.’ She said she knew that.”
Elliot expects to make a full recovery and though he is having trouble sleeping, he believes he will be well enough to celebrate his 60th birthday on July 2 with friends at his annual jam session bash. The young woman’s adopted family has offered to pay medical expenses for what Elliot’s insurance doesn’t pick up, and another donor paid to have Elliot’s home cleaned after the attack. A friend was cooking him dinner.
“I’ve had near-death experiences before,” Elliot said. “Sometimes I think, ‘What else are you going to do to me?’’’