I know when you clicked this link that you got ready to read about some happy endings, but let us give you a fair warning that these individuals went through hell to find their salvation. We have 15 of the most prominent kidnapping situations of all time, but included with them are numerous counts of sexual and physical abuse, some of which may make you sick to your stomach. Like forcing a kid to make an adult video kind of sick. Or the numerous women that birthed their kidnapper’s children, including one who gave birth 7 times. To make that situation even worse, her kidnapper was her father!
We’ve ranked these stories based on how long the subjects were in captivity while giving special attention to the cases in which more than one person was held in the same home.
These stories all have happy endings (including someone getting $20 million!), at least in terms of getting rescued, but how they got rescued is as varied as the torture that they were forced to endure. Below we’ve covered all the details necessary to understand the cases. How old were they? What happened to them? How did they get free, and for some, we’ve covered how they’re doing today.
Enjoy the list and if you know someone that also would, feel free to share it on social media.
15. Erica Pratt – 1 Day!
You are going to read about some incredibly tragic stories below, but we’re going to start with something light. Because for Erica Pratt, she was able to escape after being held captive for only 1 day. Pratt was abducted when she was 7 years old on July 22nd, 2002 by Edward Johnson and James Burns.
The men had allegedly kidnapped her in an attempt to get a $150,000 ransom from Pratt’s grandmother. She had her hands and feet bound and was taken to an abandoned house, but over the course of the day gnawed away at the tape to free herself.
For her heroic actions, Pratt was named as Time’s Person of the Week. Johnson was sentenced to 10-37 years, and James Burns was sentenced to 14.5-49 years behind bars.
14. Elizabeth Shoaf – Imprisoned 10 Days, Wore A Necklace Of Explosives
Elizabeth Shoaf was kidnapped when she was 14 years old on September 6th, 2006. Shoaf was abducted by Vinson Filyaw and held in a bunker for 10 days. Filyaw posed as a police officer to originally gain her trust, and once she was in his captivity, stripped her naked leading to both sexual and physical abuse. As well as this, Shoaf would often have things like explosives draped around her neck.
Shoaf was rescued after she asked Filyaw to play video games on his phone and then used the phone to contact her mother and friends who then contacted the police. Shoaf then recommended that Filyaw go on the run, which he did.
Filyaw only made it 5 miles from his house until he was arrested and subsequently sentenced to 421 years in prison.
Shoaf received praise from authorities working in the case for the various things she did to help aid in her recovery, including dropping her shoes in the woods and leaving strands of her hair on different branches in hopes she would be discovered by police dogs.
13. Elizabeth Smart – Imprisoned 9 Months, Found Through America’s Most Wanted
Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped when she was 14 years old and held captive for 9 months by Mitchell and Wanda Barzee. When testifying about the horrors she suffered, Smart admitted that she was sexually assaulted 3-4 times a day and that within hours of her abduction she was forced into a quickie marriage ceremony, making her Mitchell’s polygamous wife.
Smart also said she was held captive with to a 10-foot cable that was bolted to her leg and tethered between two trees. Mitchell also forced Smart to wear a white, ankle-length robe, a head scarf and two veils throughout her captivity while telling her that he was a prophet and the voice of God.
Smart was rescued after she was spotted by a passing motorist who had seen Smart and the Barzee’s from their appearance on America’s Most Wanted the previous night.
Mitchell claimed that he was legally insane and initially unfit to stand trial, but a judge later overturned this and he was sentenced to two life sentences in prison. Wanda was sentenced to 15 years for her role in the kidnapping.
12. Coleen Stan – 7 Years, Lived In A Box For 23 Hours A Day
Coleen Stan was kidnapped on May 19th, 1977 by Cameron Hooker and his wife Janice when she was 20 years old. Stan was an experienced hitchhiker but got into the van because she was comforted by the sight of their newborn baby. Once in the van, Stan was held by knifepoint and forced into a wooden headbox that eliminated light, sound and almost all fresh air.
Stan recalled that on the first night, she was strung up and blindfolded while Cameron and Janice made love below her. Stan was kept in check due to a fear of “The Company” that Cameron said would harm her family if she ever escaped.
As well as this, Stan was given the new name K, forced to call Cameron master and was not allowed to talk.
Stan was allowed to visit her family in 1981, but fear of “The Company” kept her from telling them what was going on. Once she returned, she was kept in a wooden box under the water bed for 23 hours a day. This continued for 3 years.
Stan was eventually freed by Janice, who later stated that she had been herself conditioned/tortured and brainwashed by Cameron. The breaking point allegedly came when Cameron talked about getting 4 more female slaves.
