Kidnapping is a horrible crime, which effects every kind of person, from children to adults, men and women, boys and girls. Luckily, not all of these stories end in tragedy. Hopefully, the stories of these individuals rescued, and the kind-hearted individuals who helped them find freedom, will encourage us next time the unthinkable occurs.
10. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight (rescued May 6, 2013)
The nightmare for these three young ladies started in 2002, when Michelle Knight disappeared in Cleveland at age 21. A year later, Amanda Berry vanished at 16, followed by Gina DeJesus in 2004 at 14. Over the course of nearly ten years, the captive women had multiple pregnancies that resulted in at least one live birth, as well as multiple miscarriages. The women were featured on such programs as America’s Most Wanted, but remained imprisoned by a sick man.
Despite being bound with chains and rope at various points in their captivity, an opportunity for escape eventually came just a short time ago. After their kidnapper, Ariel Castro, left the house that day, Berry began to scream for help, getting the attention of heroic neighbors Angel Cordero and Charles Ramsey, both of whom went to the house’s front door. Berry then told Ramsey that she and her baby were being kept inside the house against her will. The two heroes then kicked a hole through the bottom of the storm door, which allowed Berry to crawl through, while carrying her daughter. The now-freed woman then went to the house of another neighbor and called 911. Police officers then went to the house, and rescued the other two captive females. Legal proceedings against Castro are still ongoing.
9. Jaycee Lee Dugard (rescued August 26, 2009)
On June 10, 1991, 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard was abducted in South Lake Tahoe, California, while walking from home to a school bus stop. Despite extensive searches for the missing girl, she would not be freed from captivity until over eighteen years later.
The break in the case came in August 2009, when a convicted sex offender named Phillip Craig Garrido visited the campus of UC Berkeley accompanied by two girls, one of whom was later identified as Dugard. Their strange behavior attracted unwanted attention that resulted in Garrido, and his wife Nancy, being arrested for kidnapping and other charges. The criminal couple ultimately pleaded guilty to Dugard’s kidnapping and sexual assault, with Philip receiving a 431-year sentence, and a comparatively-meager 36 years for his wife. Dugard later wrote the book, A Stolen Life: A Memoir, about her experiences, which you can buy and help contribute to the victim and her family.
8. Natascha Maria Kampusch (escaped on August 23, 2006)
Natascha Maria Kampusch was abducted at the age of 10, on March 2, 1998. Kampusch was held in a secret cellar by her kidnapper, Wolfgang Priklopil, for more than eight years. The entrance to the cellar was concealed behind a cupboard. The small cellar had a door made of concrete, and was reinforced with steel. Furthermore, the soundproof room had no windows, making escape even more difficult.
Nevertheless, she finally escaped on August 23, 2006, when her kidnapper temporarily “freed” her from the cellar, so that she could clean and vacuum his BMW 850i in the garden. She seized the opportunity to run to a neighbor, who called the police. The media attention later led to her signing a contract with Austrian channel Puls 4 for her own talk show in 2008, becoming the new face of the Austrian PETA branch in 2009, and writing an autobiography called 3,096 Days, published in September 2010.
As for her captor, he led the police on a chase that ended when he committed suicide, by stepping in front of a moving train near the Vienna Northern Station.
7. Elizabeth Smart (found alive on March 12, 2003)
On June 5, 2002, a knife-wielding Brian David Mitchell broke into the home of Elizabeth Smart, and abducted her from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah. She was 14 at the time. An extensive search and investigation into the kidnapping transpired, including television coverage on America’s Most Wanted, on which a drawing of the kidnapper was shown. The drawing was recognized by the family of Mitchell, who then provided the police with contemporary photographs of Mitchell. Next, on March 12, 2003, he was spotted traveling with Elizabeth Smart — disguised in a gray wig, sunglasses, and veil — and Wanda Ileen Barzee in Sandy, Utah, by a biker who had heard of the kidnapping on America’s Most Wanted the night before. The biker alerted police, who recognized Smart during questioning; she was promptly reunited with her family.
Mitchell and Barzee were taken into custody as suspected kidnappers, and eventually convicted. On August 31, Mitchell was transferred to federal prison to begin serving a life sentence for his crimes. The abduction of Elizabeth and her recovery were the subject of a made-for-television movie and a published book.
6. Katie Beers (found alive on January 13, 1993)
Katie Beers was kidnapped in New York on December 28, 1992, two days before her tenth birthday. John Esposito, a family friend, lured the young girl to his home with the promise of birthday presents. There, he held her for seventeen days in a concrete cell underneath his garage.
