Kept in Captivity: Kidnap Victim Lives to Tell

Jessyca Mullenberg survived months in captivity, and struggles with self-doubt.

September 1, 2009, 4:19 PM

Sept. 2, 2009— -- After being held captive for 18 years, Jaycee Dugard was found on the college campus of UC Berkeley last week, having endured the unimaginable. Her kidnapper, Phillip Garrido, 58, was on campus handing out religious material with his two young daughters, and something about the threesome made campus police suspicious.

"I just kind of got a weird, uneasy feeling. I was looking at the younger daughter, who was sitting across from me, and she was staring directly at me. It was almost as if she was looking into my soul," said Allison Jacobs, who spotted them on campus. "I kind of got the feeling that these kids were like robots. It was my intuition."

That hunch would soon uncover one of the darkest, most disturbing and twisted criminal cases in recent memory. The girls told police they were home schooled and they lived with their older sister in Antioch, Calif. But a simple background check revealed that their father was a convicted kidnapper and rapist and was now a registered sex offender.

But when the Berkeley police contacted Garrido's parole officer, who had visited his home numerous times, he was stunned to learn that Garrido had any children. Astonishment turned to horror when Garrido returned with his wife Nancy and a 29-year-old woman who said she was Jaycee Dugard, who police learned had been kidnapped 18 years ago.

On June 10, 1991, Dugard was snatched off the street while walking to a bus stop near her home in Lake Tahoe. In an instant, she was gone. For years, search parties and wanted posters would yield no sign of her. Neighbors in Antioch, Calif., thought something was odd about Phillip Garrido. But last week the extent of Garrido's apparent depravity came into full view.

To their horror, police say discovered that Garrido had not only kidnapped and held Dugard captive for 18 years, but had repeatedly raped her and that she was the mother of his two children. In a hidden backyard, the size of a tennis court, authorities found a squalid complex containing a soundproof tent, sheds, a cage and even a swing set.

Garrido and his wife Nancy were arrested and charged with more than two dozen crimes including kidnapping, imprisonment, and rape. They have pleaded not guilty.

During those 18 years, Garrido created an alternate identity for Dugard, renaming her "Alyssa." She even helped run his printing business, often working with customers.

As Dugard begins the long and difficult process of reuniting with her real family after nearly two decades, questions loom large: why didn't she reach out for help? Why didn't she try to escape?

Like other childhood abductions -- Elizabeth Smart, who was held for nine months after being snatched from her suburban Utah bedroom in 2002 at the age of 14; or Shawn Hornbeck, who was missing for four years -- the answer is complicated. Kidnap victim Jessyca Mullenberg knows all too well the nightmare Jaycee has lived.

Mullenberg, then 13 years old, was abducted by a man who had intricately woven himself into her life for several years and ultimately brought her childhood to an unnatural and abrupt end.

Mullenberg vanished while spending a weekend with her father in the town of Eau Claire, Wis.

"My ex-husband phoned me, and when I first heard him say the words, that she was missing, I screamed ... It's horrible. It is indescribable. You don't know where your child is. You don't know if they're being hurt. You don't know if they're cold or hungry, or being abused," said Mullenberg's mother, Monica Lukasavige.

Unlike most victims' parents, though, Mullenberg's parents knew who had taken their daughter. On the day she was abducted, Mullenberg had taken a trip with her creative writing "mentor," Steven Oliver, who had been a teacher's aide in Mullenberg's school.

The father of one of her classmates, Oliver ran a writing club for students and told Mullenberg that a publisher was interested in a short story she had written.

On Sept. 16, 1995, she agreed to go with Oliver in his car to see the publisher. Mullenberg dozed off in the car and when she awoke, both her feet and hands were bound.

"I woke up, and ... my hands were tied behind my back," Mullenberg said. "And then he had ropes, like, over my legs and then under the seats. He told me he was taking me and that there was nothing that I could do."

After an eight-hour drive to Kansas City, Mullenberg and Oliver boarded a plane to Houston, where Mullenberg spent the majority of her three-and-a-half month captivity in a motel room.

Oliver registered them at the motel as father and daughter. He invented a story of family deaths, and changed Mullenberg's appearance.

"He cut my hair, dyed my hair ... And he would tell hotel workers that the reason why I would look depressed or sad was because my mom and twin brother [were] just killed in a car accident."

In captivity, Mullenberg's survival skills were tested like never before. Mullenberg was told that her name was Cindy Johnson and that she was to call Oliver "Dad."

"He threatened me all the time with, 'I'm going to kill your parents' and 'I'm going to kill your siblings if you ever say anything,'" she said.

Oliver got a job as the motel's painter and kept Mullenberg in a small room in an abandoned wing of the motel. Each day began with a "perimeter check." Oliver would scour the parking lot for Midwestern license plates, and when he was satisfied that no threat seemed imminent, he locked Mullenberg in the room and went to work.

Mullenberg says that physical, sexual and mental abuse were common.

"Almost every day, I was either raped or I was hit. If for some reason I didn't complete a sexual act that he wanted done a certain way, I would spend the entire day chained or tied to the bed," she said.

The telephone in the room was disconnected, and the 13-year-old had no way to escape and no one close enough to hear her screams.

Within weeks, Oliver had convinced Mullenberg that her parents didn't want to get her back, and didn't love her.

Mullenberg says she became so completely disconnected from reality that she remembered very little from her past.

"After ... probably a month ... I couldn't tell you my name," she said. "It didn't pay not to go along with what he wanted [me] to do or to say, because, you know, instead of getting hit once, it would mean getting hit 20 times. Instead of ... the back of his hand, it would be a pot or a chair or a broom. It was not worth it [to resist]."

Lost in a nightmare, she was ultimately rescued by an everyday hero: the motel's restaurant manager, who wishes to remain anonymous.

A chance viewing of "America's Most Wanted" on television confirmed the manager's suspicions that Oliver was up to something. Immediately after recognizing Oliver's photo on the show, calls were placed to law enforcement and the FBI.

Authorities who raced to the hotel knew who Mullenberg was, but after months in captivity, Mullenberg did not. Only after authorities showed Mullenberg pictures from her past did she come back to reality.

Lukasavige remembers when she got the call from the FBI saying her daughter had been found. "It was just the most profound happiness I've ever felt in my life," she said.

Mullenberg had survived the ordeal, but another fight began once she got home -- a fight for acceptance and a fight against criticism and self-doubt.

She began to rebuild her life, going back to school, rekindling friendships and relationships, and dealing with an array of psychological and physical problems.

Lukasavige said, "She used to be [a] very upbeat and loving child to be around, and happy. And now, you can tell that she's depressed, and day-to-day life is hard for her."

Mullenberg, now 27, is telling her story -- a rare look at abduction from the victim's perspective -- in the hope that families and other victims will gain understanding.

"Trust [was] a big issue," she said. "[I knew] it was going to take awhile to open up and trust people again."

Mullenberg received a degree with honors from the University of Wisconsin and has plans to marry her longtime boyfriend, Curt Christianson.

Oliver is serving a 40-year sentence in federal prison.

She and Christianson would like to have their own family, but Mullenberg admits that while she may seem functional to the outside world, her wounds are still deep.

The abduction left her with a kind of life sentence.

"It's like I live two lives. That's how it's been since I was returned at 13," she said. "There's always the Mullenberg who was kidnapped part. And then there's the other one where, you know, I finished college and I'm working and I'm trying to go forward, but everything is being pushed back because of the kidnapping. So even though he's in jail, he still controls my life because I can't go forward."

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