Stan was told by Janice that while The Company does exist, her family was not in danger. Despite all of this torture, Stan kept in contact with Cameron for 3 months (which was also how long it took Janice to work up the courage to tell the police), allegedly to give him a chance to reform.
Hooker was sentenced to 104 years imprisonment, whereas his wife received full immunity for her testimony.
11. Natascha Kampusch – 8 Years In A 54 Square Foot Room
Natascha Kampusch was abducted when she was only 10 years old on March 2nd, 1998. She was held for more than 8 years, escaping on August 23rd, 2006.
Kampusch was abducted by a man in a white minivan, leading police to search 776 different vans, including that of Wolfgang Priklopil, who was her kidnapper.
Kampusch spent most of her time in captivity living in a 54 square foot cellar that was also soundproof. As well as being incredibly physically abused, Kampusch was also sexually assaulted.
The only solace is the fact that Kampusch was often given educational materials, leading police to be stunned at her cognitive abilities at the time of her recovery.
Kampusch was able to make her escape after Priklopil stepped away from vacuuming his car to take a phone call, but because of the noise of the vacuum, did not hear her making her escape.
Priklopil, knowing police were after him, then proceeded to jump in front of a train. In a morbid twist, Kampusch ended up purchasing (and still owns) the house in which she was imprisoned in.
10. Fusako Sano – Imprisoned 9 Years, Torturer’s Mother Lived In The House
Fusako Sano was kidnapped when she was 9 years old on November 13th, 1990. For 9 years and 2 months, she was kept captive on the upstairs floor in Nobuyuki Sato’s apartment. Sano was kept tied up for several months, beaten and was only able to bathe very infrequently.
The most unique aspect of this case is that Sato’s mother lived downstairs in the apartment, but Sato became physically violent if she ever started going upstairs or inquiring about it.
Sano admitted she had lost the will to leave but was discovered after police were investigating a violence charge between Sato and his mother.
Sano was ravaged mentally from the experience, suffering from jaundice, having extreme PTSD and having the mental capacity of a 9-year-old.
There was big controversy around Sato’s trial and if he would be deemed mentally fit to stand trial, but it was determined that he was, and received a 14-year prison sentence.
The Police Chief later came under fire when it was revealed that he spent the evening of her rescue playing mah-jong with the head of the Regional Police Bureaus, instead of supervising the very serious situation. Both men later resigned as a result of the incident.
9. Tanya Nicole Kach – Imprisoned 10 Years, Lived In A Closet
Tanya Nicole Kach met her eventual captor Thomas Hose when she was attending Cornell Middle School. Only 13 years old, Kach befriended the 37-year-old Hose who would often buy her cigarettes and other various treats. The two started a relationship and in 1996, Kach agreed to run away from her home and live with Hose. Little did she know, Hose still lived with his family and once she arrived at his house, she was quickly locked in his closet and given only a bucket to use as a toilet. Kach was kept quiet on threats from Hose that he would kill her family.
After 4 years, Kach was allowed to leave the closet and live in the house with Hose and his family under the alias Nikki Allen.
Kach was able to escape when she was out doing errands for Hose one day and a concerned shop owner was able to get her alone for a private conversation during which she admitted who she was and how she had been held captive for the past 10 years.
Hose plead guilty to three counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent support, interfering with the custody of a child, child endangerment and corruption of a minor.
In 2007, Hose was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison.
8. Jaycee Dugard – Imprisoned 18 Years, Gave Birth Twice
Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped on June 10th, 1991 when she was 11 years old. To make the day even more tragic for her family, her stepfather was able to chase after the kidnappers (Phillip and Nancy Garrido) but did not catch them. Dugard was then held captive for the next 18 years, being rescued in 2009.
Dugard spent most of the start of her captivity in handcuffs, which she said were also present when she received sexual abuse. After roughly 90 days, Dugard was moved from a smaller room into a larger one (still in the house) and was instead handcuffed to the bed.
After 7 months of being held captive, Dugard was introduced to Nancy in a more formal setting (previously she had just been helping in the kidnapping), who continued with the sexual and physical abuse. This includes a period of time in which Phillip was in prison following a failed drug test.
Dugard was impregnated thirty-four months into her captivity, giving birth to her first daughter on August 18, 1994. This was not the last daughter she had in captivity, giving birth again on November 13th, 1997. The girls were eventually allowed to go out in public but played up the illusion that they were all sisters.
The girls were rescued after they visited the University of California on August 24th/25th and their unusual behavior caused Phillip’s parole officer to call him in for a meeting, and to bring with him the girls. The pieces were then put together and Phillip and Nancy were charged for their crimes.
