Sex slave survivor comes to Arizona to tell her storyPosted: Updated:
Before Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, or Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight and Amanda Berry, there was Colleen Stan. She was kidnapped. She was tortured. She forced to be a sex slave. That was her life for more than seven years.
Stan, now 59, is sharing her story, not only with us, but with the world, in the form of a Lifetime movie. It's filming in Northern Arizona.
The small-town feel of Prescott and Chino Valley make the perfect setting to go back in time to where it all started.
It was the summer of 1977.
Stan, 20, was hitchhiking on a quiet road near Redding, CA.
"I had a car load of guys stop and I was like, 'Oh no, no, no, I'm not gonna get in that car,'" Stan recalled.
Then along came Cameron Hooker with his wife, Janice, their 8-month-old baby.
"They were young people, my age," Stan explained. "The baby's sitting on her lap in the front seat. I thought, ‘Oh, this is just a young family; it's a safe ride,'" Stan said.
Looks were deceiving. That ride could not have been less safe.
The Hookers promised to take her to her destination -- a friend's birthday party. It didn't happen. Instead, Stan found herself chained up in the basement of a trailer. That's where she would spend more than seven years of her life.
Hooker, a sexual sadist, kidnapped Stan. He tortured and tormented her daily. He used various contraptions that did permanent damage to her back and shoulder
"I'm reminded daily by the pain," Stan said.
Fast forward to today, and Stan is on the Northern Arizona set of a Lifetime Movie of the Week being filmed about her life.
Toronto-based GIAB Productions, Inc. brought in several old cars and scouted locations to replicate her story, which unfolded 39 years ago in northern California.
"It just takes me right back there," Stan said, watching the actors file out of the old gas station off Highway 89 in Chino Valley and pile into a beat-up older model sedan.
"That was the last stop we made before he abducted me," Stan said.
She watched as the actor playing Hooker pulled a square wooden box with locks out of the trunk and placed it in the back seat.
"When I got back in the car, he had taken this box, this wooden box, and set it on the back seat," Stan said. "I didn't know what it was so I didn't pay too much attention."
"It was a 'head box,' is what he called it," she continued.
She said Hooker locked her head in that box after holding a knife to her throat. He then did what he pleased with her body. Other times he put her in a coffin-like box hidden under his bed. She could barely move.
"We know he is a monster," Stephen Kemp, the movie's director, said. "He's clearly a delusional man in many ways. And I think it's interesting that he's been able to justify what he did because he doesn't understand the crimes that he's committed,."
Kemp said he wants to try and delve a little deeper into Hooker's twisted mind and motivations.
He spent several days with Stan before his crew started filming.
They started with 10 days in Toronto and then came to Arizona for most of the scene-setting exterior shots.
There have been two books and countless TV crime and documentary spin offs, songs and even an opera based on Stan's story.
When it first came out after her escape in 1984, detectives said they'd never seen this kind of depravity before. It was said to be unparalleled in FBI history.
More than 30 years later, this is Stan's first time behind the scenes on location, peeking back on the horrors of her past.
"It can be a sound, a smell, anything, and you're right back there," Stan said.
She said she still has occasional nightmares that can be triggered by simple things, like the fan in the bathroom at the hotel she where she stayed.
"The switch for the bathroom, it only turns on the light and the fan. You can't just turn on the light, and I hate that sound," Stan said. "I hate the noise of the fan because when I was locked up in the box, the fan was right by my ear, and I've lost hearing in it because of it."
She remembers the fear Hooker and his wife instilled in her from the very beginning.
"His wife once told me, ‘If you step outside that door without permission from us, you might as well take a shotgun and put it to your head,'" Stan said.
She said she quickly learned not to scream and was forced to sign a slave contract.
"He said ‘Go ahead and pick up the phone. If you don't do as I say, I'll have people go hurt your family,'" Stan recalled.
Hooker had such a hold over Stan, he started leaving her alone to baby-sit his young children.
Stan never tried to escape.
At one point, he even took her back home to see her parents, who had presumed she was dead; it had been three years.
She never told her parents what was happening to her.
She never picked up the phone to call for help.
She had been manipulated that much.
Fearing he'd given her too much freedom, Stan said Hooker brought her back to his home and locked her in the box under his bed 23 hours a day for the next three years.
"And that was one of his tactics to keep control," Stan said. "Every time he opened the box I didn't know what he was going to do. I never knew, is he going to torture me? Is he just going to have me go cook him a meal?" Stan said.
She said she prayed -- a lot -- and did what many prisoners of war do to survive.
"We have amazing minds, and you can go anywhere in here," she said, tapping her head.
After more than seven years in captivity, her prayers were answered.
"It was like a huge weight was lifted off me," Stan said.
Hooker's wife, worried he wanted to take on another sex slave, went to her minister, confessed and helped Stan escape.
"I was scared, but I was also really thinking like, ‘Why did it take you so long?" Stan said.
In 1985, Janice Hooker testified against her husband in exchange for full immunity.
Cameron Hooker was sentenced to 104 years in prison.
Stan spoke at his parole hearing last year.
"I kinda feel more pity for him now because this man has not changed," she said. "If they let him out today, he'd just do it again."
The parole board denied Hooker's release request, saying he showed no remorse or interest in working to address why he did what he did.
He won't be eligible for parole for another 14 years.
"I pray for him. I actually do," Stan said. "I pray that God would change him before he leaves this earth."
Her biggest adjustment to trying to live a "normal" life was trying to reconcile why others around her couldn't seem to appreciate the simple things she'd been denied all those years.
"I'm coming out of a situation where I had nothing, and I mean nothing" Stan said. "And I saw people, they had good jobs, they were married, they had nice homes, they had nice cars, they had all these things and yet, all they did was complain about their life! And I thought, 'My God, don't you see how blessed you are?'"
Stan said she feels more than blessed.
Janice Hooker not only testified against her husband, she confessed that Stan wasn't his only victim.
She told police the year before they abducted Stan, her husband kidnapped and tortured a woman named Marie Elizabeth Spannhake. Her body was never found and Hooker was never charged.
"And she only lived 24 hours!" Stan said. "And I'm thinking, how did I live seven and a half years? Authorities haven't spent any time or resources on the case, they just look at it like, ‘Well, he's already in prison. What difference does it make.'"
Stan now lives a quiet life. She is married and has a daughter who recently made her a grandma. She has a lot for which to be thankful.
Stan said being a part of this movie production, watching it unfold firsthand in Chino Valley after all these years, is part of the healing process.
For her, it's all about awareness.
She wants to encourage others to appreciate life while being mindful of the evils that exist around us.
"You just don't know what's in someone's heart," Stan said. "You just don't. They can appear sweet, nice, whatever on the outside, but you just don't know what's in their heart."
The movie of the week based on Stan's story will air this summer or fall on Lifetime.
Books about Colleen Span
- "Perfect Victim" - Christine McGuire and Carla Norton
- "Colleen Stan: The Simple Gifts of Life: Dubbed by the Media 'The Girl in the Box' and 'The Sex Slave' - Jim B. Green
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