Monday, March 23, 2009


by KJ Howe


What images do those two words conjure up in your mind? Bandits (not Banditas!) toting Uzis, large suitcases of money, a woman being dragged out of a car? I've been doing research on this topic and the results have been fascinating—and somewhat unexpected.

Did you know that:

Hundreds of businessmen a year are kidnapped with ransoms reaching $30 million dollars a year.

When it comes to the vulnerable super-rich and famous people, so much secrecy surrounds the business that experts can't get an estimate in the money paid out—the only info available is that one in three kidnappings goes unreported and ransoms of $5 million aren’t uncommon.

Some wealthy individuals implant homing devices in their bodies, although the pros say that the devices aren't helpful and they leave a telltale bruise.

The cost of protection against kidnapping has become a major business. Armored Mercedes, multi-million dollar kidnap ransom insurance, $4,000/day professional kidnap-negotiation services have become the price to pay for being a possible target.

In the movies, the kidnap/ransom agent draws out the call, engaging the kidnappers. In real life, the conversation is short, punchy, and never sweet.

In the United States, 95% of all kidnappers are caught. In places like Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Russian and the Philippines (hot spots for kidnappers), 99% of kidnappers are never convicted. Kidnapping is often accepted as yet another form of business for out-of-work police and soldiers. In some countries, the same gangs negotiate over and over again with the same kidnap negotiators and get to know one another's voices.

The survival rate of people with kidnap insurance is 85%. The policy often includes lost wages to a corporate victim, a family vacation and psychiatric help afterward—all of which are desperately needed. People who are kidnapped have an incredibly difficult time readjusting to real life—being held in captivity with no news is like being in a time capsule, the world goes on but yours doesn't. Also, when a member of your family gets kidnapped, it's like the whole family is kidnapped. The family is imprisoned in the home, waiting for the next call, for any news.

There are more fascinating facts and figures involved in the netherworld of kidnapping, but I need to save something for the novel I'm working please forgive me for holding out. LOL

I'd love to hear whether your thoughts on these questions or any others the blog might stir up:

Should ransoms be paid or is that playing into the kidnappers hands? (Some non-profit organizations can’t afford to pay or have a strict no-pay policy.)

Should kidnapping protection be left to private industry or should the government get involved?

What advice would you give to someone who has been kidnapped?

What is the best book/movie you’ve read/seen about kidnapping?

Thanks for dropping by the blog today! Hope I didn't scare anyone. :)


limecello said...


limecello said...

Oh gosh - what a topic, KJ! As for kidnapping... how sad. I think... the government should get involved to an extent. I mean, people should feel protected in their own homes/country. And special forces and units do know what they're doing.
I've seen a few stories etc on the subject - and kidnapping children is the worst. There was one girl who was with her kidnapper so long- and the way he treated her... he essentially brainwashed her. When they found her, she didn't believe who she really was. How sad, to go through all that, and lose your identity too. Her kidnapper basically broke her - and then stopped "locking her up" - so people blamed her for not escaping - so after she was reunited with her family, she had to deal with THAT on top of all the other trauma. Horrid.
Ack. This is a really difficult topic - and I think it'll be a really interesting subject for a book! I'm excited about your WIP.

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Limecello, I put him through his paces yesterday so he'll be delighted to be back with you! But at least now he knows the secret language of fans! He just gets a bit nervous when the fans involve FEATHERS!

Great post, KJ. Actually as a woman who has used kidnapping TWICE (well, actually kinda three times although it's not quite as major in Captive of Sin) in her books, I obviously think it's a great way to get a romance novel on the go. Which doesn't mean I approve of it in real life! ;-) But it's a wonderful way to get your hero and heroine under one roof and stuck together so that crucible effect can start working.

Donna MacMeans said...

