Kidnapping of Colleen Stan
December 31, 1956 |
Eugene, Oregon, U.S.
|Known for||Kidnapping victim|
Colleen J. Stan (born December 31, 1956) is an American woman who was kidnapped and held as a sex slave by Cameron and Janice Hooker in their Red Bluff, California home for over seven years between 1977 and 1984. At the trial of her abductor, Stan's experience was described as unparalleled in FBI history.
Her case has received international publicity, and has been the subject of multiple books, films, and television series.
On May 19, 1977, Colleen Stan was hitchhiking from her home in Eugene, Oregon to a friend's home in northern California, where she was heading to attend a birthday party. Cameron Hooker (born November 5, 1953) kidnapped the then-20 year-old Stan after picking her up. Stan stated that she was an experienced hitchhiker and had allowed two rides to go past before accepting the ride with Hooker. She reportedly "felt confident climbing into the blue van", because Hooker's wife, Janice, and their baby were in the car. When they stopped at a gas station along the way, Stan went to use the restroom. "A voice told me to run and jump out a window and never look back," she recalled, but she calmed her fears and went back to the car. According to Stan and Janice Hooker's testimonies, once they were alone in an isolated area, Hooker pulled off the highway and put a knife to Stan's throat. She was subsequently locked in a wooden head box which was designed to prevent light, sound and fresh air from entering.
- See also: Hitchhiking § Safety
Before this, Cameron and Janice had reached an agreement that he could capture a slave to take Janice's place, because up until that time Cameron had been using Janice to act out sexual bondage. There was to be no penetrative sex with Stan according to the agreement, but this later changed. On the first night of her kidnapping, Stan was strung up by her hands and physically attacked by Cameron, being left blindfolded and suspended while the pair had sex below her.
After her kidnapping, Stan stated that she was tortured and kept locked in a box 23 hours a day until she was given a contract and forced to sign herself into slavery for life in January 1978. She further confessed that Cameron led her to believe that she was being watched by a large, powerful organization called "The Company" which would painfully torture her and harm her family if she tried to escape. Stan was subsequently referred to as "K" (not the name "Kay" but the letter) as a slave, forced to call Cameron "Master", and was not allowed to talk without permission. Cameron reportedly wanted Stan to be like the female character in the 1954 French erotic novel, Story of O and soon started raping her, which consisted of oral rape. Cameron did not want to have vaginal sex with Stan because he considered that to be a breach in his agreement with his wife. He penetrated her with implements vaginally and anally. Following this, the Hooker family moved to a mobile home in Red Bluff with Stan, where she was kept locked in wooden boxes under the couple's water bed. In 1978, Janice gave birth to a second child on the water bed above Stan.
Stan said that her faith in God and belief of escape helped her survive; her greatest fear was of "The Company", which Cameron "reinforced" daily. To avoid painful punishments, Stan tried to comply with his commandments, which later led to her being allowed to go out to jog, work in the yard, and care for the family's children in the mobile home. Even with an open door, neighbors and a telephone, she made no attempt to escape as—according to Stan—her fear of "The Company" kept her from seeking help. Additionally, Stan was allowed to visit her family by herself in 1981 but did not reveal her situation because of her fear and the possible consequences. Her family thought she was involved in a cult because of her homemade clothes, lack of money and absence of communications over the years; they did not want to pressure her fearing she would go away forever. The next day, Stan returned with Hooker as her boyfriend. Her family—explained by Stan at trial as being due to her happiness at visiting them—took a photograph of the pair happily smiling together.
According to Stan, Hooker feared he had given his slave too much freedom and took her back to his mobile home where he locked her in the wooden box under his water bed; she remained in the box 23 hours a day for the next three years. Bodily functions were dealt with by her using a bed pan which she hooked under herself with her feet. It was stated in court that Hookers' children were told "K" would go home at night; however, after they had gone to bed, he took her out of the box to feed and torture her. She was reportedly not allowed to make any noise and had to lie still 23 hours long at a time in the dark with little air to breathe. In summer, conditions were especially harsh on her as the temperatures would swelter to over 100 degrees in her box. To feed herself, she ate cold scraps of food.