Phillip was sentenced to 431 years to life imprisonment, whereas Nancy received 36 years to life.
Due to the mishandling of the police work in Dugard’s case, the State of California awarded Dugard with a $20 million settlement.
7. Carlina White – 23 Years, Solved Her Own Kidnapping
Carlina White was the first ever case of an infant being abducted from a New York Hospital. She is also known as having the unique distinction of being the person who solved her own kidnapping case. White was only 19 days old when she was kidnapped by an unknown woman, who was later identified as Ann Pettway. Pettway identified herself as a nurse and admitted she stole the baby in the middle of the night in 1987.
Pettway raised White under the name Nejdra Nance and in 2005 Nance put the pieces together and started to realize Pettway was not her biological mother; partially due to her inability to produce a birth certificate. Pettway eventually confessed to Nance saying that she was abandoned by a drug addict, but Nance recognized infant photos of herself (that also bared a resemblance) on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
DNA profiling was done that eventually confirmed that she was, in fact, the missing infant. Pettway pleaded guilty to a federal kidnapping charge, that came with it 12 years in prison.
6. Elizabeth Fritzl – Imprisoned 24 Years By Father, Gave Birth 7 Times
There are a lot of absolutely horrific things that you’ve read about on this list, but only one of these cases includes elements of incest, and sadly, that’s Elizabeth Fritzl’s. On August 29th, 1984 Fritzl was lured to her basement when she was 18 years old by her father, Josef, who said he needed help putting a door in place.
What she didn’t know was that door was the last piece of the prison cell that Josef had constructed in his basement. Once it was set, Elizabeth was knocked out and thrown in the 380 square foot room, where she stayed for 24 years. To illustrate how elaborate the arrangement was, you had to go through 8 locked doors to get to where Elizabeth was being held.
She was beaten and raped by her father, and forced to watch adult videos and act them out. Elizabeth later admitted that Josef had started sexually abusing her when she was only 11 years old.
Early into her imprisonment, Josef forced her to write a letter saying she had run away to a cult, a story that somehow both police AND JOSEF’S WIFE believed.
That’s not even where things get bad. Elizabeth gave birth 7 times. One was a miscarriage and another child died 3 days after birth and was cremated in the house. 3 of those children were taken from Elizabeth at various ages (9 months, 10 months, and 15 months) and lived upstairs with Josef and his wife. They were explained as being children that Elizabeth had left asking them to look after the children.
The other three: Kerstin born in 1989, Stefan born in 1990 and Felix born in 2002 all did not leave the cellar until 2008.
They were rescued after Kerstin started suffering from kidney failure and was required to be rushed to the hospital by local ambulance. Josef then arrived saying he had somehow found a note written by Kerstin’s mother. You can understand why this was suspicious, and after further investigation (including suspicion that it was a made-up cult), an inquiry was put out for the mother of Kerstin to come forward.
Shockingly, Josef conceded and brought Elisabeth to the hospital after a week of her pleading. It was there that she was able to confess to police but only doing so after being promised she wouldn’t ever have to see her father again.
On March 19th, 2009, Josef received a sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 15 years. You can understand why everyone involved required extensive amounts of therapy to help recover from this ordeal.
5. 1976 Chowchilla Kidnapping – 26 Children + 1 Bus Driver Kidnapped For Ransom
On July 15th, 1976, a bus of twenty-six children and their bus driver was kidnapped in Chowchilla, California. The robbers, Richard Shoenfeld, James Schoenfeld and Frederick Woods had aspirations of calling the police and demanding a ransom be filled for the return of the children safely (yeah, because ransoms totally work).
To make things more complicated for the bad guys, the police lines were so busy with worried parents calling that they weren’t even able to get their phone call through. The kids and driver were rescued after they were left alone and realized that if they stacked the mattresses they had been given, they would be able to reach the top of the truck which had been poorly sealed with a metal plate. They were all able to leave safely and in good condition.
The three men were all sentenced to life in prison, but Richard was paroled in 2012 and James in 2015. Woods has since failed 2 potential parole hearings and will be in jail until at least 2018.
4. Sabine Dardenne and Laetitia Delhez – Held Captive For 80 Days and 6 Days, Respectively
Sabine Dardenne was kidnapped at the age of 12 on May 28th, 1996 by Marc Dutroux. Dutroux is an absolutely terrible human being, who had previously killed two 8-year-old girls that he was torturing. The two girls died of starvation after he was imprisoned for car theft. Outside of that, Dutroux also killed 17-year-old An Marchel and 19-year-old Eefje Lambrecks, both of whom were buried alive. Dutroux also drugged and then buried alive his accomplice Bernard Weinstein.