KJ -

Your WIP sounds scary awesome. Not sure I could go to sleep after reading it. I remember reading an article in Vanity Fair about eight years ago concerning this very issue. I remember reading it before that Russell Crowe movie which dealt with trying to recover a kidnap victim. Can't remember the name of the movie.

What to do? Not sure I know - stay the heck out of the countries with those high percentages! I think the governments should be held responsible and I think corporations should not locate in countries with high kidnapping percentages even if the low labor/raw material costs make it profitable to do so. Some things come at too high a price.

Jane said...

I've been hearing a lot about kidnappings around the world and there's plenty of news about the pirates hijacking ships in Africa and holding them for ransom. A lot of companies feel they have to pay for the safe return of their employees. I can't imagine how it would feel if I knew someone who was being held for ransom. One of my favorite kidnapping movies is "Ransom" with Mel Gibson.

Helen said...

Well done limcello have fun with him

KJ great topic the thought of being kinapped scares me heaps not that I would be I don't have that kind of money, but for rich people this must be something that they would have to think about. I would call the police and would hope that the Government would help as well.

Jane I too loved Ransom and Anna who can forget Kylemore taking Verity in CTC love that book there have been a lot of books that I have read over the years where the heroine has been kidnapped. Max kidnaps Kate in The Dangerous Duke (for her safty of course) and don't you just love the HEA's in the books but in true life things are really sad.

Have Fun

Kim Howe said...

Limecello, congrats on the GR!!! Given how important he is in the Lair, maybe we should take out K&R insurance on him??? :)

Kim Howe said...

Stockhom Syndrome (identifying with your captor) and brainwashing are two major risks for people who are kidnapped. It is scary to think about losing your identity!

Kim Howe said...

Two movies I've seen that capture the diabolical nature of kidnapping are PROOF OF LIFE and TAKEN.

Kim Howe said...

Anna, I ROFL laughing about you being kidnapped in your novels...I think I'd volunteer for that kind of kidnapping! I have a feeling my book will a little more sinister...although I might give the bad guy great abs!

Kimber Chin said...

Great post!

Yep, I've heard the same facts (and I do know people who have been kidnapped, stuffed in cars, etc).
That's why most of my billionaire businessfolk have bodyguards (all Fortune 500 CEO's have them).

'Course that leads to some delicious bodyguard romances. Yum!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

LImecello, again? You are going to have to build a wing -ahaha -onto your house for that bird!

Hey KJ! Wow, I didn't realize the stats were that high! Amazing. I knew it went on far, far more than we hear in the media, but I didn't know it was that prevalent.

*note to self, don't travel to S. America*

I cannot imagine being kidnapped, and I know I'd never be patient enough for someone to try and ransom me. No one in my fam has THAT kind of money! Hahah! So, I'd be trying to figure a way out of it, or talking so much (like the Ransom of Red Chief) that they just wanted to get rid of me. Grins.

I think, if in the US an having access to good police, a ransom shouldn't be paid. As is obvious from the stats, the more you pay the more people will try kidnapping as a quick buck.

Then again,...if it were my kids...

Now, as Kimber said, there IS that body guard factor...SLURP!

Can't wait to hear more about the WIP!

Jeanne (Who's going back to her cave now, sigh.)

Christie Kelley said...

Wow, KJ, what an interesting topic. I had no idea of the statistics and that really makes me think I don't want to go to South America.

I think it's really easy to say don't pay the kidnappers, until it's your husband, son or daughter. I know I would do anything to get them back.

Susan Sey said...

KJ--what an awesome conversation starter! I just saw the movie Man On Fire, in which Denzel Washington plays an alcoholic ex-govt assassin hiring himself out as a body guard in Mexico. It's a great movie about the psychological costs of living that sort of life--carrying the weight of the darkness for an entire family so they don't have to think about it. They can live inside a bubble & feel safe, & this one man carries the entire burden of preserving that feeling of safety on his shoulders.

Really, really great movie. And it stars a younger Dakota Fanning, who does a fantastic job, too.

