Kidnapping is a grievous offense punishable by long prison terms. For the abductee and their relatives, it is usually a period of suspense, especially when the kidnappers demand some huge ransom with the threat of killing the victim. But what about instances when the kidnapped is also the kidnapper?
Fake abductions are more common than you think—and they seem to be on the rise. In recent years, people have faked their own kidnappings for a variety of reasons, sometimes bizarre. As you might expect, some even demanded a ransom from their relatives.
In July 2017, 26-year-old Jessica Nordquist, originally from Alaska, started a relationship with Mark Weeks, a coworker at Unruly, a London PR firm. The couple soon broke up, but Jessica was not leaving without a fight. She began accusing Weeks of rape.
Jessica sent text messages to Unruly clients and coworkers, telling them Weeks had raped her and gotten her pregnant. She also opened at least 20 Instagram accounts to accuse Weeks of rape. She added that the firm was aware of the rape but had swept it under the carpet. To prove she was truly pregnant, Jessica bought a baby bump on Amazon.
Jessica also sent series of aggressive text messages to Weeks and his close family members. Weeks became so afraid that he was scared of sleeping in his home. Nevertheless, Jessica was not getting the attention she wanted, so she kidnapped herself.
Posing as a kidnapper, Jessica sent pictures of herself, naked and tied up, to her friends, coworkers, and Weeks’s family. Police visited her home, where they found a note informing them of her kidnapping. The game was up two days later when they found her sleeping at a bed and breakfast in Scotland. She received a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence in 2018.
In May 2002, 45-year-old Dr. Mark Salerno was kidnapped in Phoenix, Arizona. He was found in the trunk of his car in Pennsylvania three days later. The kidnapping was a nationwide sensation until everyone discovered that he was never really abducted.
Salerno initially told police and FBI agents that some men stole his vehicle and forced him into a van. They drove him around before locking him inside his trunk. However, the hoax was revealed when somebody said they saw Salerno lock himself inside the trunk.
Salerno confessed that he staged the kidnapping over personal and financial issues. His wife and lawyers said he was suffering from depression. He claimed he initially attempted suicide at Hoover Dam before leaving for San Diego and finally Pennsylvania. He took some drugs before locking himself in the trunk, where he slept. He awoke and started banging on the trunk, asking to be let out.
Salerno received a three-year probation sentence. Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County at the time, also billed him about $8,000 for overtime incurred by officers working on his case. Six weeks later, he went missing again. He was found in Pittsburgh when a resident called police after watching him steal a towel from a clothesline. On October 12, 2018, he went missing once again.
On the night of January 29, 2013, Catherine Vallely and her friend, Peter Reihill, found an unkempt man on a remote road in Ireland as they drove home from a writing class. The man was 68-year-old Kevin McGeever, an international serial con artist who had been in the con game since he was 29.
After every successful con scheme, McGeever would often leave his expensive vehicles, properties, and even family behind and flee to another country, where he started another con scheme. In 1973, he abandoned his expensive Jaguar car at Dublin Airport and just disappeared. He also had an unfinished luxurious house.
In 1985, he abandoned his expensive vehicle at Sydney Airport and just disappeared. He also left behind a wife, two daughters, and a luxurious four-bedroom home. In 2000, he abandoned his vehicles and home in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and fled to Ireland as the FBI closed in on him over an $8 million fraud. He had conned several investors into buying some nonexistent properties in Dubai.
At another time, he conned several investors out of over €70 million. At the time he was found on January 29, 2013, McGeever claimed he was kidnapped and held in an underground container for eight months. He had a cell phone containing the number of a man called John McNevin. He claimed his abductors gave him the phone when they dumped him by the roadside.
McGeever told Reihill and Vallely to take him to McNevin, but they drove him to a police station instead. McGeever was taken to a hospital, where doctors noted his eyesight was very good for a person who claimed he had been held in total darkness for months. It was soon discovered that McGeever was a wanted serial con artist and had kidnapped himself as part of his elaborate con scheme.
Kevin Cooke, one of the businessmen he conned, was also kidnapped and taken to the supposedly kidnapped McGeever. The kidnappers told Cooke that they would only release McGeever if Cooke paid $10 million. It was clear that McGeever had conned the investors and was trying to make them think he was already so broke that he could not afford his own ransom.
On April 17, 2018, a St. Paul, Minnesota, snowplow driver found a man tied up and gagged with duct tape. The man, identified as 46-year-old Alejandro Mario Cortes, claimed he was kidnapped, forced into a vehicle, and dumped in the snowbank where he was found.
The FBI was called in, and they soon revealed the kidnapping as a poorly executed attempt to get US citizenship. Cortes was an illegal immigrant from Mexico and was trying to get a United States U Visa as a crime victim. He had been deported from the US in 2001 and 2010 but returned both times.
Cortes planned the elaborate kidnapping plot with an unnamed accomplice. They tried to make it seem like he was taken in Illinois and dumped in St. Paul. In truth, Cortes and the accomplice had traveled from Illinois to St. Paul. The accomplice drove him to the spot where he was found and tied him up at his request.
