It’s a parent’s worst nightmare to have their child snatched from them. Unfortunately, this nightmare can happen to just about anyone. Children can be taken from their own bedroom, on their way to school, or even under the watchful eye of a parent. Most of these types of stories make their way into the public eye, where they inspire people to pray for and help find the lost child. Sometimes their prayers are answered and other times, a parent’s worst nightmare comes full circle. Below is a list of ten of the most high-profile cases of kidnapping. These cases grabbed the attention of the media for years on end. Some of these kidnapping victims were found alive after years of being missing. Others were never found, and their parents were only left with more questions rather than the answers they deserved. The stories of these kidnapping victims continue to hold media attention because of the grief and questions surrounding the different cases.
10 Steven Stayner
Steven Stayner was abducted on December 4, 1972, by a man named Ervin Edward Murphy. Murphy was enlisted to help with the abduction of the boy by Kenneth Parnell, so that Parnell could raise the boy in a religious setting. As Stayner grew older, Parnell started to look for a younger boy to bring into his home. In 1980, Parnell kidnapped five-year-old Timothy James. Seeing the young boy’s distress, Stayner decided to escape with the boy and return him to his parents. The boys escaped on March 1, 1980 while Parnell was away at his security job. The two eventually made it to a police station where they were identified. Unfortunately, Stayner died just nine years later in a motorcycle accident.
9 Frank Sinatra Jr.
Frank Sinatra Jr. was kidnapped when he was a teenager, at the age of 19 on December 8, 1963, from his room at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. The three kidnappers, Barry Keenan, Johnny Irwin and Joe Amsler demanded $240,000 for the safe return of Sinatra. Just two days later, Sinatra was returned back home safely after his father paid the demanded ransom. Sinatra’s kidnappers were eventually captured and sentenced to prison for the kidnapping. After Sinatra was found alive, a rumor went around saying that Frank Sr. had planned the entire thing in order to boost his son’s singing career. However, this rumor was soon proved to be nothing more than gossip.
8 Jaycee Lee Dugard
Jaycee Lee Dugard was abducted while she was walking home from a school bus stop. Searches for the missing girl began immediately but volunteers and police came up empty handed. The young girl was missing for more than 18 years when on August 24, 2009, Phillip Craig Garrido visited UC Berkeley with two girls. The odd behavior of the girls led to an investigation that eventually led to the girls being brought into the parole office. On August 26, the young woman who was with Garrido was identified as Jaycee Lee Dugard. It turns out, Dugard was kept in a hidden area behind Garrido’s house for more than 18 years during which she bore two children. Her captors, Phillip and Nancy Garrido were eventually sentenced to 431 years imprisonment and 36 years to life.
7 Madeleine McCann
Madeleine McCann disappeared right under her parents’ noses in Praia da Luz, on May 3, 2007. The young girl was on vacation with her parents, younger twin siblings, and a group of family friends. While Madeleine’s parents were dining in a nearby restaurant, they left Madeleine and her two younger siblings in their apartment. The couple checked on their children every 30 minutes to make sure everything was okay, but at 22:00 they made the ghastly discovery that Madeleine was missing. After the Portuguese police misinterpreted some evidence about the case, Madeleine’s parents hired their own private detectives to help find Madeleine. During this time, they were subjected to intense public scrutiny concerning their daughter’s disappearance. In July 2008, the Portuguese Attorney General announced that they were closing Madeleine’s case.
6 Charles Lindbergh
Charles Lindbergh Jr. was the son of aviator Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. On March 1, 1932, the 20-month-old was taken from his home in East Amwell, New Jersey. Two months later, the body of the toddler was found in the neighboring town of the Lindbergh’s home. After the body of the young boy was found, an investigation that lasted more than two years was started. Eventually, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested, charged and found guilty of murder. The highly publicized crime helped pass the Federal Kidnapping Act or “Lindbergh Law,” which makes it a federal crime to transport a kidnapping victim across state lines.
5 Jennifer Wilbanks
Although this isn't really a case of kidnapping, the case is still interesting enough to make our list. Jennifer Wilbanks was set to marry John Mason when she started having second thoughts about getting married. But instead of calling off the wedding, Wilbanks decided that her best course of action would be to run away from home without telling anyone where she was going. To make matters worse, after being gone for four days, Wilbanks made a call to Mason, saying that she had been sexually assaulted by a Hispanic male and white woman. After being found alive and well, Wilbanks was eventually sentenced to 120 hours of community service and ordered to pay $2,250 in fines.
4 John Paul Getty III
John Paul Getty III was the eldest son of John Paul Getty Jr. and the grandson to oil tycoon, Jean Paul Getty. On July 20 1973, Getty was kidnapped in the Piazza Farnese in Rome. Later that day, a ransom note was received which demanded $17 million for the safe return of Getty. When the Getty family first received the ransom note, they thought it was a ploy of the young boy to get money from his grandfather. After a second ransom note arrived, Getty’s father began to get a little worried. He asked his own father for the money but he refused. In November of 1973, an envelope was delivered to the family with a lock of human hair, a part of Getty’s ear, and a note that said, “This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits.” Eventually a deal was negotiated and Getty was able to return back to his family after a $2.9 million ransom was paid.
3 Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her own bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah, on June 5, 2002 at the age of 14. A man named Brian David Mitchell took Smart in the early hours of the morning, while her younger sister was in the same room. After Smart’s parents realized she was gone, a massive search began to find the young girl. Amazingly, nine months after the kidnapping, Mitchell was recognized by people who had seen him on the show, America’s Most Wanted, when he was travelling with Smart and Wanda Ileen Barzee. Eventually, he was taken into custody, and his companion was identified as Elizabeth Smart. Soon after, she was reunited with her family.
2 Etan Patz
Etan Patz was six years old when he disappeared in Lower Manhattan, New York City. On Friday, May 25th 1979, Patz left his apartment to catch the school bus by himself for the very first time. Unfortunately, Patz never reached the bus stop. When he didn't come home by 3:30, his mother called the police and reported him missing. A search for the missing boy was soon started but no solid leads ever came from it. However, Patz’s disappearance did do some good. He sparked a movement that helped put new legislation in place to help track down missing children. He was also the first child ever to be pictured on a milk carton.
1 Patty Hearst
Patty Hearst is the granddaughter of publishing magnate, William Randolph Hearst. At the age of 19, a group called the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped Hearst from her apartment in Berkeley, California. In exchange for Hearst’s safe return, the group demanded that members of the SLA that were jailed, be released. When this tactic failed, the group demanded that the Hearst family distribute $70 worth of food to every needy Californian, an act that would cost $400 million. In response, Hearst’s father arranged to donate $6 million worth of food to the bay area. However, the SLA didn’t think the food’s quality was good enough and refused to return Hearst to her family. On April 3, 1974, Hearst announced that she had joined the SLA under the name Tania. A couple weeks later, she was photographed robbing a bank and a warrant was issued for her arrest. Hearst eventually went to trial for her crime where her defense team claimed that she has been brainwashed. On March 20, 1976, Hearst was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment. This sentence was later brought down to two years by President Jimmy Carter and in 2001, Hearst was granted a full pardon by President Bill Clinton.