I Was Kidnapped: 5 Things The Movies Don't Show You
"Kidnapping" is a pretty deceitful name. It can happen to anyone, not just kids, and it rarely involves a pleasant nap. Nicole Kauffman learned that the hard way after being abducted by a man she was trying to take to the hospital in early 2015. We spoke to Nicole and asked her to take us step-by-step through her entire horrifying ordeal. This is what she told us:
It Started Because She Tried To Do The Right Thing
The scariest thing imaginable is knowing that you did everything right and took every precaution possible, and yet still ended up in a world of shit. Case in point: this entire story. Back in 2015, Nicole was working at a gas station in Ottawa County, Ohio, where she first encountered Eric Thomas, who was standing by the counter, sweating and looking completely lost.
"Excuse me, I'm trying to find Felonyville. Can you direct me?"
"I immediately decided he was having a panic attack and wanted to help him," Nicole told us. "My co-worker was talking to the police department and trying to decide what to do with him. The 'guy' (I avoid using his name whenever possible) had initially asked for the police to take him to the hospital, changed his mind, asked for an ambulance, changed his mind, and then decided for and against the police several other times ... I was on my way out and I didn't want to leave my co-worker with him, so I got on the phone with the police and told them that I'd take him to the hospital, if it was OK with them."
The police said yes, and why wouldn't they? The hospital was less than a mile from the gas station, so it'd be a remarkably short trip. "They even thanked me for taking him to the emergency room," Nicole added.
"Pizza party's back on -- she's got this."
But because you can't spell "Good Samaritan" without S-M-A-R-T, before letting Thomas into her car, Nicole dialed a 9 on her cell, and kept her hand on it in case something went wrong. Something went wrong.
"When I started to turn left to go to the hospital, he loudly and forcefully said, 'NO, keep going.' I tried to calmly talk to him, but he just kept yelling, 'KEEP GOING.' I'm not a wimp, but something about his tone made me want to cooperate until I could decide what was going on." And like that, Nicole was kidnapped.
Her First Reaction Wasn't Fear, But Anger
As Nicole and Thomas got further away from the hospital, she discreetly finished dialing 911. "As soon as I hit send, the guy went absolutely ballistic, grabbed my hand holding the phone, and squeezed my wrist trying to get it out of my hand."
Nicole tried to fight Thomas, but during the struggle, the phone fell out of her hand and landed out of reach behind her. Now, our first response in that situation would be tactical urination: Try to soil yourself so as to make an unappealing target. But Nicole didn't get scared; she got mad.
No pissing. Just being pissed.
"I was so mad at myself -- so pissed off that I put myself in a situation where my three boys might not have a mother anymore," Nicole admits. "That made me the angriest ... I wasn't really afraid of the guy. I was pissed off that he took advantage of me trying to help him, but I deliberately tamped down any rage I was starting to feel because, frankly, that would have been stupid. I wasn't going to get free or live by telling the guy off. I had to find the right words or broach the right sympathetic conversation so that he would let me go."
It's Hard To Process The Idea That You Could Die Tonight
Thomas leaned toward Nicole, and with a half-smiling, half-serious look on his face, said, "You know you're gonna die tonight, right?" Well, if she hadn't thought so before, she certainly did then.
"In my mind," Nicole told us, "I was convinced that he had a gun, and I just knew he was going to shoot and kill me. All I could imagine was him shooting me in the stomach. I don't know why, but I kept imagining being shot in the stomach ... I tried to remember which organs were down there, and assumed that whatever he hit when he shot me would be a vital organ and I would bleed to death. I did briefly hope that I was fat enough that the bullet wouldn't penetrate anything major, but at such close range, that was improbable."
Yes, one day you might actually regret not eating the Double Deep-Fried Ranchilada at Taco Bell. It's a remote possibility, but it could happen. At one point, Nicole was so sure that Thomas was going to shoot her that she almost swerved off the road into a tree. She didn't have her seat belt on at the time, but she was seriously considering eating high-speed bark because she feared that what he was planning to do to her would be worse.
Pictured: the "positive" option.
"I still didn't know where he was taking me. I ran through every worst-case scenario in my head that I could think of. Rape? Rape then murder? Dump my body in the lake?" Chances are Nicole would've gotten the answer to that soon enough, if Thomas hadn't then made his biggest mistake of the night.
