Born in 1948, Barbara Jane Mackle was the daughter of Robert F. Mackle, a millionaire who, with his two brothers, owned the $65 million Deltona Corporation, one of the biggest home-building companies in America. The three were friends of Florida’s Democratic Senator George Smathers and President-elect Richard Nixon (search the related post). Eight days before Christmas in 1968, Barbara, a student at Emory University, Atlanta, was suffering from flu and was staying with her mother, Jane, at the Rodeway Inn in Decatur, Georgia.
Gary Steven Krist, 23, knocked at the door and told them that one of Barbara’s friends, Stewart Hunt Woodward, had been involved in a car crash. Inside the room he and his partner Ruth Eisemann-Schier, 26, who was disguised as a man, chloroformed, bound and gagged Jane, then pulled a gun on Barbara and forced her into their car. They drove for 32 km (20 mi) to a remote pine forest off South Berkeley Lake Road in Gwinnett County near Duluth where, at 8.30am, they buried their victim in a fibreglass-reinforced box.
It had an air pump, water, food and a battery-powered lamp. The pair demanded $500,000 but the first ransom drop failed. Police found the kidnappers’ abandoned blue Volvo containing documents identifying Krist and Eisemann-Schier, a collection of lacy panties and nude Polaroids of both kidnappers plus a picture of Barbara in the box holding a sign that read “Kidnapped”.
The second drop met with more success and on 20 December Krist rang the FBI to give a vague location for finding Barbara. More than 100 FBI agents began to search and found the girl unharmed, although dehydrated, stiff and 4.5 kg (101b) lighter after 83 hours underground. She was still wearing the red and white flannel nightie she had on when taken.
She told the FBI agents who found her, “You are the handsomest men I’ve ever seen.” Krist was quickly arrested on a boat he had hired with $480,000 of the ransom money, but Eisemann-Schier was at large for 79 days until 5 March 1969. She has the distinction of being the first woman on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list.
Rodeway Inn, Decatur, Georgia, USA
4am Tuesday 17 December 1968
Krist was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1969, but was released on parole on 14 May 1979. In March 2006 Krist and his stepson were arrested for drug smuggling. On 16 May 2006 he pleaded guilty and on 19 January 2007 he was sentenced to more than five years in jail.
Eisemann-Schier was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison, paroled after serving four and deported to her native Honduras. She married Salvatore Randazzo and has four children. Barbara Jane Mackle wrote a book about her ordeal, 83 Hours ‘Til Dawn, which has been made into two films (The Longest Night in 1972 and 83 Hours ‘Til Dawn in 1990). Now happily married to Stewart Hunt Woodward with two children, she lives in Vero Beach, Florida and refuses all requests to talk about the kidnapping.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The box that Barbara was left in was 91cm wide, 1m deep and 2m long (3 ft x 31/2 ft x 7 ft). The lid was fastened with fourteen screws. Krist had told Barbara the battery would last for 11 days. It failed after just three hours. Minus the cost of the boat he was arrested in, Krist made $761 from the crime.