August 28th, 2009

The return of the lost: Jaycee Lee Dugard

By now you have probably read the remarkable story of Jaycee Lee Dugard, a twenty-nine-year-old woman who was kidnapped eighteen years ago by a couple named Phillip and Nancy Garrido. Jaycee was eleven at the time, and has been held in captivity ever since.

Dugard is another in a line of children abducted by strangers at a young age, sexually abused and co-opted into a perverse “family” situation, and held in various degrees of captivity (Jaycee’s appears to have been profound), then discovered by chance (or, in rare instances, through escape). I have written of the phenomenon before in some depth, but I will write about it again because it is so ghastly, and touches on fears so deep within us.

It is often said that there is nothing more awful to a parent than having a child die. And although that is generally true, there is something about these child abductions—in which the fate of the child remains unknown for a long time—that has an especially intense awfulness.

On the one hand, the child might still be alive. Although that would ordinarily be a good thing, the parents of a kidnapped child face the reality that, if true, that would mean that their precious child might be also suffering horrifically at the hands of an unknown but sadistic and perverted assailant.

Or the child’s suffering might have been intense but relatively quick, ending in brutal murder and burial somewhere in an unknown spot out in the wild world.

In any event, the parents of such a child face an extra measure of suffering at the hands of their own imaginations. And it doesn’t take an overactive one to imagine things that no parent should ever have to contemplate. Over the entire experience arches the element of the unknown; at any moment the child could be found relatively unharmed (although they are never truly unharmed) and returned to the family fold. As the case of Jaycee Dugard proves, even the passage of eighteen years does not preclude this possibility.

In the meantime, though, it’s necessary to figure out a way to get through the day. I hope that none of us ever has to experience anything remotely like what this torment entails for such parents. Spouses often cannot help each other; the marital separation that Jaycee’s mother and her stepfather Carl Probyn experienced is completely typical. If there are other children in the family, they are never unscathed, either.

Of course, Jaycee’s discovery is good news. She’s alive, for starters. She seems to be well physically. Now her abductor and his cooperative wife will be tried and sentenced. These are all good things. But, as Probyn says, there’s a lot ahead for this family. In the following video, he mentions that everyone will need therapy. That’s an excellent guess, but therapy is hardly a cure-all for the sort of deeply destructive experience all of them have undergone.

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For Jaycee, her chance at a normal childhood and young adulthood was snatched away. Instead, she was raped and imprisoned, in addition to having borne her abductor/rapist’s children while she was still a child. They are now eleven and fifteen themselves, and have never been to school; the Garrido’s backyard tents are the only homes they have known. Now they will also learn (if they didn’t know already) that they were the product of a criminal kidnapping and subsequent rapes.

Jaycee’s parents will have to face hearing things about her captivity that will shock them beyond belief—but at least that’s better than the state of not knowing (and imagining the worst) for all those long and terrifying years. Now Jaycee’s stepfather Carl can finally throw off the extra added burden of having been under suspicion himself all this time; until her return, he was the last one to see Jaycee alive, and had actually witnessed her abduction by a man and a woman who threw her into a car and sped away.

Jaycee Dugard not only was abducted, raped, and held prisoner—she was (and probably still is to some degree) a prisoner of the mind as well. As Probyn said, she bonded to a certain extent with the Garridos. How could she not? In my previous post on the subject of kidnapped children who return, I reflected on the case of Steven Stayner:

I am reminded of another story, that of Steven Stayner, who was kidnapped in the early ’70s at the age of seven…by a pedophile, and kept for over seven years.

Stayner’s captor used sophisticated methods of “re-education” on him, convincing the boy that his parents had forgotten about him and didn’t want him back, sexually abusing him, and encouraging him to regard him as his new father. Stayner was only found when his kidnapper hauled in new prey, a young child for whom Stayner developed a feeling of compassionate protectiveness. He planned to guide the boy to a police station, but the child was fearful and wanted Stayner to go in with him. In doing so, Stayner himself was detained, and the entire story ended up spilling out.

