Author: The Great Courses Staff
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Police found Robert Brandel tied up in his own truck as part of an effort to defraud his friends, according to CBS News. The 60-year-old man claimed two members of his betting pool kidnapped and stole $16,000 from him, but police determined the story was false. What can we learn from kidnappings gone wrong?
Investigators learned that Brandel added several fictious names to a championship football squares pool, hoping he would win the $50,000 that he and his falsified friends covered. Now, he owes that same $50,000 to the other members of the pool and is charged with felony fraud and falsely reporting an incident, a misdemeanor. Since the Brandel case was determined to be fake, it’s easy to laugh off this thwarted “kidnapping.” But sometimes real abductions go wrong and police must improvise or develop new tactics to save lives. Let’s take a look at some high-profile examples from over the years.
Black September and Political Kidnappings
During the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany, in the early morning of September 5, the Palestinian terrorist group Black September killed two and abducted nine Israeli Olympic team members, which tragically ended with the deaths of the hostages, five of the terrorists, and a Munich policeman. The fact that the parties involved were Palestinians and Israelis sheds light on the motive, due to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict between the two nations. Motive–especially in other instances–plays an important factor in a kidnapping.
“Motive is often an important consideration in forensic cases, because the motive can lead investigators to likely suspects,” said Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray, Professor of Biology at the College of Mt. Saint Joseph. “By following the trail of evidence, whether at an abduction scene or by studying communications made between the hostage-takers and those they contact, police may be able to hone in on the criminals involved or the likely location where victims are being held.”
In this example, the Black September group demanded the release of 234 prisoners held in Israeli custody. The Israelis refused to negotiate in fear of further attacks. Germany found itself in a precarious position negotiating the safety of the all-Jewish hostage group due to the atrocities of World War II, which, at the time, were less than 30 years past.
Thirteen hours after the hostages were taken, Black September demanded to be flown to Cairo, Egypt, on a fully staffed airplane. German officials laid a trap for them by setting up an unmanned airplane as bait to lure the terrorists out onto the open airstrip and into the crosshairs of German snipers. Black September caught onto the plan when they realized the only crew aboard the plane were pilots. They retreated from the plane, the snipers opened fire, Black September killed all of their hostages and the terrorists were either killed or captured. To this day, the incident remains a black spot on law enforcement, hostage negotiations, and international relations.
Money, Fraud, and Other Kidnapping Motives
Non-political motives remind us more of the Brandel case. Just a year after the so-called “Munich Massacre,” John Paul Getty, III was kidnapped in Rome by the Italian mafia, who demanded over $3 million for his safe release. His grandfather and namesake John Paul Getty, Sr., one of the richest and thriftiest men in the world, refused to make any ransom payment for over four months. He claimed that it would set the precedent for kidnappers to abduct his other grandchildren for money. Eventually after his grandson’s ear was mailed to local police, he loaned a reduced payment of $2.2 million to his son, John Paul Getty, Jr., under the conditions of 4% interest. Why $2.2 million? “True to his frugality, that’s the maximum amount his accountants said would be tax-deductible,” Dr. Murray said. The boy was found alive near a gas station in Calabria, Italy.
A 23-year-old woman who was unable to find a birth certificate in her own name unwittingly led to the arrest of her own mother in 2012. After growing concerns over her own upbringing, the unnamed woman contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and provided them with DNA samples. She eventually found out she was abducted from a New York hospital in her infancy and raised by her kidnapper, never knowing the woman wasn’t her real mother. The suspect later testified that suffering two miscarriages led her to take the baby girl and raise her as her own.
In at least two other cases in 2012, women were caught pretending to be the mothers of babies who weren’t theirs. One attempted to smuggle a baby out of a maternity ward in a tote bag in an effort to win her ex-husband back by convincing him that he had impregnated her. The other stole a baby from her neighbor’s house just before going to a courtroom to testify on the behalf of the her incarcerated boyfriend. She hoped that if she could convince the court that she and her boyfriend had a baby together, the judge would be more lenient in his sentencing.
Kidnapping motives can help lead to the suspects’ arrests or, more important, the safe emancipation of hostages. At the very least, motives drastically shorten the list for persons of interest in a kidnapping case. From more personally embarrassing cases like that of Robert Brandel to those of desperate would-be mothers and greedy mobsters, understanding the nature of a crime is a vital part of solving it.
Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray, Ph.D., contributed to this article.
Dr. Murray is a forensic anthropologist and also Professor of Biology at the College of Mount St. Joseph, where she teaches doctoral-level human gross anatomy and undergraduate-level anatomy and physiology, as well as forensic science.