The town of Roby is a strangely idyllic place for a siege. Nevertheless, as acres of corn and soybean have been undulating in the fall breeze, and as birch, maple and oak have been turning their autumnal colors, Shirley Allen, 51, has been facing down the law for the past month. On Sept. 22, Christian County sheriff's deputies knocked on the door of her two-bedroom farmhouse to serve her with a court order for psychiatric evaluation. She met them with a 12-gauge bolt-action shotgun. They backed off and set up the siege.
Her family had been worried about Allen ever since she lost her husband to pancreatic cancer in 1989. "For some reason," says her brother Byron Dugger, 49, "she couldn't get over it." At times she would call her brother to say that things had been inexplicably moved around in her house and that helicopters were spying on her. When Allen's mother and two of her sisters tried on Labor Day to check in on her, she refused to let them in. When a longtime friend and neighbor tried to intervene to help them, she threatened to blow his head off. The family asked the local district attorney for help. The sheriff's office acted.
The locals now call the predicament "Roby Ridge," referring to the deadly FBI showdown with white separatist turned militia icon Randy Weaver in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. In fact, the Illinois siege has become a rallying point for militia types from as far away as Nevada. The police find nothing funny about Roby Ridge. They do not want the pun to stick.
At first the sheriff's deputies lobbed a tear-gas canister into the house. But Allen was prepared. The former nurse had apparently covered herself with petroleum jelly and a wet towel to prevent the skin irritation that comes with the gas. Then they tried to stun Allen by firing some beanbag-like projectiles at her, but she was ready for that too, having armored herself in several layers of clothing. The gathering crowd of militiamen stand in awe and see her expertise as proof of a survivalist sensibility. Says Glad Hall, president of the Southern Illinois Patriots League: "She is good."
The police have blared classical music and Barry Manilow tunes to soothe her. They have also cut off the electricity and the water supply--all to little effect. Neighbors have told police that Allen frequently canned food and stored bottled water because the well on her property had run dry. "We considered sending in a stray dog," says Terrance Gainer, director of the Illinois State Police, hoping that would distract her and calm her down. But then the police learned that she was not particularly partial to pets. Says Gainer: "If she'd just give me five minutes, I could talk her out. But she refuses to talk."
So the police are staying out of sight, keeping tabs on her from a distance to give her a chance to resume a normal, unarmed routine. They think they are making progress. On Day 23 they spotted a dust mop being shaken out a window. "At least she's cleaning house," says Gainer. And on Day 24, Allen poked her head out the window and briefly ventured out on her deck.