But Stayner’s re-entry into his joyful family was fraught with psychological problems for all concerned, some of them detailed in an unusually fine made-for-TV film entitled, “I Know My First Name Is Steven” (the words Stayner voiced to the police when he was first being interrogated.) There was a book, as well.

The problems were not surprising considering the dreadful trauma and dislocation all had endured–the fact that they had lost a young child and yet a teenager was returned to them, one who’d seen and endured things no child should ever have to face.

Stayner married young and had two children, but tragically, was killed in a motorcycle accident when he was only twenty-four.

Another kidnap victim, Elizabeth Smart, appear to be doing well these days (if you can believe articles in People magazine). But Elizabeth was “only” in captivity for nine months.

Nine months! For Elizabeth and her parents, that time may have seemed an eternity, each minute a slow agony of anxiety and pain. Jaycee and her family endured eighteen years of that hard school.

Now comes another hard part: Jaycee’s re-entry into the world and the family that was torn apart. I wish them luck; they’ll need it.

[NOTE: As for the Garridos and their punishment, as a previous sex offender Garrido ought to get the maximum in California, whatever that is (I couldn't find the information).

In the video featuring Probyn, there is a part at the end that quotes Garrido as saying that this will end up being a "powerful, heartwarming story." He'd not talking about the family reunion, either---he's speaking of his own supposed redemption after the kidnapping/rape of the child. This sort of statement is hardly surprising; perpetrators such as Garrido are very good at coming up with self-serving stories of how the child "wanted it" and how they're all happy as clams now. My opinion is that, although in some sense Garrido is probably mentally ill, his mental problems should not stop him from getting the maximum sentence allowable by law. What he did was, quite simply, evil.

The law seems to have been remiss, however, in not noting the backyard arrangement by which the Garridos kept Dugard and the children confined. Garrido's parole officer apparently visited the home, but never investigated the rather odd setup there.

I also want to mention a terrible and grisly footnote to the Stayner case. His older brother Cary was convicted of the 1999 murder of four women in Yosemite. Although at one point Cary Stayner said he felt neglected by his parents after his brother's abduction, he also said that he had fantasized about murdering women while still a very young child, even before his brother's kidnapping. My best guess is that Cary Stayner's problems very much predated his brother's kidnapping, but that they may have been exacerbated by the family's travails.]

32 Responses to “The return of the lost: Jaycee Lee Dugard”

  1. Mel Williams Says:

    This is a rare instance when I would prefer the Chinese legal system – over and done with within a month.

  2. stumbley Says:

    Neo- I believe the perp’s last name is “Garrido”. It has been spelled that way in all the accounts I’ve read so far.

  3. huxley Says:

    Dugard, now 29, apparently feels guilty for bonding with her abductor through 18 years in captivity, Probyn said.

    I have spent some time researching cults. One of the better insights I ran across is that human beings have a great capacity — no doubt due to the long history of inter-tribal warfare and the taking of prisoners — to switch their allegiances and imprint a new, even bizarre, social framework in order to survive.

    Which isn’t to say it’s easy. It’s clear that Jaycee and her children have a long road ahead.

  4. Vieux Charles Says:

    I’d listened to an interview of a man who did business with Phillip Garrido. He’d even been to his house and met his “whole family”. He admitted in the interview that Garrido was a very, very odd fellow, to the point he appeared delusional, spoke with God, Angels, even had a weird contraption that he used to talk to God – a ‘box’ of sorts. It never occured to the man the situation was far more sinister.

  5. neo-neocon Says:

    stumbley: thanks. Careless error; I’ll fix it.

  6. Gray Says:


    Garrido has a long rap sheet dating to the 1970s.

    He was convicted of kidnapping a 25-year-old woman whom he snatched from a South Lake Tahoe parking lot, handcuffed, tied down and held in a mini-warehouse in Reno, according to a November 1976 story in the Reno Gazette-Journal.

    He also has a conviction for rape by force or fear stemming from the same incident, and was paroled from a Nevada state prison in 1988, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

    And we say, as we have said so many, many times: “Why was this guy not in prison?”

  7. Gray Says:

    It’s easy to get flipped out over the horror of this kinda thing when I think of my 11yo step kid and 2yo, but more kids are killed by lightning and run over by cars.

