The Boy Who Cried "Kidnap"

PinocchioI don't know what came over me, but the words just came out of my mouth.  It was 1966 and I was in the third grade at Fenton Elementary School in the Pittsburgh suburb of McKees Rocks when my friend Diane casually told our teacher, Mrs. Shaw, that someone had tried to lure one of her brothers into his car.  For whatever reason, perhaps because I noticed the attention Diane's statement generated, I blurted out that the same thing had happened to me - and suddenly the attention shifted.  My mother was called as were the police.  I provided a name (R. Ziegler) and a license plate number.  No one thought it peculiar that a 9-year-old child was savvy enough to notice a license plate number, or that a kidnapper would reveal his last name.


LiarliarIn response a stakeout was organized.  For a week a police officer sat in an unmarked car parked in a driveway on my block and I was instructed to walk home from school, alone, down the alley.  I realized this was spiraling out of control but I was too scared to admit the truth.  A few months later after it appeared my lie was dead and buried, we were in church when my mother saw the name Ziegler in the church bulletin and pointed it out to me.  Thankfully, that would be the last time my fabricated story was mentioned.


LiedetectorMy lie went undiscovered for about a dozen years.  But then, as a sophomore at Penn State, my American History class was given an assignment to write a personal history.  In mine I decided to come clean and reveal my fabricated kidnapping attempt.  Then four years later, after I had moved to New York, my parents were going through my things as they packed them away and they came across my project.  Of course, they were stunned at what they read.  (They also discovered literature that suggested I was gay.)


Although my troubling fabrication didn't become a Crucible-like witch hunt, my first-hand experience made me very skeptical of accusations made by a child.    

Patty Hearst Captured (September 18, 1975)

It was Friday afternoon, Sept. 18, 1975, and I was making my first visit home since beginning freshman year at Penn State when I heard the news of Patty Hearst's capture (or was it a rescue?).  The reason for coming home that weekend wasn't because I was homesick, but rather to pick up my high school yearbook (The Voyager) which had just been published (I was its editor).  I was riding in a friend's car when we heard about Hearst on the radio.




Thus ended a fascinating 19-month odyssey.  First came the kidnapping of the 19-year-old newspaper heiress/college student (Univ. of California at Berkeley) in February 1974, followed a number of months later by her participation in a bank heist in which she was caught on camera toting a machine gun.  Then later that spring the LA bungalow where she was supposedly staying at with her captors (from the Symbionese Liberation Army) was surrounded by police and burnt to the ground during a gun battle.  Patty went from being an innocent kidnap victim to landing on the FBI's Most Wanted list.  She even changed her name to Tania, and when booked in prison after her arrest listed her occupation as "urban guerilla".







Hearst will forever be part of the zeitgeist of the mid-70s.  (I still have the TIME Magazine cover saved, shown above, with her hard-bitten mug shot on it.)  A 1988 TV movie (starring Natasha Richardson) and the feature film Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst were made about the kidnapping.  Her defenders said she suffered from Stockholm syndrome, whereby she came to identify with her captors.  As high school students, for kicks we'd occasionally point and yell "Patty Hearst!" when we were in a crowd.  (Of course, "streaking" was a more common activity in those days.)






Years later, after serving nearly two years in prison and becoming an upstanding wife and mother, "Patricia" (as she preferred to be called) made cameo appearances in a number of films by off-beat director John Waters, including Cry Baby and Serial Mom (in which she is beaten to death by Kathleen Turner's demented title character for wearing white shoes after Labor Day.)




(You can read Patricia's account of her ordeal in the book Patty Hearst: Her Story.)    




Elizabeth Smart Escapes Her Captors (March 12, 2003)

Elizabeth_smart_as_childFrom March 11-13, 2003 I was attending a Nielsen research conference at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliff resort north of Phoenix.  After the second day's sessions had ended at 4:15 I went back to my suite to relax a bit before heading out to an evening rodeo when my friend Nina, who was also at the conference, called to tell me the shocking news that 15-year-old Elizabeth Smart had been rescued.  Elizabeth had been kidnapped nine months earlier from her home in a suburb of Salt Lake City and was rescued just eighteen miles away in Sandy, Utah.  After Nina's call I turned on CNN to watch its coverage of the news conference with police. 




Elizabeth_smart_wedding_peopleThis was an unexpectedly wonderful turn of events since kidnappings all too often end tragically, bringing to mind high-profile cases such as those of Adam Walsh, Polly Klaus and Etan Patz .  Nine years after her escape Elizabeth was married on February 18 in Hawaii.