On January 13, 1993, Esposito police uncovered the bunker, where they found the still-alive, but traumatized girl (she later said that Esposito raped her.) He was sentenced to fifteen years to life, a sentence he is still serving. In 2013 she, as so many other victims have, wrote an emotionally-compelling book about her experience.
5. Colleen Stan (escaped in 1984)
Colleen Stan was kidnapped and held as a sex slave by Cameron and Janice Hooker for over seven years, between 1977 and 1984, in something described at her abductor’s trial as unparalleled in FBI history. The nightmare began on May 19, 1977, when Cameron Hooker kidnapped 20-year-old Stan as she was hitchhiking to a friend’s birthday party. For the next seven years, Stan was tortured and sexually abused in many despicable ways that do not need repeating here.
In addition, Cameron led her to believe that she was being watched by a large, powerful organization called “The Company,” which would painfully torture her and harm her family if she tried to escape. Yet, she finally escaped in 1984, after Janice Hooker grew concerned that her husband wanted to find additional slaves. Janice told Stan that Cameron was not really part of the so-called “Company,” and later reported her husband to the police.
The now-freed Stan went on to live a productive life. She went to school for an accounting degree, married, had a daughter, and also joined an organization to help abused women. As for Cameron Hooker, he received a multiple consecutive sentences for sexual assaults, kidnapping, and using a knife in the process, for a total of 104 years’ imprisonment.
4. Steven Stayner and Timothy White (escaped March 1, 1980)
Steven Stayner was abducted in Merced, California, at the age of seven. On the afternoon of December 4, 1972, Stayner was approached on his way home from school by a man named Ervin Edward Murphy, an acquaintance of convicted child rapist Kenneth Parnell. Parnell had passed himself off as an aspiring minister to the naïve Murphy.
Stayner was abducted, and held until he was fourteen. At this point, as Stayner entered puberty, the pedophiliac Parnell looked for a younger child to kidnap. He did just that on February 14, 1980 with the kidnapping of five-year-old Timothy White in Ukiah, California, an event which deeply disturbed Stayner. On March 1, 1980, while Parnell was away at his night security job, Stayner escaped with White in tow, and hitchhiked into Ukiah, where White walked into the police department for help. The next day, on March 2, 1980, Parnell was arrested on suspicion of abducting both boys. He was subsequently convicted, and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. Stayner’s kidnapping, and its aftermath, prompted California lawmakers to change state laws “to allow consecutive prison terms in similar abduction cases.”
Sadly, Stayner died in 1989 in a motorcycle accident while driving home from work. He was survived by a wife and two children, a testament to his remarkable post-abduction recovery.
3. Patty Hearst (arrested September 1975)
Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of famed publisher William Randolph Hearst, has the dubious distinction of being both a kidnap victim and convicted bank robber. Her kidnapping case is perhaps one of the most famous cases of Stockholm Syndrome in history. In 1974, she apparently joined a terrorist group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army, after they had kidnapped her. The members seem to have brainwashed her into taking part in a bank heist with other SLA members.
Eventually, the FBI apprehended her but, after two years of imprisonment, it became clear she was as much a victim as anybody else. Her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter, and she received a Presidential pardon by President Bill Clinton, in his last official act before leaving office.
2. Frank Sinatra, Jr. (freed December 1963)
Singer Frank Sinatra, Jr. is the son of legendary musician Frank Sinatra, as you might have guessed already. On December 8, 1963, the 19-year-old Sinatra was kidnapped at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. A mere two days later, he was released after his father paid the $240,000 ransom demanded by the kidnappers. Barry Keenan, Johnny Irwin, and Joe Amsler were then captured, prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to lengthy prison terms for kidnapping and ransoming the son of one of the most famous celebrities in history.
1. Helen of Troy (????)
Finally, we have, by far, the most legendary and mysterious kidnapping of all, as we do not really know how much of the historical Helen’s stories are true. As it stands, she is known for at least two major abductions in Greek mythology. The first occurred when Theseus of Athens abducted Helen, believing her to be a daughter of Zeus. Despite the frequent depictions of Theseus as a great hero in popular culture, according to myths, he raped Helen. Subsequently, her brothers invaded Athens and reclaimed their sister for Sparta.
In the more well-known incident, Helen, now married to the king of Sparta, was seduced by Prince Paris of Troy. After going with Paris to Troy, a massive alliance of Greek city-states journeyed to reclaim her for her king and husband. Although some cinematic depictions present rather divergent accounts of what happened next, in the original stories, she was apparently returned to Sparta after the Trojan War concluded. It is a source of major debate as to when and if these events took place. Yet, that is beside the point, as she is unquestionably the most famous rescued kidnapping victim in history.
By Dr. Matthew D. Zarzeczny, author of Banned From The Internet