5 Harrowing Real Life Kidnapping Stories Just Like Kimmy Schmidt’s

Photo: Eric Liebowitz / Netflix.
Trigger warning: This story contains sensitive content regarding sexual assault.
While Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt manages to be a comedy, the inspiration for the show — a young girl getting kidnapped and held hostage for years — is actually extremely dark. The closest the show comes to touching on the severity of Kimmy's past is during the second season when she tries therapy. The character has leftover reflexes and phobias due to her time in the bunker because, whether the show admits it or not, women being held hostage by men is never not fucking terrifying.
It's a fact that's hard to ignore while watching the series. Refinery29's own Kelsey Miller found the second season almost too hard to watch, because she recognized her own coping mechanisms from past trauma in the character on screen. To many, Kimmy's story is real.
It's also, unfortunately, not entirely unheard of. In the past 50 years or so, there have been several high-profile kidnapping cases involving women (or young girls) and male captors. One was even the direct inspiration for the Netflix show, but creator Tina Fey clearly borrowed elements from all of them. Obscure religious practices, sexual abuse, multiple victims, and eventually having to adapt back to the real world — the series softens the blow of these things with a catchy theme song and the enigma that is Titus Andromedon, but they come from real events
Ahead are five true stories of kidnapping, and eventual rescue, that have an eerie resemblance to Kimmy's story.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
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Elizabeth Smart

Elizabeth Smart, the confirmed inspiration for the hit Netflix series, was just 14 years old when she was kidnapped by Brian David Mitchell. Early in the morning on June 5, 2002, Mitchell — who had previously worked for the family doing odd jobs around the house — broke into the bedroom Smart shared with her 9-year-old sister and ushered her out with a knife. In fear of being kidnapped herself, Smart's sister pretended to be sleeping. She couldn't see the man, but she heard his voice.

After the kidnapping was reported, up to 2,000 volunteers a day went searching for Smart. However, as time went by, every lead they had was debunked. It wasn't until several months later, when Smart's younger sister figured out that she recognized the voice of the kidnapper, that they began making progress. She told her parents she thought it was Mitchell, and a sketch artist drew up his face and the image was blasted out. Mitchell's family recognized the photo and provided the family with details and contemporary pictures.

On March 12, 2003, Mitchell was finally spotted. He was seen traveling with two people in Sandy, Utah by a biker, who informed the police. The officers recognized Smart during questioning, and she was reunited with her family.
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Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Georgina "Gina" DeJesus

Between the years of 2002 and 2013, Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Georgina "Gina" DeJesus were kidnapped and held hostage by a man named Ariel Castro in Cleveland, Ohio. Castro offered the women rides, took them home, convinced them to come inside, and then trapped them. They were locked upstairs, given one meal a day, and sexually abused. This is one of the only recent high profile cases involving multiple women, bearing the most similarity to Kimmy and her fellow bunkermates.

On May 6, 2013, Berry saw neighbors through a screen in the window while Castro was away. She screamed and was eventually discovered by Charles Ramsey, who helped other neighbors kick a hole through the bottom of the storm door, allowing Berry to crawl through. Berry, and the daughter she had bore due to Castro's abuse, went to the house of a neighbor and called 911, leading to their rescue.
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Jaycee Dugard

In September of 1990, 11-year-old Jaycee Dugard was walking to catch the bus to school in Meyers (a rural town south of South Lake Tahoe, California) when she was approached by a car. The driver, Phillip Greg Garrido, rolled down the window, shot her with a stun gun, and drove away with her. Garrido's wife, Nancy, assisted in the abduction, and held Dugard down as they made the three hour drive to their home in Antioch, California.

Upon arrival, Dugard was stripped of her clothing and taken into a tiny, soundproofed shed in the Garrido's backyard. She was held captive and sexually abused for years, eventually becoming pregnant at just 13 years old, and then again three years later. Not unlike the Reverend in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Garrido believed in something called "God's Desire." The specifics aren't clear, but one notable belief was that he could control sound with his mind.

It wasn't until August 2009 that Dugard was found. Garrido went to a University of California, Berkeley police office with Dugard's two daughters in hopes of holding a special event on campus to spread his "God's Desire" philosophy. U.C. Berkeley special events manager Lisa Campbell noticed his erratic behavior, as well as the "sullen" nature of the two children, and told Garrido to come back the next day. In the meantime, she looked up his name and discovered that he was a registered sex offender and that he had multiple parole violations. When he came in for his appointment, she called the parole office, who ordered Garrido to come in the next day. He brought his wife, Dugard, and her daughters, but was separated from them so officers could obtain their identification.

While Dugard originally resisted their questioning, she finally identified herself after the parole officers called the Concord police. Garrido and his wife were placed under arrest, and Dugard was later reunited with her family.
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Colleen Stan

In may of 1977, 20-year-old Colleen Stan was hitchhiking from Eugene, Oregon back home to northern California. She was picked up by Cameron Hooker, who was driving with his wife, Janice, and their kid. Once they picked her up, they drove to an isolated area, put a knife to Stan's throat, and forced her into a wooden box.

Stan was kept in the box, which was designed to keep out light, sound, and fresh air, for 23 hours a day. In 1978, she was forced to sign a contract trapping her in sexual slavery for life. To prevent her trying to escape, the family told her that there was an all-knowing, powerful organization called "The Company" who would harm her family if she tried to leave. That's why, even with open doors and readily available telephones, she never actively sought help. She was even allowed to visit her family by herself in 1981, but let them believe she had joined a cult, because she felt that revealing her true situation would put them in harm's way.

It wasn't until Janice started having doubts about her husband that Stan finally had a chance to go free. In 1984, Janice told Stan that "The Company" wouldn't actually hurt her, which inspired Stan to finally leave. She called Stan from the bus station to tell him she was leaving, then caught the bus back home. It was actually Janice, three months later, who reported her husband to the police.
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Natascha Kampusch

On March 2, 1998, 10-year-old Natascha Kampusch from Vienna's Donaustadt district never came home from school. A 12-year-old witness had seen her get dragged into a white minibus, where she was eventually held captive for eight years.

During these years, Kampusch was kept in a small cellar underneath the home of her kidnapper, Wolfgang Přiklopil. For the first six months, she wasn't allowed to leave the chamber at all, and for years she couldn't leave at night. As time went on, she was gradually allowed to spend time upstairs and in the rest of the house to do chores. It was one of these chores — vacuuming, specifically — that allowed Kampusch to escape.

In August 2006, while Kampusch was vacuuming Přiklopil's car in the front garden, he got a phone call. Due to the noise, he stepped away to answer it. As he was having the conversation, Kampusch realized that she could leave the vacuum running and take off. She did exactly that. Přiklopil didn't notice that she ran through neighbors' gardens and across the street, eventually knocking on the window of a house belonging to an old woman. She told the woman who she was, and the woman called the police.

Once Přiklopil realized the police were after him, he died by suicide under a nearby suburban train.

If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.

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