Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Never take candy from a stranger

Liberation of abducted women in Cleveland latest in bizarre history of crime

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Accused Cleveland kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro (right) with brothers Onil Castro (left) and Pedro Castro.


Accused Cleveland kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro (right) with brothers Onil Castro (left) and Pedro Castro.

Some movies stick with you, though not in a good way. For me there are three from my youth: The Exorcist, The Man Buried Alive, a B-horror flick, and The Collector released in 1965. Each had different degrees of eeriness that haunted my dreams.

The Collector was based on a 1963 novel by the English writer John Fowles, who was also the author of The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969), made into a movie as well.

The Collector tells the story of Frederick Clegg (played in the film by a creepy Terence Stamp), a socially awkward clerk who goes from collecting butterflies to collecting women. He is infatuated with Miranda Grey, a beautiful student he encounters (Samantha Eggar, then 26 years old) and eventually kidnaps and imprisons her. Clegg does not physically attack or sexually abuse Miranda but he refuses to release her.

She tries to escape several times but is unsuccessful. Her death from illness sends Clegg into a deep depression and he considers suicide. By the end of the film he changes his mind and there is a foreshadowing he is about to kidnap another woman.

Images of The Collector returned last week with news of the rescue of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight from their imprisonment in a house in Cleveland for the past decade or so. It is impossible to comprehend their horrific ordeal at the hands of Ariel Castro, their depraved captor.

He likely had not read or seen The Collector, yet at least two abductors in the mid-'60s, Robert Berdella in Kansas City and serial killer Leonard Lake in northern California, claimed to have been "inspired" by the movie version.

The liberation of the women in Cleveland, along with the discovery and rescue of several other high-profile kidnapping cases in recent years such as Natascha Kampusch, who was taken at age 10 in Vienna and held captive for eight years, and Jaycee Dugard, who amazingly survived 18 terrible years as a prisoner, suggests these crimes are a modern phenomenon and a favourable (if it can be called that) outcome is possible.

Possible, yes -- but not all that likely. Even a cursory study of kidnapping lists indicate in a majority of cases, the victims of abduction, especially young children, are either found dead or not at all.

Among a long list of murdered kidnapping victims through the decades are: Robert "Bobby" Franks, 14, who was kidnapped and killed in 1924 in Chicago by university law students Nathan Leopold and Richard Albert Loeb in an attempt to commit the perfect crime; Charles Lindbergh, Jr., the infant son of aviator Charles Lindbergh, who was killed in 1932 in a case known as the "Crime of the Century"; six-year old Adam Walsh, who was taken at a Florida mall in 1981; and 11-year-old Alison Parrott of Toronto, who was kidnapped in the summer of 1986 and was found dead a few days later.

Kidnappings have been recorded since biblical times. In the Book of Genesis, Joseph is abducted by his jealous brothers and winds up a captive in Egypt. Abductions and slavery were prevalent, too, during the Roman era.

At one time, kidnapping was all about the ransom. The first so-called modern kidnapping occurred in Philadelphia in 1874.

On the first day of July, Charley Ross, 4, and his brother, Walter, 6, the sons of merchant Christian Ross and his wife, Sarah, were lured with an offer of candy into a horse buggy by two men, who according to witnesses, had been watching and talking to the boys for more than a week. Two hours later, after a stop at a fireworks store, Walter was released unharmed, but not Charley.

The following day, the Rosses received a letter with a ransom demand for $20,000. Christian Ross did not have such a substantial sum of money and was forced to delay payment. He went to the police and offered a reward for information.

Soon the kidnapping was front page news in Winnipeg -- the Aug. 6, 1874 edition of the Free Press had a story about the case -- and literally across the world. Boston composers Dexter Smith and W.H. Brockway wrote a popular song for Charley entitled Bring Back Our Darling.

A massive search was undertaken and everyone was on the lookout for a little boy with blonde curls. A group of Roma (male gypsies) travelling in Pennsylvania were spotted with a boy that matched Charley's description and were attacked by a mob. But it was a false alarm. Dozens of letters with tips were sent to the Ross family as were a series of further ransom demands.

Nearly six months later, police in New York tracked two men, William Mosher and Joseph Douglass, who they believed were responsible. Mosher, however, was killed in a shootout and Douglass, who was severely wounded, confessed to the kidnapping, though he died without revealing what had happened to Charley.

The Rosses never stopped looking for their son and with promotional assistance from circus magnate P.T. Barnum, a veritable army of "Charleys" came forward, as they did for the next 50 years long after both parents had died.

Thereafter, parents across the U.S. and Canada cautioned their children: "Never take candy from a stranger. Remember what happened to little Charley Ross." A U.S. database of missing children, the Charley Project, is named after him.

Another more recent tragic tale of abduction that bears a similarity to the Cleveland women's experiences was that of Colleen Stan. In May 1977, Stan, 20, was hitchhiking home near Red Bluff, Calif., north of Sacramento, when she was picked up by a seemingly nice couple, Cameron and Janice Hooker.

In fact, Cameron was a "demented sexual sadist," as American writer Michael Newton calls him, and his wife was under his tight control. For seven years, Hooker tortured and abused Colleen, often keeping her in a wooden box. Years later, he finally permitted Colleen some freedom to work and attend church. Helped by Janice, she was rescued by the police. Tried and convicted of kidnapping and rape, Hooker received a 104-year prison sentence.

In Canada's most infamous case of this type, young adults Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French were never rescued. Abducted in 1991 and 1992 in southern Ontario by Paul Bernardo and his wife, Karla Homolka, they were tortured, raped and murdered.

Colleen Stan eventually regained her life, married and had children. The same is possible for Cleveland kidnapping victims Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight.

"We know that resilience exists and that recovery is possible," Dr. Judith Cohen of Pittsburgh's Centre for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents said in an interview last Saturday. "For people who believe that it's inevitable that a horrific experience like this would leave lasting scars, the evidence does not necessarily support that."

Or, as Jaycee Dugard put it about the Cleveland case upon receiving an award from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: "What an amazing time to be talking about hope."

Now & Then is a column in which Winnipeg historian Allan Levine puts the events of today in a historical context.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 18, 2013 J6


Updated on Saturday, May 18, 2013 at 6:37 PM CDT: fixes cutline.

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