Mind Games: Dangerous Obsession Leads to Horrific Kidnapping

Crush turned sinister led former student to kidnap, imprison and abuse teacher.

June 18, 2010, 10:33 AM

June 21, 2010— -- It was May 1980, and the Stauffer family of Minneapolis, Minn., was making last-minute preparations for a four-year stint in the Philippines.

Mary, 36, a former high school math teacher, and her husband, Irv, were Baptist missionaries with two young children, Beth and Steve.

In the mind of the man who'd been stalking Mary Stauffer for years, it was the last chance to pounce. The man had been spying on the family intensively.

"He knew that Beth had a little makeup Barbie that was on the dresser top of her room," said Mary Stauffer. "He knew our son Steve... He knew that my parents had been to visit, he had followed me down the highway one time. In fact, he even knew where the spare key to our apartment was."

What he also knew was that Mary and Beth, 8, were going for last-minute haircuts in Roseville, just a few miles away from home.

"We saw a man walking toward us," Mary said. "And I looked up and thought he wanted to ask directions. But suddenly, he pulled out a gun and put it at Beth's side and said, 'I need a ride.'"

The stranger, an Asian man with thick glasses, appeared to be in his 30s. He ordered Mary to drive.

"I remember thinking, 'This isn't really happening to me,'" Mary said. "'What's going on? Is this a dream?' I was very scared.

The stranger ordered Mary to stop in a remote, wooded area. Without a word, he bound mother and daughter, pushed them toward the back of the car and locked them in the trunk.

"I said, 'Please don't put us in the trunk. We won't be able to breathe,'" said Mary.

Mary and Beth lay face down in the trunk, praying together. Suddenly, the car stopped and the trunk swung open. The stranger could hear the prayers. He angrily told them to stay quiet. He wrapped duct tape around their faces, gagging them. Then the trunk closed, and they were in darkness again.

Mary Stauffer tried to work to loosen her daughter's bonds. Before long the car stopped again. The man opened the trunk and saw that Beth had been partially freed. He began to threaten them.

That's when two little boys wandered over, curious about what this man was doing.

"Two little boys walk up toward the car, and one stays at the front of the car and one walks to the back trunk," said author Eileen Biernat, who chronicled the story in a book called "Stalking Mary." "And he looks in, and he sees this woman and child duct-taped together, and, and is alarmed. He says, 'Whoa.'"

But before he could finish his sentence, the man grabbed him and put him in the trunk, too.

Mother and daughter did not know what had happened, but they felt something moving at their feet.

"I could hear whimpering," Mary said. "There was a little movement. And I thought, 'This is a child.' ... We found out his name was Jason. He was 6 years old."

Beth Stauffer remembered the moment of 30 years ago.

"I think he said first, 'I'm supposed to visit my grandpa and grandma tomorrow,'" said Beth. "We just talked about being scared."

"Fear was, was at a very high level at that point," said Mary.

Police soon received several calls about a 6-year-old boy named Jason Wilkman seen being abducted by a dark-haired man. But authorities still had no idea that Mary Stauffer and her daughter Beth were missing.

"Then the car came to a stop," said Mary. "And the trunk lid was opened, and Jason was removed from the trunk, and then the trunk lid was closed. And then all was quiet."

Math Teacher: Mother and Daughter Imprisoned in Closet

Night was falling and Mary's husband, Irv -- who was at home with their son, Steve, 6 -- had called police.

"Steve and I were at home alone, wondering, what's happening?" said Irv Stauffer. "Where are Mary and Beth? Why haven't they come home yet?"

Just six miles away, Mary and Beth were being led into a small house. Still blindfolded, mother and daughter were shackled and chained together and then forced into a tiny bedroom closet. Inside the closet, they managed to remove their blindfolds. Mary got the feeling that the closet had been prepared for them.

"There was a scatter rug on the floor and two small throw pillows," said Mary. "He took a screwdriver and removed the doorknob from the inside of the door ... and we were locked into that closet." The closet was just 21 inches wide and four feet long.

Biernat described the scene.

"This was his moment of triumph," the author said. "He had found the person he wanted all these years, and he had her in his control."

In the darkness, Mary wondered what had become of the little boy, Jason, and what was going to happen to her and her daughter. Who was this man, and why did he appear to know who they were? Terrified about what was in store for them, they passed a fitful night.

Finally, the next afternoon, the abductor unlocked the closet door and ordered Mary out.

"He blindfolded me, brought me to the living room of his house, made me lie down on the floor with my hands tied above my head to the leg of some piece of furniture," said Mary. "And then he began what really seemed like an interview process."

He told Mary his name: Ming Shiue. He revealed that he had tried to capture her several times, once using a blowtorch to break into her home. He even tried to cut a hole in the floor right under her bed.