Dardenne was held for 80 days, whereas Delhez (who was also 12) was only held for 6. Dutroux came under suspicion for the disappearance of Delhez who he said he kidnapped because Dardenne said she wanted a girl friend. Unfortunately for him, when he abducted Delhez, people had spotted his car and written down his registration number which led the police to Dutroux.
Dutrox received life imprisonment and is currently serving his time in solitary confinement.
3. Shawn Hornbeck and William Ownby – Imprisoned 4 Years, Forced To Make Adult Videos
Shawn Hornbeck was kidnapped when he was 11 years old on October 6th, 2002. He was riding his bike at the time, when a man later identified as Michael J. Devlin, kidnapped and held him hostage for over 4 years.
Hornbeck was sexually and physically assaulted throughout his duration. He was rescued after police were searching for William Ownby, another local boy who had also gone missing 4 days earlier and discovered both boys in Devlin’s house.
Devlin was sentenced to three life sentences. As well as this, Devlin was charged with an extra 170 years for making child pornography with one of the boys.
While he survived the attack, an inmate by the name of Troy Fenton attacked and tried to kill Devlin with an ice pick that he had fashioned out of the metal bars from his typewriter.
2. Steven Stayner and Timmy White – 7 Years, 5 Days, Assaulted By Husband And Wife
On December 4th, 1972, when Steven Stayner 7 years old he was abducted by Kenneth Parnell and held captive until he was 14 years old. Stayner was molested on his first night, and after 13 days, Parnell switched to more graphic sexual assault.
Parnell told Stanyer that his son’s name was Dennis Gregory Parnell, giving the impression to others that he was the boy’s father. Stanyer later admitted that there were several opportunities for him to escape, but the idea of freedom was foreign to him as he was also unaware of how to summon help.
Stanyer was also sexually assaulted by Parnell’s lover, Barbara Mathias, for 18 months.
Parnell decided to kidnap Timmy White on February 13th, 1980 after losing interest in Stanyer as he started to get older. White was only 6 years old when he was taken. Thankfully, White was not captured for long (relatively speaking) because on March 1st, 1980 the two boys were rescued.
Parnell had left them alone (as he often did), and Stanyer was motivated by the bond he had formed with White and was determined not to let the same abuse happen to him.
Parnell was not charged for the sexual abuse he inflicted, as most of the abuse had occurred outside of the jurisdiction of the Merced country prosecutor, or were outside of the statute of limitations. As a result, he was only sentenced to seven years in prison and was paroled after 5.
Parnell was also arrested in 2003 after he attempted to coerce his caregiver into buying him a 4-year-old boy for $500. Parnell’s arrest caused him to fall under California’s “three strikes” law and he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He died at the age of 76 while still incarcerated.
1. Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus – 11 Years, 10 Years, 9 Years Captive
The three women in this entry were all kidnapped by the same man, Ariel Castro. The first one kidnapped was Michelle Knight who was kidnapped on August 23rd, 2002 when she was 21 years old. Knight was scheduled to appear in court on the day of her disappearance to discuss custody over her son. As a result, the police officers thought that perhaps Knight had realized she was going to lose her case and had just decided to leave voluntarily.
Berry was taken on April 21st, 2003 the day before she turned 17. Berry was sexually assaulted by Castro and eventually gave birth to his daughter on December 25th, 2006.
Gina DeJesus was taken on April 2nd, 2004 when she was only 14 years old. DeJesus was friends with Castro’s daughter and when DeJesus was not dropped off at home, her family became worried. The police came under fire for not issuing an amber alert for DeJesus because nobody physically saw her get taken.
While all the women suffered physical and sexual abuse, Knight’s was perhaps the most pronounced. When talking to police, Knight said she was impregnated at least 5 times by Castro, but would miscarry after he beat her with dumbells, punching and slamming her against walls.
The women also talked of being locked in a dark room and chained to the wall.
They were freed on May 6th, 2013 after Castro left for one day, but forgot to lock the big inside door. While he had tested them in the past by pretending to leave a way out, and then beat them severely for trying to escape, in this instance Berry was able to get the attention of Castro’s neighbors by screaming for help. Shortly after, Berry was rescued and police quickly made their way to the house and rescued DeJesus and Knight.
Castro was arrested within days of the girls’ escape and charged with 937 counts of rape, kidnapping, and aggravated murder. He was sentenced to life in prison, plus 1,000 years without the chance of parole. After only being in jail for one month, Castro committed suicide.