    The severity of an event skews our estimation of the probability of an event.

    I’ll take reasonable cautions and safeguards for the kids (especially with accidents, cars and lightning) but I’m not gonna start setting up a sniper position to overwatch of the bus stop!

    And as it’s comming out, the Sheriffs’ Dept and parole dept is apologizing for f’ing it all up.

    The police can’t keep you or your kids safe: take reasonable cautions and safeguards.

    But don’t worry, that will f your kids up too….

  8. Gray Says:

    And furthermore, I’m declaring the days of ‘just going along’ and ‘not fighting back’ officially over.

  9. Jamie Says:

    Our oldest, as a kindergartner, heard a nice McGruff-the-Crime-Dog presentation at school about child abuse. When the (trained) parent volunteer who was the McGruff puppeteer asked the kids what their parents did when they, the kids, misbehaved, our child made up an incredible story of abuse: his dad locked him in a box, sometimes dragged him across the floor, I told him to hide under his bed to escape Dad, we punished his 1-year-old sister by sticking her finger into an electrical socket…

    The volunteer gulped and took our boy aside to his teacher. Our lovely son repeated the details to the teacher. The teacher gulped and took him to the principal, who again heard our offspring’s tale. (He’s a really smart kid and extraordinarily verbal. His contextual use of the term “electrical socket” was a factor in the mandatory reporting that happened next.) The principal gulped and called Child Protective Services, whom he also treated to his story.

    First I knew of it was when I saw a woman walking up my front walk, just after I’d gotten the baby sister down for her nap. To intercept her before she could ring the bell and wake up the baby, I opened the door. “Hi, can I help you?”

    “Ma’am, there’s been an accusation of child abuse -” and my first thought was, uh-oh, which of my neighbors? – “against your husband.” Let me say that my husband is the gentlest of men; I’m the disciplinarian of the family. And we don’t even spank, much less any of the other stuff our son said we’d done.

    Anywho, this woman poked into every room in our house, the refrigerator, the back yard, the room where the baby was sleeping (pulling back the covers gently to look at her limbs)… There was an interesting moment when the empty beer bottles ranged on our dining room table came into view, but she seemed OK with my explanation that the batch of beer in the big glass carboy on the kitchen counter was ready to bottle. I gave her neighborhood references and my husband’s office number; I asked if I needed to get him home right away. She ALMOST winked and said, “No, no, I’m sure a phone interview will be fine. Frankly I have a large caseload and considerably higher priorities than this one, so it might take a little while before this case is cleared. But don’t worry.”

    It did indeed take a while – six weeks? Something like that. But eventually we were given the all-clear and were able to petition for the whole incident to be expunged.

    My point being, this woman was thorough in her home visit, even though it was clear fairly early on that the charge was an attention-getting device our too-smart son created.

    (How to discipline him for this incident was a problem… it wasn’t like we could spank him, after all! We made him spend the evening in his room as if he had been taken away from us, bursting in to hug and cry over him a few minutes before bedtime, declaring, “We just couldn’t stand being away from you any longer!” He’s 12 now and still remembers that day and night vividly; I hope we did right.)

  10. Romey Says:

    I have always believed that there is a special place in hell for people who abuse children. It is certainly wrong to violate anyone, but to damage innocence is beyond anything civilized people can tolerate.

  11. Nolanimrod Says:

    It seems the authorities did address a few of the minor problems. But what about the really, really tragic, cruel, and unforgivable crime? THE ZONING VIOLATION! That’s the sort of thing that, once done, ripples through the fabric of society for generations!

  12. Tom Says:

    I am thrilled, Neo, that you distinguish between mental illness and evil. I have for a time been objecting to the common epithet, “That’s so sick”, when applied to appalling, manifestly evil conduct, as this case is.

    Sickness calls on us, morally and ethically, to treat the afflicted. Evil does not. Evil cannot make such a claim on us, though, being evil, it will try that, trying to suck us in.

  13. John Says:

    Jamie that was a wonderful story. Your son sounds like a wonderful and bright young man. I’m glad things turned out well.