He then began quizzing Mary about her past as a math teacher, annoyed that she did not recognize him. After hours of interrogation, Ming, 29 at the time, finally made an incredible admission. Fifteen years ago, he had been one of Mary's ninth-grade algebra students. His schoolboy crush had gestated over the years -- and turned deeply sinister.

"He said that my grade to him in ninth-grade algebra was a blemish on his otherwise perfect record," Mary said. "And because of that grade, he said, he was denied a scholarship."

With no money for college, Ming said, he had been forced to go to Viet Nam, suffering as a P.O.W. He said it was all Mary's fault. But Ming's elaborate tale of a wasted life had one problem: It was all a lie.

Pat Brown, a nationally prominent criminal profiler, said it is typical for a sociopath to lie about his past. "It was just another way to blame her... to show her it's all her fault," Brown said. "So that he then has a right to do what he did to her."

In reality, Shiue was a gifted student and athlete. He was on the wrestling team, playing varsity football -- he even was voted most likely to succeed. But behind closed doors, he was a loner who was isolated from everyone, including his family.

Psychologist Paul Reitman spent many hours evaluating Ming.

"He [was] absolutely bankrupt in being able to forge out any type of meaningful heterosexual relationships," Reitman said. "And he want[ed] that desperately."

It turned out that for years, Ming had been keeping a list of his favorite actresses. He had been writing fantasies in which he raped them, and then they begged for his sexual favors.

But at least one of the women in Ming's fantasies was not an actress. Right in the middle of his list was the name Mary Stauffer, his compassionate and caring ninth-grade math teacher.

By the time Mary and Beth Stauffer had been missing for 48 hours, the hunt for the kidnapper had swelled to 300 officers and volunteers. But their searching was fruitless.

With Mary still bound and gagged in his living room, Ming boasted that he'd pulled off the perfect crime. Finally, he revealed a method to this madness. Mary recalled him telling her about his three-step plan.

"The first part was to find me, the second part was to get revenge, and, he said, the third part -- 'Well that sort of depends on you,'" Mary said. "And I said, 'What are you going to do for revenge?' And he began to re-, remove my slacks and my clothing, put my shirt up over my face and he said, 'I think you can guess.'"

May did not know it at the time, but Ming was videotaping the sessions.

"I think any, any women who, who has been raped, knows just the, the physical horror of having some person touch you that isn't your husband," Mary said. "I just had to turn my emotions off because it was just too horrible to think about."

Math Teacher: Mind Games

Over time, Mary said, the sexual attacks escalated --but she managed to keep them hidden from her daughter.

"Every night and it got worse and worse," Mary said. "And he said to me, 'You have to show me more affection.' And I said, 'I'm sorry, I cannot do that. I love my husband and I've promised to be true to him until death and what you ask I cannot do.'"

At which point Ming introduced a mind game.

"He said, 'Have you ever watched anybody die by suffocation?' I said no," said Mary. "He said, 'You're going to watch your daughter die by suffocation.' And he took a big, clear plastic bag, put it over Beth as she sat in the closet, tucked it in underneath her.

"And he said, 'Takes four to five minutes, you'll gradually breathe up all oxygen in the bag. The bag will contract around her face, she'll lose consciousness and die.'

"He said, 'If you're stupid enough to let your daughter die, I'm going to go and kill your husband and son as well.' And I said, 'Lord, I am going to lose my whole family.' And finally as I watched the bag get closer to her, I couldn't stand it anymore. I went to him, I gave him a peck on the cheek. He said, 'That's not enough.' I gave him a peck on the lips and that was enough to get the bag off Beth.

Mary was raped daily. She and her daughter were fed twice a day. It was not until day 10 that Ming allowed them to take a shower. Then, Mary said, he began to loosen up a little bit.

"We had some times of very normal conversation about the Bible, about God, about ordinary topics as well," she said.

Ming, who owned an electronics store, returned to his daily routine.

"He ran a business," said Biernat, the author. "He paid payroll. He went to the supermarket. He got his oil changed. ... Life went on as normal." Even his employees didn't have a clue.

T. Kenneth Lewis is a former employee of Ming's. "I would say he was a pretty decent boss," Lewis said. "Ming was very intelligent. As far as his electronics were concerned, he had a good business going."

"And yet," said Biernat, "there was this secret life going on."

On day 23, Ming took Mary and Beth on a bizarre road trip to a job fair in Chicago. Hidden inside a rented Winnebago, mother and daughter were restrained with cables and locks.

"He's a very tormented man, because he is delusional," said Reitman, the psychologist. "He goes from one aspect, of being delusional, being nice, 'Let's go on a family trip.' ... It just represents the moral chaos. ... His psychological life is hell."

Ming bought paper, crayons and board games for Beth. In the evenings he acted out a twisted family fantasy, playing a board game with Beth while Mary cooked dinner.