Once He Hit Her, She Knew She Had To Act
"The road was becoming curvier, and there was ice on the road," Nicole recalls, "and every time I slowed down, the guy would scream for me to speed up and remind me again that 'YOU WILL DIE TONIGHT!!!!!'" To be clear, so far Thomas only twisted Nicole's arm and sort of indicated that he might have a gun in his jacket, but nothing more serious than that. Up until then, he had only gotten by with a vague promise of violence. But then, out of nowhere, he started keeping promises.
"He suddenly grabbed his head and started rocking back and forth going 'Oh no! No, no, no!' Seconds later (I only glanced in his direction occasionally due to the road conditions) he slapped/punched me in the head as hard as he could. Everything went black and I saw stars. It felt like my eyelashes had been embedded in my eyeballs. As soon as he hit me, I was done. Done." It was as if Thomas's punch had literally slapped Nicole back to reality, and that's what might have saved her life.
One of the rare instances when getting face punched by a total asshole is a good thing.
"I knew then that it was either get out of the situation right now, or he would kill me. I had stopped worrying about a gun (not that I didn't know he didn't have one) ... The ONLY thing I thought of in those moments was that this was my only chance to get out alive, and fuck him for making me do this!"
Nicole slammed on the brakes and started swerving all over the road. Thomas was yelling for her to keep on driving, but Nicole kept repeating "I am," hoping that the guy was nutty enough to take her word for it. Fortunately, he was.
Besides, if you suspect somebody because they drive shitty in the snow, you're going to have to suspect everybody.
"It wasn't a gradual stop, and I don't remember if I was able to get the car in park before I jumped out. It happened so fast. I slammed my shoulder into the door and opened it as fast as I could. Everything was in slow motion. I can still see myself pushing myself through the door backwards, and slowly watching the stars and black sky above me appear."
But to remind Nicole that it's still a jerk, the Universe had her lose a shoe during her daring escape. One of the last things she remembers is karate-kicking the door shut with her pink-sock-clad foot.
To her credit, Ronda Rousey kicks people's heads clean off while wearing only slightly less.
"I don't remember feeling myself hit the pavement," Nicole continues. "I had major bruising on my left knee, thigh, and right shoulder from it. My hoodie and winter coat prevented me from getting any scrapes. My face had welts and swelling from being hit." Then Thomas jumped into the driver's seat and took off.
And that was it.
What? A little sudden for an ending? Tell that to Nicole ...
It Takes A While For You To Register What Really Happened
Police arrived soon after. Remember Nicole's discarded phone? Notice that we never said she hung it up. The cops had been listening to the abduction as it happened the whole time. After putting Nicole in one of the squad cars, officers radioed in that they had the "kidnap victim" with them. For some reason, those two words really shocked her.
"Is that what I was? A KIDNAP victim?? I couldn't comprehend it. It seemed so ... bad! It felt to me like an exaggeration," Nicole admits. "I wasn't a kidnap victim. I was an idiot who tried to do something nice for someone and had to learn my lesson the hard way. Kidnapping and abduction seemed so unbelievable. My inner voice preferred to think of it as 'An asshole took advantage of my generosity' -- something I am used to happening on a regular basis anyway," said the customer service worker.
"Yes, I need to see your ID. What're you gonna do, threaten to kill me? Been there, done that."
Even after the cops apprehended Thomas, Nicole still had trouble accepting that she'd been "kidnapped." It finally took a press conference for her to understand that this whole thing might be more serious than she thought. "When TV stations started knocking on my door for interviews, that was a good indicator that I wasn't exaggerating events in my head, and that they must be as bad as everyone was making it out to be."
The police weren't chasing him just to lecture him on being a better backseat driver, after all.
After a brief stint at a mental institution, Eric Thomas was allowed to plead to a simple assault and attempted robbery instead of an abduction, despite later tests showing that he was high on bath salts during the entire incident. Given his time already served, it means he should be a free man in about two years. But, hey, it wouldn't be a real thriller flick come to life if the story didn't end with a hint of a sequel.
Nicole Kauffman is a married mother of three who no longer offers rides to strangers. She's also a diehard Foo Fighters fan, and intends to meet Dave Grohl before she dies. Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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