    I had a similar experience but it was at the hospital. I had to take one of the twins in because he hurt his arm and I was concerned it might be broken. He had told me and his mom that he slipped climbing down a steep hill. The Dr. asked him how he hurt his arm and he said “I slipped climbing down a hill.” After the x-rays came back and the Dr. had looked them over she asked again how he did it and he cut his eyes toward me and again said “I slipped climbing down a hill.” The Dr. picked up on the fact that he was trying to hide something and said “We will have to get a cast on the arm since it is broken.” She then asked me to come to her office while the nurses put the cast on. Once in her office she and the hospital social worker informed me that the arm was broken because of severe twisting and asked if I had done it or if my daughter had done it. Naturally that was a shock and the implications of what she was saying were frightening. I told her that I had not hurt the boy and my daughter had not hurt him either and if she would like to go back and we would get to the bottom of what had happened. When we went back in I told Jordan that we thought he may have been injured a little differently than the way he had described it to us. He then told the whole truth. The truth was he and his brother had been playing King of the hill and slinging each other around by their arm to throw them off the hill. The Dr. believed him and all was fine.

    Then the next week I was back with the other twin He had managed to step into a hole and cut his leg, which would require 23 stitches. When the Dr. came into the room and saw Jordan with a cast on his wrist and Jared with a bloody towel wrapped around his leg, her eyebrows went up and she looked at me and all I could do was smile and tell Jared to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The Dr. and I both got a good laugh.

  14. strcpy Says:

    “And furthermore, I’m declaring the days of ‘just going along’ and ‘not fighting back’ officially over.”

    This is, while bad, still arguably nothing on the whole scale of torture IMO. The main reason I will not say unarguably is the amount of time involved – three days of pure hell vs years of heck, can’t say which is worse.

    Some of you are aware of this case but I have to think of the local one :

    Really, look over that case and do some searches. As bad as the short article is the Wiki article doesn’t do it justice. Nor have the police let out the worst of what they found because it was too horrific for the public. Indeed it has even been withheld from the Jury for their mental health. Given what we know I can not imagine what is withheld.

    For instance the damage done to the boyfriend after being set on fire is so severe that they do not know what item or how they did it. While yes he was dead at the time and didn’t feel it the girlfriend was – the amount of rage and hate there is so severe that what did they do to her? After all we know she was raped near constant, blount trauma to the groin region enough to crush her pelvis (and still raped after that), and then stuffed in a garbage can to slowly suffocate. If that wasn’t traumatic enough to hide along with the sheer rage shown what happened that we have not been told (and, sadly, they allowed the parents to know everything).

    No matter what was threatened at the car jacking they were MUCH MUCH MUCH better off resisting to their deaths then and there. Anyone who doesn’t immediately kill you or simply rob you is most likely looking to do something bad to you. Scream, kick, bite, punch, stab, just do anything you can to not be taken. If they take you at gun point in car crab the wheel, bite, do anything. Take the bullet in the head, chest, gut, or whatever – more than likely anything done to you by the person on the other end will be WAY worse than what they can in those few moments up public visibility.

    The only way I will *ever* be taken is if they can render me unconscious and anyone I can advise to be that way I do. Give them your money, give them pretty much anything items they want (no item is worth your life) – do not let them bind you and do not let them take you into their custody. Once your ability to resist is removed you have no choice but to do what they want.

  15. Gray Says:

    Scream, kick, bite, punch, stab, just do anything you can to not be taken.

    In antiterrorism courses I’ve taken, the instructors stressed that in a hostage situation, you’re only opening is the confusion in the first few seconds before the hostage takers have control.

    If you can act unexpectedly, overcome the initial, understandable, shock; derail their ‘script’ and fight like hell; that’s your best chance.

    Now, how to explain that to a kid w/o freaking them out or just ‘tuning out’…..

    I goof around playing with kiddo after her martial arts class; show her how to injure (ow) and escape from an adult under the cover of ‘play’: “Now if you bit my arm here, I couldn’t hold on to you” kinda thing.

    And wear your seatbelt, go inside if you see lightning nearby and don’t get into a car with anyone you don’t know….

