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Seven Years of Torture: A Survivor's Story
The kidnapping story of Colleen Stan. A woman survives eight years of torture while being confined to a box by her captor. Her story is airing as a Lifetime movie.
Cristina Mendonsa, wltx 7:41 PM. EST September 10, 2016
Before Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart, a hitchhiker in Red Bluff was kidnapped and held captive for almost a decade.
Colleen Stan lived in a box under her captor's bed, was the target of his sadistic fantasies and psychologically tortured by a contract she was forced to sign giving him all rights to her body. A movie based on her experiences will air on Lifetime this Saturday.
“Girl in the Box” stars Zelda Williams, the daughter of the late Robin Williams and Addison Timlin as Colleen Stan. I traveled to Red Bluff to talk to Stan about the movie and life after her captivity.
The case is decades old but the horror of what happened to Colleen Stan has not diminished.
In 1977, Colleen Stan was 20 years old. She was hitchhiking up I-5 and was picked up by a young couple, they had a baby with them. Colleen thought they looked safe.
"The husband looked dirty, like he had just gotten off work, the wife was holding their 7-month-old baby," Colleen remembered.
Once in the car, the couple drove into the country. Colleen was overpowered, handcuffed and a homemade box was put over her head. She was taken to this home in Red Bluff where she was led to the basement. Instruments of torture were waiting.
I first heard of Colleen Stan's story when I was a reporter at the ABC affiliate in Redding, I tried to find her, but she didn't want to be found and people didn't leave digital footprints like they do today. Flash forward 20 years after Jaycee Dugard was found, I started to look for Colleen again. I found a posting on an obscure website under a pseudonym. There was just enough detail to lead me to believe it might be her. I reached out, she reached back and after talking for about a week, she agreed to an interview. That was 2009.
"I have it set up to record," Colleen said when I asked her if she was going to watch the movie. "I may watch it that night, a couple of my friends have said they'll come over and watch it with me. One is my psychiatrist and he said he'd come over and watch it with me. I'll probably cry when I watch it. It looks pretty intense.
Addison Timlin plays Colleen and when Colleen visited the set, the young actress talked about the vulnerability she felt while shooting the torture scenes.
"She was in the basement, naked and blindfolded and gagged and handcuffed and they couldn't take these things off in between takes because it would take too much time," Colleen said. "So she had to stay like this for several hours."
Colleen lived the nightmare for 8 years, much of it in a box under Cameron Hooker's bed, something that most people find to be just as shocking as the torture and sexual abuse.
"In your mind, you can go anywhere and you can do anything," Colleen said."I've heard a lot of POWs say they've done the same thing I did. You just have to go someplace else in your mind. You have nice thoughts. I thought of my family, I went on picnics, I went on holidays with my family. I went to good and nice places."
Colleen says she isn't religious but she truly feels God spoke to her during those dark times in the basement.
"He was torturing me one night down in the basement and he slithered up next to me and he says, "Go ahead and scream, I'll cut your vocal chords. I've done it before," Colleen remembered. “Immediately, God spoke to me and said, "Do not scream. He is telling you the truth." I never screamed when he tortured me because I didn't want him to cut my vocal chords.”
Her captor's reference to "doing it before" is mentioned in the film and Colleen says references another young woman who went missing before her own capture. It is the only time she cries during our interview.
“I don't want to cry,” Colleen said. “I feel so bad for Marliz. I think because she was the first victim and things got totally out of control, he did the things he did to her and eventually he choked her to death.”
Marie Elizabeth Spannakee was never found, but Colleen saw her every day.
“He kept this picture of her in the space between the pedestal of the bed and the actual box that he kept me in under his waterbed, there was a space and he had my purse in there and my personal things in it,” Colleen recalled. “And then he had this picture of this woman that he had propped up against my purse so every time I got in and out of the box I saw this picture of this woman.”
Only after her escape did Colleen find out who the woman in the picture was.
Colleen says the movie will bring up difficult memories but she already has painful daily reminders of her time in captivity. Spinal injuries from the stretcher she endured and a shoulder injury from the hanging hooks, but her spirit is light and she's willing to face the darkness again, although dramatized now, if only to give others some hope.
“There is still life after such a horrific event and I hope that is what my story is to people,” Colleen said. “We all have some kind of trauma or tragedy in our lives at some point and I hope they can see that I made it through this. They can get through whatever is going on in their lives and things can be some kind of semblance of normal again.”
Colleen’s captors were Cameron and Janice Hooker. Cameron was sentenced to 104 years in prison. Janice Hooker was given immunity for her testimony against her husband. The movie on Lifetime this weekend is called, “Girl in the Box” and airs Saturday. Check your local listings for the time.
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