Mary Stauffer’s life became a living nightmare on May 16, 1980.
The Minnesota teacher and missionary, then 36, was leaving a beauty salon with her 8-year-old daughter Beth when they were abducted at gunpoint and stuffed in the trunk of a car. The kidnapper turned out to be Stauffer’s former ninth-grade algebra student Ming Sen Shiue who, over the years, became increasingly obsessed with her.
Stauffer told Fox News that at first, she didn’t realize that Shiue, then 29, was a student in her high school math class 15 years prior.
“I had been away from the classroom for 15 years,” she explained. “We were within five days of returning to the Philippines [for a missionary trip] and so this was to be our last time to get our haircut before we left on our trip… When we came out of the beauty parlor and went to our car to unlock it, this man came up with a gun. No, I did not recognize him. I really didn’t know at that point who he was or what he wanted, other than he had a gun held at my daughter’s side, which was pretty scary for me.”
Beth said at first, she believed Shiue simply wanted to rob them of their car. However, he wanted much more.
“The reality was, there was no place for me to understand what was really happening at the time of the abduction,” she said. “I knew I was scared, and I know she was scared and I knew he was angry. That’s really what I knew at that moment.”
A&E reported Shiue demanded Stauffer drive his car to a remote location. He then bound mother and daughter, stuffing them into the trunk. Shiue began to drive, but then stopped the car to reprimand them for praying too loudly. Shiue then covered their mouths with duct tape and continued driving. Stauffer managed to partially free her daughter when Shiue stopped the car. He opened the trunk and threatened to kill them both.
"I really didn’t know at that point who he was or what he wanted, other than he had a gun held at my daughter’s side."
It was at that moment when two young boys noticed the commotion, the outlet revealed. One of them, 6-year-old Jason Wilkman, walked near the trunk and had a close look at Stauffer and Beth. After Wilkman said “Whoa,” Shiue threw him into the trunk and continued driving. Wilkman began sobbing as Stauffer attempted to console the frightened child. The next time Shiue stopped the car, he took Wilkman out. The boy was fatally struck on the head with a metal rod and his body was abandoned in the woods.
When Shiue arrived at his home, Stauffer and Beth were shackled and locked in a closet. Stauffer was raped daily. Shiue filmed the assaults, which at times lasted for hours, said the outlet. Stauffer and Beth were trapped in the house of horrors for 53 days. Shiue, who owned a local electronics store, kept his dark secret from everyone.
“When he would take her out for the rape sessions, he never had me know about any of that,” said Beth. “They kept it from me. I was locked away in a closet, so I was removed from it. Those times I was alone … there was fear and loneliness … He also threatened to kill us. ‘If you try to escape, I will kill you,’ or he threatened mom, ‘If you don’t do what I want, I’ll kill Beth,’ or tell me, ‘If you try to escape, I’ll kill your mother.’ The threat was there, but the reality is, killing us was not his end goal. His end goal was, he was obsessed with my mother and he wanted us to be with him.”
Stauffer said she credited her faith for keeping her alive while being held in captivity and tortured during those 53 days. She and Beth kept prayer vigils daily and shared stories from the Bible.
"His end goal was, he was obsessed with my mother and he wanted us to be with him."
“Without faith, it’s impossible to please God,” she said. “We knew we had to trust Him. Faith is more important than feeling and we felt so discouraged. We felt like our situation was hopeless, but we had to transfer that feeling to having faith that God was there with us, as He promised, and that He would not abandon us. It was no insurance policy that we would come out of there alive. We knew that, but we knew that He wouldn’t desert us. He would be with us no matter what happens. We had to believe that. We had to let that take precedence over feeling.”
Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported that 300 officers and volunteers initially began searching for the group. Stauffer’s husband, Irv, was initially a suspect until he took a lie detector test and passed.
The outlet continued that eventually, Shiue relaxed his strict house rules. Stauffer and Beth, still bound together, were allowed to shower by the 10th day. Shiue also provided Beth a black-and-white TV and brought her board games.
“As an 8-year-old child, it became evident to me really quickly, if we’re difficult, he gets more angry, and things are worse for us,” said Beth. “If we’re nice and if we’re pleasant, he becomes more pleasant. The truth of the matter is, the more kind we were to somebody who is being awful to us, the better our situation was.”
“I think maybe he hoped that we would become his family and forget about our other family and just be his,” said Stauffer.
But everything changed on July 7. Stauffer, still chained to her daughter, suddenly remembered how her father used to take hinge pins out of doors. She then broke open the door while Shiue was away at work.
“I knew the principle of how a door comes off, but I thought, ‘Not very likely that the hinge pin would just come undone, but I thought it’s an idea — maybe the Lord has given me this idea,” said Stauffer. “I held the door with one hand and I pulled the hinge pin with the other. It came out just like it was greased … it was a miracle. Beth, she panicked right away … She said, ‘Mama, don’t do it. Mommy, you know what he said. If he finds us escaping, he’s going to kill us. Just wait for the police.'"
“Then I did a nasty thing, perhaps in the eyes of an 8-year-old,” continued Stauffer. “I slapped her cheek because she... panicked. She was utterly panicked. I thought, ‘I have to get some reality into her.’ I sat her down in the chair and said, ‘Listen, Beth, if God has given us this way of escape, we have to take it. Sure, it’s dangerous. If Ming comes home and finds us escaping, he’s going to kill us. We know that, but if this is God’s way, he’s going to take care of us. But I can’t fight against you. We have to work together in this.'”
The pair were finally able to escape and call the police. People magazine reported Shiue was taken into custody and later found guilty of kidnapping and sentenced to 30 years behind bars. The outlet revealed Shiue was also sentenced to 40 years for Wilkman’s murder. The child's remains were found after Shiue’s capture, reported A&E. Shiue was denied parole in 2010.
Stauffer said Beth shared they were determined to move forward with their lives. And Stauffer insisted her faith only became stronger.
“I hope that people will put their trust in the Lord because you can’t go wrong,” said Stauffer. “… After tragedy, there is hope. Tragedy doesn’t need to define our lives. We can go on with life. God has been so good to us. We’ve been able to go on with our ministry, with our lives, with our family. We have had a wonderful life after kidnapping too.”
“It’s very easy to let the tragedies of our lives define us or become the thing that… creates who we are, but they don’t have to,” said Beth. “It can be a thing that happened in our life. It can be something that helps us grow. But good things can still happen after tragedy and [you] can still have a good life. He had … 53 days, where our lives were basically hell, where he had us and he had control, but he does not get to have the rest of our lives.”
"Abducted: The Mary Stauffer Story" premieres Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.