    What else can we do?

  16. Gray Says:

    ^”your”, not “you’re”.

    (I try to teach some grammar and spelling along with punching and biting….)

  17. Dan Smith Says:

    To save the late, broke state of California some money and produce swift justice in this case, I propose Garrido be housed in the general population of a maximum security prison while he awaits trial. The inmates know what to do with pedophiles. Yes, I know about the presumption of innocence, but let’s not kid ourselves.

  18. huxley Says:

    Scream, kick, bite, punch, stab, just do anything you can to not be taken.

    That’s the latest thinking and I’m sure it’s the best one can do — no guarantees on that either.

    I suspect most of us would need training to respond that way. I remember the one time I was held up at gunpoint how woozy and half-paralyzed I felt.

  19. huxley Says:

    Phyllis Chesler has a good, though bleak, piece on Jaycee’s case and others like it.

    There is a wide spectrum of these abuses. Predators as elaboratedly horrific as Garrido are rare, but the stuff that goes on in many normal-looking families could turn one’s hair.

  20. grackle Says:

    … but more kids are killed by lightning and run over by cars.

    Predators as elaborately horrific as Garrido are rare …

    When a sex offender is discovered for the first time it is often found that there are other victims.

    After they are released from incarceration the recidivism rate is high, probably representing only a percentage of subsequent offense ending in discovery and judicial action. Garrido had prior convictions and brushes with the law.

    Furthermore, sex offenders seem to be impervious to therapy.

    Sadly, known incidents and examples amenable to statistical incorporation probably represent a much smaller picture than the reality.

    Many times the families will NOT go to the Police after discovery in order to spare their children further anguish from public revelations and court proceedings.

    It is also known that children will likely keep these encounters to themselves. So sex offenders usually leave a trail of victims behind them throughout their lives.

    Getting away with it seems to be the rule instead of the exception.

    Just how society is to protect itself from these creatures is a conundrum. Many would say that possible remedies might be more debilitating than the illness.

  21. John Says:

    grackle Says: “After they are released from incarceration the recidivism rate is high, probably representing only a percentage of subsequent offense ending in discovery and judicial action.

    Getting away with it seems to be the rule instead of the exception. ”

    I’ve heard that for years and my first thought is: “If this is known and statistics bear witness, then it is imperative to protect society from future attacks. My policy would be ONE strike and you are out. Lock them up and never let them out. I have no sympathy or empathy for these people. It is also known that some (many?) of these people are victims themselves. Which opens the discussion to different considerations. Should knowing they were victims themselves minimize their sentences? Even if you know recidivism would be likely? Knowing that if they are charged for a crime there are most likely other crimes they have not been charged with?

    I am glad I don’t have to make those decisions. I think the pedophiles and their lawyers are glad of that as well.

    grackle Says: “Just how society is to protect itself from these creatures is a conundrum. Many would say that possible remedies might be more debilitating than the illness.”

    That is why it is necessary to keep these creatures separated from society.

    What would be the best way to deal with pedophiles?

  22. Richard Aubrey Says:

    As to not going along:
    A school, I believe in Texas, tried to start a no-go-along training session for its students in case of a Beslan/Columbine situation.
    Fight, throw things, all kinds of stuff.
    Community pressure forced them to stop it and return to teaching acquiescing.
    Same kind of crowd who didn’t want a statue of Danny Dietz near a school, I imagine.

  23. huxley Says:

    grackle: Agreed. Pedophiles are common. Unfortunately.

    Pedophiles who abduct and brainwash 11 year-old girls to live in backyard compounds for 18 years are not.

  24. huxley Says:

    The problem with pedophilia is that it is linked into one of the most basic and powerful human drives: sex.

    It isn’t solved by punishment or therapy. The most promising approaches, short of life imprisonment or the death penalty, seem to be reducing testosterone, i.e. castration or drugs. Those aren’t 100% either.

  25. dane Says:

    Looking back at the time this happened there wasn’t near the level of technology we have available today. Still this does not excuse the police for screwing this up so badly. Unfortunately in a lot of cases like this the police have a tendency to focus on family members first to the exclusion of anyone else – while the trail grows cold.

