When I was a kid, my mom was always chiding me to stay close to her for fear that I’d be “snatched.” When I got a little older, I decided my mom was crazy, paranoid, and overbearing. Kidnappings never really happen, right? But now that I’m much older and have heard and read countless news stories about abducted children and even adults, I realize that kidnapping is a very real threat.
1. Kyoko Chan Cox (1971)
Kyoko Chan Cox is the only daughter of Japanese artist, musician, activist, and writer Yoko Ono and Ono’s second husband, Anthony Cox.
In 1971, Cox—who was living with his second wife on the Spanish island of Majorca and studying mysticism—and Ono entered a fierce battle over Ono’s visitation rights. In an interview with People magazine, Cox said that he had become increasingly frightened that Ono would one day try to keep their child.
With Kyoko, Cox and his second wife fled to Houston, Texas, and became evangelical Christians. They then relocated again to Los Angeles and joined the Church of the Living Word, also known as the Walk, a group whose beliefs blend elements of Pentecostalism, mysticism, and the occult. For the next five years, the Coxes sought refuge with members of the sect in rural Iowa and in California.
Cox became disenchanted with the Walk in 1977 and decided to leave the sect. At that point, Kyoko was attending the Walter Reed Junior High School in North Hollywood, California, under the assumed name of Ruth Holman. Cox feared that Walk leaders would take her away to prevent his leaving, so he took her from school and went on the run again. “We left with the clothes on our backs,” Cox says.
Ono hired detectives and tried to communicate with her daughter through songs such as “Don’t Worry, Kyoko.” Ono says, “Losing my daughter was a very serious pain. There was always some empty space in my heart.”
In 1994, twenty-three years after her kidnapping, Kyoko contacted Ono. Kyoko had been married since 1992 to a successful lawyer and had decided to have children of her own. “When Kyoko appeared finally, I was totally in shock. It felt like the part of me that was missing came back,” Ono says.
2. Patty Hearst (1974)
The story of Patty Hearst held America spellbound for nearly two years. She was the granddaughter and heiress of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst and was kidnapped by a militant left-wing group called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Hearst answered the door of the Berkeley apartment she shared with her fiancé and, according to a Dateline NBC special on the kidnapping, “people just burst into the apartment.” While Hearst’s fiancé was beaten with a wine bottle, she was gagged, blindfolded, shoved into the trunk of a car, and whisked away by her captors.
As a ransom, Hearst’s father, Randolph Hearst, donated two million dollars in food to Bay Area people in need, but the SLA still did not release her. According to Hearst, she was kept blindfolded in a closet and was forced to have sex with the SLA men.
Then, weeks later, Hearst called her family to tell them that she had joined the SLA and that her new name was Tania, after a comrade who had fought alongside Che Guevara. Hearst and her comrades were arrested for the robbery of a San Francisco bank. She was imprisoned for almost two years before her sentence was commuted by then president Jimmy Carter. Hearst now says that she was brainwashed by the SLA and suffered from Stockholm Syndrome, the condition that involves hostages’ developing adoration for their captors.
3. Jaycee Lee Dugard (1991)
Jaycee Lee Dugard never developed Stockholm Syndrome, despite remaining with her abductor for eighteen years and bearing two of his children, the first when she was only fourteen years old. Dugard was taken off the street by convicted kidnapper and rapist Phillip Garrido and his wife Nancy, according to ABC News.
Garrido renamed Dugard (who is now thirty years old) Allissa and held her against her will in a soundproof box in the back of the Garrido house in Antioch, California. Undersheriff Fred Kollar said in a news conference that the location was a “hidden backyard” within a larger yard “to isolate the victims from outside contact.” Kollar also reported that Dugard was the mother of two children by Garrido.
Dugard’s identity was revealed when she accompanied Garrido for questioning by his California parole officer. Also in tow were the two children that Garrido said were his and his wife’s.
In 2009, Dugard was reunited with her family. She sued state corrections officials for not rescuing her sooner and was awarded a settlement of twenty million dollars.
4. Amber Hagerman (1996)
Amber Hagerman was abducted on a warm winter day in January 1996 while she and her brother Ricky were taking a bike ride around the neighborhood, according to ABC News. An eyewitness, who had been in a nearby yard, heard Amber scream as a man forced her inside a pickup truck. Four days later, Amber’s body, throat slashed, was found in a creek a few miles away from the site of her abduction. She was naked except for one sock, and the creek had wiped away all the evidence that might have led investigators to the man who killed her.
But Amber’s legacy lives on. Mike Simonds, the investigative sergeant who was in charge of Amber’s case at the Arlington Police Department, helped established Amber Alerts, notifications that alert the public to missing children under the age of eighteen who are believed to be in imminent danger. Since 1996, there have been 495 successful recoveries of abducted children thanks to Amber Alerts, which now exist in all fifty states and are expected to become international.
Amber’s mother, Donna Norris, told ABC, “I always said that if the Amber Alert saved one child’s life I’d be satisfied, and I am, but I just wish there was something like [this] when Amber went missing.”
5. Elizabeth Smart (2002)
Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee kidnapped Elizabeth Smart, then fourteen, at knifepoint from her Salt Lake City, Utah, home in 2002 and held her for nine months as Mitchell’s plural wife, according to People magazine. Mitchell and Barzee were both arrested in 2003, after being seen walking with Smart through a Salt Lake City suburb.
Thanks to testimony by Elizabeth’s mother, Lois Smart, and the account of her younger sister, Mary Katherine, who witnessed the abduction, Mitchell was sentenced to fifteen years in prison and Barzee is serving time at a medical and psychiatric center for female federal prisoners in Texas.
The Smart family has published a book, Bringing Elizabeth Home, which was used as the basis for the television movie The Elizabeth Smart Story, which aired on CBS in 2003. Like Dugard’s family, they are actively trying to make the best of a horrific situation.
Stories of kidnapped children—even ones in which the abducted eventually makes his or her way home—are nightmarish. Even more terrifying is the fact that many more abductions occur than ever make the news. Thanks to Amber Alerts and organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, though, more kids have a chance of surviving kidnapping.