Maria Gonzalez, 32, used to run a trucking business in California—until she claimed she had been kidnapped, robbed, and sexually assaulted in 2018. Maria said she was driving down a road when she stopped for two dogs. Two masked men, one of whom was armed, entered her car and ordered her to drive.
She claimed she lost consciousness during the robbery and kidnapping and awoke to find an injury on her head. Her underwear felt wet, making her think she had been raped. She claimed the men stole $9,000 she had planned to use to pay the salaries of her workers.
Investigators became suspicious when they did not find any strange footprints around Maria’s car. The only footprints they found belonged to her. The alleged robbers also left other items in her purse intact and only took her money, which was suspicious. Maria also found it difficult to explain how she’d untied herself and escaped.
Investigators discovered that Maria faked her kidnapping and injured herself in the head to prove she was truly taken. She denied this but later confessed when police showed her CCTV footage of the supposed area where she was kidnapped. Maria admitted she faked her kidnapping because she did not have the $9,000 to pay her workers.
On February 27, 2018, 34-year-old Jonathon Michael Davis went missing. His relatives began receiving messages explaining that he had been kidnapped and that they needed to pay a ransom of $375 to secure his freedom. The kidnappers threatened to injure Davis if his family did not pay the ransom quickly. They even sent a picture of Davis’s broken finger with a promise to break the rest if they did not pay.
The Davis family reported the kidnapping to Oklahoma police on March 1. The police called in the FBI and US Marshals. The same night, Davis was tracked to a casino in Tulsa, where he was gambling.
Finding Davis was a walk in the park for the agents. Apparently, he had been sending the messages to his relatives with his own phone. All the agents had to do was track the phone. Davis’s finger was not broken, either. The picture he sent was downloaded from Google Images. In fact, the picture was one of the first to appear when agents searched for “broken finger.”
In October 2018 in Michigan, 40-year-old Jason Hillier’s parents received a phone call from a man informing them that their son had been kidnapped. The kidnapper asked Jason’s mother for $1,000 and Jason’s car. He also asked Jason’s father for $500.
Jason’s mother informed the police, who instructed her to pay the $1,000 ransom. She dropped it at the location requested by the kidnapper. However, police already had surveillance cameras in the area. They watched the kidnapper arrive in a vehicle, pick up the ransom, and leave. They showed the footage to Jason’s mother, who recognized the person as Jason.
Still posing as a kidnapper, Jason asked his mother for another $150 ransom. She paid. But this time, police swooped on Jason as he picked up the ransom money. They also arrested 20-year-old Michael Forester, who was involved in the plot. Investigations revealed that Jason staged the elaborate kidnapping to fund his drug addiction.
On October 4, 2013, Rogelio Andaverde of Texas was supposed to meet some friends for a night out. But he feared his wife, Maria Hernandez, wouldn’t allow him. So he decided to kidnap himself.
Rogelio was at home with Maria that night when two men broke into their home and took him away. Maria thought it was a real kidnapping and called the police. The police formed a search party involving several officers and helicopters. Rogelio wasn’t found.
Rogelio returned home two days later. He told his wife that the kidnappers had a change of heart and let him go. Police found the story fishy and investigated. They discovered the kidnapping was an elaborate ploy to allow him attend a party with friends.
In 2013 in Brooklyn, 36-year-old Rahmell Pettway left his home for two weeks without informing his girlfriend. When he returned, he knew he needed a good explanation for his sudden disappearance. He created one he thought was clever enough. He claimed he was kidnapped.
However, Pettway couldn’t just return home and say he was kidnapped. He needed to be found. He bound his hands, legs, and mouth with duct tape and hid on a street, where a passerby found him. He also roughed himself up a bit and complained of rib pains so that it would look like he had been beaten.
Police sealed the supposed crime scene and took Pettway to the hospital. Pettway told police he was kidnapped by two men on February 19 and that they held him for two weeks before dumping him where he was found.
Police soon realized the whole kidnapping story was a ruse. Pettway himself was not clever with the plot. The roll of duct tape he used to tie himself was right on his wrist. He confessed that he fabricated the abduction to explain his absence to his girlfriend.
On September 15, 2018, 33-year-old Hillary Black of Georgia called 911, claiming she had been robbed and kidnapped while using an ATM. She said a man with a box cutter approached her while she used the ATM and ordered her back into her vehicle. He forced her to drive to a shopping center, where he robbed her of $1,400 and attempted to rape her.
The Gwinnett County Police Department investigated the supposed crime. They quickly realized that the shopping center Black mentioned did not exist. If that wasn’t enough, surveillance footage of the ATM showed that nobody approached or followed her from the ATM. Her car was also free of any objects or bodily fluids that could have been used for DNA tests.
Black initially insisted she was truly kidnapped but later confessed after watching surveillance footage of herself using the ATM.