But it's Denzel who really makes the movie shine. He's just so...wounded. *big happy sigh*

Joanna D'Angelo said...

Hi KJ: What a fascinating and compelling topic to be researching - Laura Archer - a Canadian nurse with Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) was recently kidnapped then released in Darfur - and last fall Canadian (CBC) journalist Melissa Fung was kidnapped in Afghanistan and held for almost a month before being released. Her story ( as with most kidnapping stories) is remarkable - she was kidnapped for ransom but the authorities got her back without paying it. It's certainly a horrendous part of our modern day world whether the motive is money or a politics and it certainly speaks to the courage of people who work for not-for-profits and journalists and the armed forces risking their lives in the service of others.

Treethyme said...

What a scary post! My brother-in-law is in Guatemala right now -- I was concerned already, but now I'm wondering if the international corporation he works for has kidnap insurance. He's traveled to some dodgy places.

My husband and two co-workers were held at gunpoint in Italy two years ago -- by the police. Their cab was pulled over and surrounded by very nervous, heavily armed cops. They were held for several minutes before being released, with no explanation.

In this country, despite terrorist threats, we take our safety for granted. That was what horrified me most about 9/11 -- the feeling that we would never feel quite so safe again.

I lived in London at a time when there were a lot of IRA bombings. I was late to work once when a bomb was found on the train in front of mine. Another time I couldn't leave work because a bomb threat was called in to Iberian Airlines, down the street from my office, by a Basque separatist group.

Like I said, in this country we don't appreciate how safe we are.

Anna Sugden said...

Great topic KJ. Fascinating facts!

In romance novels, I think kidnapping is an interesting device - either by the hero or for the heroine to be rescued by the hero. And often these books are the ones that have great writing becuase of the intensity of emotions and the tension.

Naturally, I'm drawing a blank as to my favourites - except for Lisa Gardner's GONE. Her talk about that book was fascinating too - how to make it intersting when the heroine is essentially by herself for most of the book!

Without a Trace does a great job on this theme.

Kidnapping children is a tough topic, I agree limecello. There is usually a very dark twist to those kinds of stories. But, the ones I've read are awesome.

In the UK, we had the terrible stories of Terry Waite, John McCarthy and Brian Keenan - who, thankfully, survived the ordeal and were eventually released. Though, in none of them was there a HEA.

Anna Sugden said...

I meant to say that those last kidnappings were real.

terrio said...

This is a very interesting topic. I don't have a lot of answers to your questions, but I can definitely say the government should NOT get involved. From your facts, it's clear kidnapping in the US is taken seriously and rarely successful. We can't police the entire world. We've tried for years and I'm pretty sure proven it can't be done.

I think this is one of those realities you can't do much about, even knowing how wrong and crazy it is. There are places where evil men have power and likely always will. Corruption is real and viral and nearly impossible to eliminate. It sucks and I wish we had a perfect world where this stuff didn't happen, but if insurance and paid private protection is the only alternative, then that's how it has to be.

Virginia said...

Congrats limecello on grabbing that rooster again!

I do enjoy kidnapping books and movies! The Ransom movie with Mel Gipson was one of my favorites. I think the government should get involved to a certain extent. I am not sure paying the money is wise, because you are playing into the kidnappers hands, but who knows what the best thing to do is.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Wow, Kim, fascinating topic and information. Did you see Man On Fire with Denzel Washington? That was a fascinating look into the kidnapping scene in Central or South America...(never was sure which one). And of course he's such a great actor it's hard not to be fascinated by the movie.

Louisa Cornell said...

Ahem! I think we need to look carefully into Limecello's background as she seems to be a deft hand at rooster napping!

I don't think government's should pay ransom for kidnap victims, but when it comes to corporations I'm not sure. If you place your people in places where kidnapping is a day to day event then it is your responsibility to get them out. Then again if you know the risks how much does the company owe you? It is a really tough question.