Meanwhile, the hunt for the missionary and her daughter had nearly come to a standstill.

"It was frustrating, mind-boggling, and we never did go back to when she was teaching algebra in high school," said FBI agent Gary Samuel. "We just ran out of viable things to do, people to talk to."

Back at home, Irv Stauffer described his anxiety and fear.

"I lost about one pound a day, from just, you know, the physical-emotional energy that was being burned up," he said.

Math Teacher: A Way Out

Then, day 53 arrived. It was a crushing moment for Mary. Ming told her he planned to buy a new camper for the three to live in. She realized that he would never let them go.

"I was praying, as I had prayed in the morning, as I had prayed every day," Mary said. "Lord, if there's a way to escape, let me see it."

Then, suddenly, Mary did see something. Her eye traveled to the hinge of the door.

"I was looking at how the, the hinge pin and the cable were connected," she said.

Mary realized that the chain connecting her to Beth could be lifted over the door.

"I grabbed the hinge pin and it pulled out like it was greased," Mary said. "The door tilted from the top, and I'm holding the hinge pin and I'm holding the door, realizing that this is our way to freedom."

With every second counting, Mary nervously dialed the sheriff's office.

"I said, and I tried to be calm, lady answered the phone and I said, 'This is Mary Stauffer, the Arden Hills kidnap victim. And I'd like someone to come and get us.'"

Mary and Beth walked out of the house and breathlessly waited in Ming's yard, behind a tree. Minutes later, two officers picked them up. Mother and daughter were still chained together, with cables and bicycle chains wrapped around their waists.

"They were chained together, but what a joy to see," said Irv Stauffer, crying. "We could run together, just throw our arms around each other and hold each other and, I could say how much I loved her. What a, what an exciting, happy day for us as a family."

Police arrested Ming at his office building.

Then the question arose. If Jason Wilkman, the 6-year-old boy from the trunk of the car, was not with the Stauffers, where was he?

From his jail cell, Ming insisted he had left Jason Wilkman in a field, alive. Then, in exchange for a lesser murder charge, he led authorities to where he said he let Jason run away.

Investigators found Jason's body in the woods. His skull had apparently been struck with a blunt object.

Ming was charged with the kidnapping of Mary and Beth Stauffer and the murder of Jason Wilkman. He faced two trials.

At the first of two trials, Mary went to court to face her abductor. She took the witness stand. Federal prosecutor Tom Berg said he'd never forget what happened next.

"I turned around, and here [Ming] had gotten out of his chair at the defense table, and right in front of the jury was coming up to get at Mrs. Stauffer," said Berg. "And instinct kind of took over, I grabbed him and blocked his path up there."

Ming was wrestled to the ground. Later he was convicted of kidnapping.

But Mary would not emerge unscathed from the second trial, for the murder of Jason Wilkman.

"Ming was really, really angry by the time he got to that second trial," said Brown, the criminal profiler. "This woman, Mary, she had the indecency to escape from him. Ruined his fantasies and get him caught."

Once again, Ming lunged for Mary as she testified. But this time, amazingly, no one could stop him. And this time he had a knife.

"He jumped up from the defense table, flew across the courtroom and held a knife to her throat," said Biernat, the author.

Incredibly, Ming had smuggled a knife into the courtroom.

"The knife must have been very sharp, because I didn't feel the pain," said Mary. "I felt the skin separate, and the blood began to flow. ... And the cut came from down in the center of my chin up to the side of my mouth, and then out into my cheek."

Mary required 62 stitches.

Ming was convicted of the murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

For three decades, Ming has been locked away, long forgotten by most. But recently, Ming's name has resurfaced in Minnesota. He's now eligible for parole. His lawyers say he's done his time.

Paul Reitman, the psychologist who has analyzed Ming, is skeptical.

"I'd be concerned about that," Reitman said. "We don't know that his mind -- he might feel that he spent 30 years in prison because she lied. We don't know that. And that's why he has to be scrutinized in intensive psychological treatment, as well as sex offender treatment."

Mary said she thought Ming is still dangerous.

"We'll never forget his words to us," Mary said. "He said, 'Even if I get caught and put in prison for 25 years, don't think I'm going to forget about you. When I get out, I'll go after you, and if you're dead, I'll go after your kids.'"

With that threat in mind, just last month Mary and Beth were back in court for a commitment trial to block Ming Shiue's release. Since Ming never received psychological treatment behind bars, county officials argue that he remains a sexual predator and should next be sent to a locked psychiatric facility. But Ming, who apologized in open court, argued through his lawyers that he was no longer a danger, that he was almost 60 years old, in poor health and had been a model prisoner.

A decision on Shiue's parole could come any day.

Watch the full story Tuesday on "Primetime: Mind Games" at 10 p.m. ET