They vanished into thin air, gone without a trace. Friends and loved ones waited with bated breath while investigators searched for clues. Sadly, some of these real-life kidnapping stories ended in death. Others remain unsolved to this day. And in a few moving instances, the victims survived their ordeals and saw their captors brought to justice.
The Lindbergh Baby
When American aviator Charles Lindbergh’s son was kidnapped in March 1932, the crime dominated headlines the world over. All hope of finding little Charles Jr. alive was lost when the baby’s body was discovered two months later. It wasn’t until 1934 when a suspect emerged: Bruno Richard Hauptmann. Hauptmann was tried and convicted, and, despite his insistence that he was innocent, he was executed by electric chair in 1936. One of the most sensational trials in all of history, the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby encouraged Congress to pass the Federal Kidnapping Act, which made ferrying a kidnapping victim across states a federal crime.
John Paul Getty III
An heir to the Getty fortune, John Paul Getty III had allegedly joked about staging his own kidnapping to earn the ransom. Unfortunately, when he was actually kidnapped in Rome in 1973, the Getty family initially didn’t believe the crime had really occurred, and his grandfather refused to pay the $17 million ransom. Finally, when Getty’s ear was mailed to a newspaper, the elder Getty paid up and Getty was released. But the ordeal had changed him and altered his health forever. Addicted to painkillers and alcohol, he had a stroke that left him a quadriplegic in 1981. He died in 2011 at the age of 54.
Heiress Patricia Hearst was kidnapped in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army, a homegrown American terrorist group. During her 19 months with the group, Hearst participated in a number of serious crimes, including bombings and armed robberies. She later said, at trial, that she had done all of these things under the threat of rape and death. Her kidnapping case is cited regularly while discussing “Stockholm Syndrome” in which a kidnapping victim identifies or sympathizes with his or her captors.
Six-year-old Adam Walsh was kidnapped from a Sears department store in Florida in 1981. Tragically, his remains were discovered two weeks later. Adam’s father, John Walsh, became an advocate for victims and eventually served as the host of America’s Most Wanted. Convicted serial killer Ottis Toole confessed to Adam’s murder. But at the time, authorities didn't believe him and he wasn't charged. Toole died in prison in 1996. In 2007, a theory emerged that Adam could have been a victim of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, but Florida investigators stuck by Toole as the perpetrator. In December 2008, authorities announced they were convinced Toole had killed the young boy, and declared the case closed.
On June 10, 1991, eleven-year-old Jaycee Dugard was on her way to a school bus stop in her South Lake Tahoe, California neighborhood when a man and a woman kidnapped her from the street. Incredibly, Jaycee’s stepfather had been riding his bike nearby and witnessed the abduction. Despite his description of the car and the kidnappers, the case went cold. Then in August 2009, a strange man visited the University of California, Berkley campus with two young girls in tow. His erratic behavior led to a report and investigation. He turned out to be Phillip Garrido, a sex offender and the man who kidnapped young Jaycee Dugard. In her 18 years in captivity, Dugard had given birth to two daughters by Garrido. He and Garrido's wife Nancy were subsequently convicted of kidnapping, imprisonment, and sexual assault.
Stan was hitchhiking in Oregon to a party in California on May 19, 1977 when she accepted a ride from Cameron Hooker. She later said she felt comfortable getting in the man's car because he was accompanied by his wife and baby. Not long after climbing into the car, however, Hooker pulled out a knife. He took Stan to a remote area and forced her inside a wooden box. What followed was a harrowing seven-year imprisonment during which Stan suffered countless sexual assaults and physical torture. At a certain point, Hooker’s wife, Janice, began to have doubts. She helped Stan escape, but begged her not to report Hooker, thinking that he could be rehabilitated. Thankfully, Stan eventually alerted authorities, and the trial for Stan’s kidnapping and torture began in 1985. Hooker’s wife testified against her husband in exchange for immunity. Hooker was found guilty and given a 104-year prison sentence. The FBI claimed the torture Stan had suffered was like nothing they had ever encountered before.
Smart was only 14 years old when she was abducted from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah by a delusional man named Brian David Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee. The teen was imprisoned and raped on a daily basis. Nine months later, she was finally rescued, after a pair of witnesses recognized Mitchell and Barzee on an episode of America’s Most Wanted and alerted authorities. Smart's captors were tried and convicted. Barzee worked with the investigation and received a lighter sentence than her husband. She was released from prison in September 2018. Mitchell remains behind bars serving out his life sentence. Undaunted, Smart is today a published author and advocate for missing persons and victims' rights.
The Frog Boys of South Korea
In 1991, five young boys disappeared while frog hunting in the streams of South Korea's Mount Waryong. Their story transfixed the nation, and yet there were no leads. Eleven years later, in 2002, a man discovered the boys' bodies in an area that authorities claimed had already been searched. While investigators first posited that the boys had gotten lost and died of hypothermia, their parents disagreed–the children’s bodies were found not far from their homes. A forensic investigation eventually revealed that they had in fact been murdered. The case remains unsolved to this day. In 2006, the statute of limitations on the case has expired, meaning that even if the boys’ killer is found, they cannot be brought to justice.
One of the first missing children to ever be featured on the back of a milk carton, twelve-year-old Johnny Gosch's disappearance is a long and heartbreaking tale. On September 5, 1982, Johnny vanished while on his paper route in Des Moines, Iowa. His mother Maureen never gave up hope in finding her missing son. In 1997, she claims that she was visited in the night by grown Johnny and a strange man who told her he had been a victim of child trafficking. Authorities were not able to confirm Maureen’s story, and despite national attention and a documentary What Happened to Johnny?, Gosch’s case is still unsolved.
Featured photo of Patty Hearst's mugshot: Wikimedia Commons