I would think that if you are kidnapped it is in your best interest to cooperate and draw as little attention to yourself as possible. IF you have some skills and training and the opportunity arises to get out, then by all means get out.

There are so many young kidnap victims who are brainwashed and face public scrutiny when they are rescued and I think the public needs to remember the old adage "walk a mile in a man's moccasins before you question his choices."

And, it is all very easy to say what you would do when it is not your loved one blindfolded and staring into a camera holding up a newspaper.

I loved the movie Ransom with Mel Gibson. Haven't seen Man on Fire or Proof of Life yet, but sounds like I need to. I do remember a movie where Judge Reinhold and his wife kidnap Bette Midler and try to ransom her to her hubby - Danny DeVito. It is a comedy and the kidnapping ends up being the best thing that ever happens to Bette. Anyone remember that one? I'm drawing a blank on the title.

Of course CTC is my FAVORITE kidnapping romance novel!

Kim Howe said...

Great insights and comments! I believe even thinking about kidnapping elicits one of our deepest fears...losing control. Kidnapping victims are told when to eat, sleep, talk--they have no say in what happens to them. On top of that, there is also the fear of the unknown, wondering if they will ever get out of the situation. Kidnappings also tend to be long, drawn-out affairs which makes even the toughest people weary and hopeless.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Louisa, I remember that one too and I can't remember the title either. We duchesses are evidently losing our short term memory...then again, that movie was a while ago, so perhaps its the long term...


Louisa Cornell said...

Duchesse! LOL and a SNORK too! Ain't it the truth! I take comfort in the fact I can remember who was IN the movie, let a lone the title. Being a duchess is SO taxing!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Tis taxing indeed, dear Louisa. :> Of course, the thought of kidnapping's fairly taxing as well.

As a parent, you're always aware of that kind of thing and on the wary watch. It always hurts my heart to see those kind of things on the news, esp. the foreign journalists and aid workers.

jo robertson said...

Wow, K.J., that's a great topic. I love kidnapping and ransom stories. Get yours written girl, so we can read more on this topic.

What popped first into my mind was, who the heck could afford to pay that kind of ransom? Certainly not the working middle class family. Does that mean we're safe?

I was surprised with the 85% rate of survival. What's the rate if there's NO ransom insurance? Boy, this sounds like another big business.

My favorite kidnap and ransom movie was the famous one called RANSOM with Glen Ford. They did a remake with Mel Gibson.

Kate Carlisle said...

Yes, KJ, you scare me!! LOL. But I can't wait to read your book!

The whole idea of kidnapping just creeps me out. I feel horrible when I hear that it's happened to anyone.

Congrats on snagging the Fowl One, Limecello!!

Joan said...

My God! Limecello kidnapped the GR!!!!

I'll start the ransom AC, pass the hat.

I can't imagine what it would be like to be kidnapped. I do think I'd fight tooth and nail to get out.

But then...if it was a Viking warlord...maybe not so much :-)

Beth said...

Wow, great topic, KJ! I find all of these facts so interesting - and then I find I start coming up with plot ideas involving a kidnapping *g*

The only movie I can think of now about kidnapping is Proof of Life which I thought was a good movie. Oh, and what was that movie where a boy is kidnapped but for the life of me I can't remember the name of it. I could swear though that Nick Nolte's son played the kidnap victim.

Okay, I had to know so I googled and it was Ransom with Mel Gibson and Rene Russo :-)

Cassondra said...

KJ, like Jeanne, I didn't realize the stats were that high.

I have to say, that sometimes I don't have a lot of sympathy for the kidnapped--if they go to places when they're flat-out told, "don't go there, you're liable to get kidnapped or die" and that advice is given with some frequency about certain countries, and an awful lot of times it's ignored, and the expense of trying to get these people me cold-hearted but as bad as it sounds I sometimes think..."well...another Darwin Award winner bites the dust."

