The section of the book I’m working on today is basically a brief history of terrible kidnapping plots. They’re not all necessarily dumb crimes from the get-go—many of the cases I cover involved months of careful planning by above-average crooks. But they inevitably make one key error that unspools the entire enterprise. And more often than not, that error concerns the way in which the ransom is passed from the victim’s family to the criminals.
The case of 9-year-old Michelle Wiebe is an excellent case in point. The kidnappers thought they had everything nailed down, including a great concept for the money transfer. But they didn’t account for the natural curiosity of passers-by:
Through a series of telephone calls, [Arnold] Wiebe was instructed to leave the $300,000 in a suitcase on an isolated road Tuesday night between Goshen and Visalia, Chief Forsyth said.
He said someone passing by saw Wiebe leave the money, became curious, picked up the suitcase and took it home. The unidentified man telephoned police after discovering the $300,000.
As you might have guessed, the kidnappers were somewhat easily caught after releasing the girl unharmed. The main lesson here is that kidnapping can only really flourish if ransom payments can be funneled through legitimate means—for example, wire services or respected local officials who function as middlemen. Unfortunately, law enforcement in many parts of the world seems reluctant to clamp down on such intermediaries who allow kidnapping rings to function as low-risk enterprises.