Aftermath and consequences
Escape and trial
It wasn't until 1983 that Stan was reintroduced to the children and neighbors, with her being also allowed to get a job as a maid at a motel. Hooker wanted her to become his second wife, which was a turning point for Janice. Janice confessed that—starting with their first date—she had also been tortured, brainwashed and referred to as a whore over the years by Cameron. Janice further stated that she survived their relationship with denial and compartmentalization. By August 1984, she began struggling with herself, and also went to Stan in order to inform her that Hooker was not part of "The Company". However, she did maintain that the organization did exist. In a televised interview for Girl in The Box, Stan told the interviewer that she then went to a bus station and called Hooker to inform him that she was leaving him, and that he reacted by bursting into tears; Stan subsequently caught a bus home. In the months that followed, she did not contact the police but continued to call Hooker regularly; she explained this at the trial by saying that she wanted to give Hooker, at Janice's request, a chance to reform. Three months later, Janice reported her husband to the police. She informed the Red Bluff Police, Lt. Jerry D. Brown that Cameron had kidnapped, tortured, and murdered Marie Elizabeth Spannhake, who had disappeared in 1976. Authorities were unable to locate the remains of the woman. Due to the lack of physical proof, no murder charge was brought.
Chris Hatcher, a forensic psychologist and criminal profiler, testified for Cameron's prosecution at the start of the 1985 trial, and Janice testified against her husband in exchange for full immunity. In the end, her husband was sentenced to consecutive terms—for sexual assaults, kidnapping and for using a knife in the process—for a total of 104 years of imprisonment. Originally not eligible for parole until 2023, he had his hearing date moved up seven years to 2015 by California's Elderly Parole Program. On April 16, 2015, Hooker's request for parole was denied, with him being eligible for another hearing in 2022.
Once back home, Colleen studied for an accounting degree, married, and had a daughter. She also joined an organization to help abused women. Both she and Janice have changed their last names and continue to live in California, but with no communication.
The case and its core elements of an invisible conspiracy used to coerce the victim into servitude and long periods of confinement has formed the basis for several episodes of television crime series, including Criminal Minds (episode "The Company", season seven), Ghost Whisperer (episode "Ball & Chain", season four), and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (episode "Slaves", season one). It was also profiled in the 2008 episode "Kidnapped" of Investigation Discovery series Wicked Attraction. A 2012 episode of SyFy series Paranormal Witness, "The Apartment", told the story of the disappearance of Marie Spannhake, and includes a cameo mention of Stan's kidnapping. The case was documented in the book Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in the Box (1989) by prosecutor Christine McGuire and Carla Norton, and referenced in Kathy Reichs' publishing, Monday Mourning (2004).
In 1990, the Blake Babies released a song titled "Girl in a Box" from their album Sunburn.
In 1996, American rock band Elysian Fields released a song titled "Jack in the Box" for their debut studio album, Bleed Your Cedar, which was made available for purchase that same year. Its lyrical content delves on Stan's experience of being imprisoned by Cameron in the box under the bed he shared with his wife, and alludes to the power he had over her. The recording inspired the name for Richard Ramirez's Texas experimental noise group Black Leather Jesus. In 2012, a short opera piece composed by Patrik Jarlestam and Jonas Bernander was based on the kidnapping, and premiered in Stockholm, Sweden under the name of Den 4444:e dagen (The 4444th day). Additionally, the main plot of The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007) was based on this case. An updated version of Stan's story, Colleen Stan, The Simple Gifts of Life by Jim Green, was published in 2009. On September 10, 2016, a television movie based on the case titled Girl in the Box premiered on Lifetime Network; the movie was followed by a two-hour documentary called Colleen Stan: Girl in the Box.
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