    But in this case the description of the car was spot on and it was parked on the property of a know sexual offender who had kidnapped someone before. There is just no excuse for the police not figuring this out. Like the “purloined letter” – the evidence was hidden in plain sight – but unlike the letter it wasn’t done by someone brilliant. I am happy the girl was finally found – saddened by what she went through.

  26. dane Says:

    One other thing. In reading what Garrido said in an interview about “turning his life around and that everyone will be totally surprised to learn the real truth” I was totally reminded of Charles Manson in his interviews before his trial. The tone is eerily the same.

  27. Dennis Says:

    Why is no one addressing the wife’s part in this? She let this go on for years and did nothing to help this child. For me she is more evil than her husband because she had it within her power to put an end to it.
    Am I missing something here?

  28. SAB Says:

    I read a sentimental quote somewhere that I agree with, it goes something like this: “When a woman decides to have a child, she must from that moment on live with the fact that her heart will forever roam outside her own body.”

  29. Amused Observer Says:

    Different people have different values and people also differ in their ability to do the hard things that are sometimes called for. There is a very real need for both society and future potential victims to be protected from people whose behavier is so far beyond the pale. After diligent due process has ran it’s course execution is almost a necessity. A hard and harsh view perhaps, but somethings in this world do not have pleasant solutions.

  30. grackle Says:

    Agreed. Pedophiles are common. Unfortunately. Pedophiles who abduct and brainwash 11 year-old girls to live in backyard compounds for 18 years are not.

    Probably not common, yes. But probably more common that the inadequate statistics indicate. I would bet, if there were any way to confirm it one way or another, that most instances of pedophilia never reach the statistics.

    Elizabeth Smart was somewhat lucky. She could be dead or still in the clutches of the creatures that abducted her. Jaycee was not as lucky. More probably have no luck at all. We must remember also that many pedophiles prefer to kill their abducted victims. The dead can’t testify in court, can’t point them out to the police, can’t personally tug the heartstrings of a jury. And murder sometimes seems to be part of the thrill, part of satisfying the monstrous appetite.

    My policy would be ONE strike and you are out. Lock them up and never let them out.

    I don’t favor of money being spent to house these monsters.

    After diligent due process has ran it’s course execution is almost a necessity.

    Yes, my thought too. It’s a lifelong compulsion and that fact is used by some to excuse them. They can’t HELP themselves, poor dears. For me it only demonstrates society’s right, nay, DUTY, to rid itself of these fiends. Vampires DO exist, they prey on innocence itself, suck out from their victims any chance for a normal life and frequently murder their prey.

    A fair system with many safeguards should be employed. Perhaps a panel of psychologists and psychiatrists? However, it should be swifter than death sentences are now dealt out. And there ARE gray areas. There are many variations of sex between adults and the underage – I don’t believe all of them should qualify for a death sentence.

  31. ABC Says:

    For those who have given opinions about recidivism etc. regarding sex offenders, here is some research on the topic. California Coalition on Sexual Offending: Myths and facts. Good short introduction.
    California Coalition on Sexual Offending. Extensive library on recidivism and other topics related to sex offenders

  32. grackle Says:

    I looked over the pdf entitled, “Myths and Facts About Sex Offenders.” It is interesting and informing about some subjects but in regards to the discussion here it seems to have limited value.

    The document admits that many(just how many is impossible to know for certain) sex offenses go unreported. It also informs us that …

    The low rate of reporting leads to the conclusion that the approximate 265,000 convicted sex offenders under the authority of corrections agencies in the United States … represent less than 10% of all sex offenders living in communities nationwide … Only a fraction of those who commit sexual assault
    are apprehended and convicted for their crimes.

    So only a “fraction” of sex offenses are reported and only a “fraction” of THOSE are ever convicted. Furthermore, the subject of the pdf is sex offenders in general. This would include adult-on-adult and minor-on-minor offenses.

    The discussion here is more about pedophilia, adult-on-child crime, and of those more about the more horrendous examples. To sum up: Interesting but not very valuable to the post and comment.

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