Published August 10, 2004
MADISON, Wis. – Police are no longer seeking a suspect in the case of a formerly missing 20-year-old college student because evidence indicates the woman may have staged the alleged abduction herself.
"We don't think an abduction occurred at all," Madison police spokesman Larry Kamholz said.
After conducting several interviews with Audrey Seiler (search), police said they found inconsistencies in her story and signs the kidnapping was a hoax. The woman researched places to hide and bought a knife and other items to make her disappearance look like an abduction, police said Friday.
"We do not believe there is a suspect at large, period," Assistant Police Chief Noble Wray (search) said.
Seiler told police the man who abducted her used a knife, duct tape, rope, cold medicine and other items against her — some of which were found in the marsh area where Seiler was discovered, Wray said Friday.
But investigators obtained a videotape from weeks earlier showing Seiler buying the knife, duct tape, rope and cold medicine that she claimed her abductor used to restrain her.
Wray said the search of her computer also indicated someone had used it during the four days Seiler was missing, to search Web sites for information on Madison parks and the extended weather forecast, suggesting she had planned her disappearance, Wray said.
And at least two witnesses said they had seen her walking freely in the city during that time.
"It's the totality of the picture," Wray said.
Surveillance video showed Seiler, a University of Wisconsin-Madison (search) sophomore, walking out of her apartment about 2:30 a.m. Saturday wearing only sweats. She was found Wednesday in a marsh about two miles away, cold and dehydrated but otherwise unharmed.
Earlier Friday, Wray had disclosed that Seiler, who had also reported an unexplained attack in early February, had changed her story about what happened last Saturday. She said she was abducted by a knife-wielding man — but from somewhere else in the city, not from her apartment.
"Audrey stated that she just wanted to quote, unquote, be alone," Wray said.
While citing inconsistencies, Wray said it was too soon to say whether Seiler could face charges. Authorities were still trying to construct a timeline of her movements, he said
After she disappeared, dozens of volunteers traveled from Seiler's hometown of Rockford, Minn., to comb through marshes and woods around campus. Investigators also scoured phone records and apartments for clues, and after she was found, officers with guns drawn had surrounded the marshy area looking for a suspect.
Wray had acknowledged to reporters Thursday that "there may be inconsistencies" in the case. But he said then that the hunt was still on for a suspected abductor, and police issued a composite sketch based on Seiler's account.
Police said Seiler and her family were in an undisclosed location in Madison.
Kamholz, the police spokesman, said he spoke with Keith Seiler for about an hour Friday after Wray's announcement. He said Keith Seiler feels badly about what police and everybody else went through, but was happy to have his daughter back.
Rockford residents said after Friday's first news conference that they didn't know what to think.
"It's so open right now," said Ron Elsen, who watched Wray on television at his family-owned cafe. "Everybody's guessing at what happened. That's all there is to it, because they're not saying anything."
His wife, Sue Elsen, said she was glad Seiler was safe but that she was getting skeptical.
"Something's fishy, don't you think?" she asked.
The unexplained attack was the second reported by Seiler in two months.
On Feb. 1, she told police that someone struck her from behind and knocked her unconscious. She told police that she was then moved about a block from where she was attacked but was not sexually assaulted or robbed, authorities said.
Fox News' Jeff Goldblatt and The Associated Press contributed to this report.