4 Tricks Victims Used to Fool Their Captors

Sometimes, you want to play things smart. Other times, you should just play dumb
4 Tricks Victims Used to Fool Their Captors

You’ve been kidnapped. Do you defeat your captors through force or through deception?

That was a trick question. Even if you want to use force, you’re going to need to use deception first, to even get into a position where the force can come into play. So, whatever your preferred strategy, you better learn some mind games. When you’re inevitably abducted, you might make the best of things by... 

Playing on Your Phone

Ten days into her captivity, Elizabeth Shoaf asked her kidnapper, Vinson Filyaw, for a phone. She wanted to play games on it, the 14-year-old told him. Filyaw believed this and passed a phone to her. This probably makes him sound like a complete idiot, but the two of them were currently in a bunker six-feet underground, so he reasonably didn’t expect the phone to get any sort of signal she could use to summon help. Plus, this was 2006, and cell networks were much weaker then than they are now. 

Motorola RAZR V3i

Peterwhy/Wiki Commons 

His phone probably looked like this and was capable of nothing.

Shoaf composed a text message and bided her time. When Filyaw went to sleep, she stretched her arm and the phone out through the bunker door. Escaping through that door was impossible, as Filyaw had chained her by the neck, but she did manage to send that text message out. Authorities now were able to trace that message’s origin to find her approximate location.

Filyaw realized police were closing in on the bunker when he saw the news on TV — from in the bunker, with Shoaf beside him. The kidnapped girl suggested he flee to avoid being arrested, and he figured this was good advice and took off. Now unchained, Shoaf crawled out of the bunker and found help.

The kidnapper didn’t avoid being arrested. He was eventually sentenced to prison, with a projected release date of 2353. That’s not a typo: He was sentenced to several centuries in prison, with no chance of parole. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t end up serving that entire length. Three years ago, he was found dead in his cell. 

Playing Dumb

After Vietnamese fishermen found U.S. naval officer Doug Hegdahl in 1967 and turned him over to the military, his interrogators soon dubbed him “The Incredibly Stupid One.” He just didn’t seem to understand anything. They wanted to stick some of their American prisoners-of-war into propaganda films, but Hegdahl seemed so stupid that filming him would be a bad idea. He then revealed himself to be illiterate, so his captors tried teaching him to write English so they could dictate statements to him, but he seemed unable to learn it. 

Doug Hegdahl

U.S. Information Agency

The glasses look smart, but that expression looks dumb.

In 1969, they released him to the American military. This release was a propaganda move, and they figured cutting him loose was no great loss, since he was so incredibly stupid. Back home, Hegdahl revealed that he’d memorized the names, capture dates and methods of capture of 256 POWs. As a memory aid, he’d mentally set this information to the tune of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” His stupidity had been an act, as had the country accent he’d put on while in captivity. It’s unclear why Vietnamese interrogators should associate the American Southern accent with stupidity, but they did, and the ruse worked.

His fellow prisoners knew about his plan. They had mostly agreed that if any lone prisoners should be offered release, they should refuse unless everyone was released, but they made an exception for Hegdahl, so he could relay information back home. Oh, and while he wandered the prison, Hegdahl managed to sabotage five trucks by pouring dirt in the gas tanks. If anyone caught him doing this, they probably would have just taken it as more evidence that he was incredibly stupid. 

Playing Dress-Up

Inmates at the Sobibór death camp in Poland had to work several jobs before their eventual deaths. For example, the camp had a blacksmith’s workshop and a tailor’s shed. One day in October of 1943, inmate Alexander Shubayev invited the SS deputy commandant, Johann Niemann, into the tailor’s shed, to try on a new suit. Then he killed Niemann, with an axe from the blacksmith’s. 

Elsewhere in the camp, inmates lured another officer, Josef Wölf, into a warehouse, saying they had a new coat for him from the belongings taken from incoming prisoners. They killed him, also with an axe. Next came the SS’s Siegfried Graetschus. They told him to come into the shoemaker’s barracks, so they could fit him with boots. There, they killed him, again with an axe. The operation continued, taking down even more officers, and when it was done, along with their axes, the inmates now had rifles. 

Sobibor camp

via Wiki Commons

Here’s a photo of the camp, which confusingly looks like a charming suburb.

The inmates now were able to stage a mass breakout, and 300 of them got out of Sobibór. This part wasn’t a complete success, as the surviving guards turned their guns on the fleeing prisoners, but note that every single one of the inmates was going to be imminently put to death anyway, so any escape was a victory. Thanks to the Sobibór Uprising, 58 inmates survived the war. Oh, and 11 men from the SS got axed to death, which is always a plus. 

Playing Checkers

New York Times reporter David Rohde needed several things to put together his escape after the Taliban kidnapped him in Afghanistan in 2008. For starters, he needed some way of getting over the 10-foot wall surrounding the compound. He got that in the form of a car tow rope, which he found chucked on a shelf with some tools. 

Next, he needed to scout the area to figure out what path to take once he got over that wall. For that, a fellow prisoner feigned an interest in cricket and asked to look at the grounds outside, and this gave them a good enough look at the lay of the land to figure out how to get to a Pakistani border scout outpost. Most fundamentally, however, he needed some way of getting rid of the guards who always watched him. He managed that using this:


Leonard Reese/Unsplash

It’s like chess, but for the incredibly stupid. 

He challenged the guards to repeated games of checkers. They played over and over, and when the guards said they were through, they were drowsy. They soon went to sleep, and Rohde was able to get over the wall, the sounds of his escape further muffled by a malfunctioning air conditioner. Games like checkers have this effect on most people. That’s why they’re called “bored games.”

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