That's awful. I know. But people who ignore the truth about how dangerous places really are, and act as though they're walking around Small-Town United States? Well....Duh. As someone earlier said, everywhere is not here and many people take our safety for granted.

But when it's a normal vacation--to a location where it's not common--the pain for the victim and the family--I can't even comprehend it but it's scary to's just overwhelming. I think a lot about kidnapping as in how to prevent it, and I've done some research into the aftermath--the counseling needed--but that's as far as I've gone.

I've used kidnapping in three manuscripts thus far. But it's been fairly short-term. Except for one. That one's long term, and the stuff the victim goes through...loss of's a nightmare really. I was careful to give her no family so I didn't have to deal with that in the book because her own stuff was PLENTY, but still.....I'm still not sure I've pulled it off. I guess we'll see when it gets a read.

Kudos to you for tackling such a huge subject, and for taking on the research. But do you ever get tired of learning? I don't.

Cassondra said...

Years and years ago I saw a film or tv episode about a girl who was kidnapped and placed in a buried capsule that was barely bigger than a coffin. She could move around a little, but if she made noise or caused trouble, she'd break open screens holding back gazillions of fire ants. She was stuck down there, with only the kidnappers' voices through an intercom system, and only when they wanted to talk to her. I still have nightmares about that show sometimes. I dream that I'm her. Creeps. Me. Out.

I can't remember what show it was.

Cassondra said...

I actually am really torn on the subject of whether anyone should pay. On the one hand, that just encourages the business. And it's a bad business.

On the other hand there's the OMG WE CAN'T JUST LEAVE THEM THERE factor.

On the other hand, do you pay for hte stupid people, or only the people who really couldn't have had a clue that it was gonna happen?

See...hard hearted. I guess I am. (hangs head in shame)

Cassondra said...

Louisa said:

And, it is all very easy to say what you would do when it is not your loved one blindfolded and staring into a camera holding up a newspaper.

THIS. You said it Louisa. It's kind of armchair quarterbacking until you've been in those shoes, isn't it?

Nevertheless, I think the only way is an advance policy. Emotion is what kidnappers depend on to make their business run after all. :0/

Cassondra said...

Well, you think I'd finsih my posts before I hit "send" wouldn't you?

Treethyme said:

now I'm wondering if the international corporation he works for has kidnap insurance. He's traveled to some dodgy places.

See...this is the difficult one. When you're sentsomewhere you would otherwise be smart enough to not go. For that, I'd say the company dang well better have the insurance. Or pay for some serious bodyguards for the people they send over there.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

I'm with you Cassondra on the DUH factor and the Darwin Award types that think, "Wow, let's go to the worst part of Mexico City looking for some action" and somehow DON'T think anything will happen. Ummmm....DUH!?!?!

But as Louisa and Becke both mentioned, when you have no choice b/c of business or so forth. Wow, that's tough.

I've not used kidnapping yet, but wow, those stats started some ideas cooking...Beth and I are already there, right Beth? You wrote it made you start scenarios...Grins.

Such a lovely bunch of folks, aren't we? Heeeyyy, kidnap stats! Wow, let's USE that! Grins.

And Joanie? let me just say, Vikings? OHHHHHHH Yeah. (The original kidnap terrorists)

Cassondra said...

Jeanne said:

And Joanie? let me just say, Vikings? OHHHHHHH Yeah. (The original kidnap terrorists)

I know a Viking. Honest. A real, modern-day Viking. At least, as far as religion and all, he's a Viking. And yes, he is...well...HAWT. And nice. For a Viking, I mean....

...ahem, not that I was looking or anything. But if I were gonna be kidnapped in a romance novel, I'd pick him.

I'm just sayin.

Amanda said...

This is sad and scary. I can't help imagining how terrifying it would be to be taken at gunpoint. And then to be the family... What if the person wasn't returned for a really long time? How do you get on with your life without crippling guilt? Or do you?