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Colleen Stan

A green chest

The details of the story sound like the plot of an especially sick horror film, but for Colleen Stan, held captive for seven years between 1977 and 1984, they were a tragic and horrific reality. On 19th May 1977 twenty year old Colleen was making her way from her home in Eugene, Oregon to a friend's birthday party. With no car of her own Colleen decided to hitch-hike, something she had done many times before. She even rejected other prospective rides that day, making sure to pick the safest possible lift.

When a young couple – Cameron and Janice Hooker – stopped to offer her a ride in their blue van, Colleen felt safe, especially since they had a baby with them. Sadly, she was wrong. After half an hour of driving Cameron Hooker left the road and headed down a secluded lane. There Colleen was threatened with a knife, gagged, bound and placed in a wooden box; a box which she was to spend roughly twenty-three hours of every day. Colleen was raped, sexually abused and tortured by the Hookers. She was dehumanised, given the inhuman name of “K” and forced to refer to her captors only as “Master”. Brainwashed into believing that a powerful organisation called “The Company” was behind her abduction rather than just the Hookers, Colleen was terrified into compliance. Should she try to escape, she was told, “The Company” would do far worse things to her than the Hookers ever did.

In 1978 Colleen signed a “contract” which was supposed to show she had sold herself into the ownership of the Hookers. After the supposed contract was signed, Colleen was allowed some freedom, her terror of “The Company” keeping her compliant and close to the Hookers. Permitted to go out to jog, to work in the yard, and to care for the family's children in their mobile home, Colleen still made no attempts to escape or contact authorities, so complete was her fear.

A black and white photo of Colleen Stan
Image Credit: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo | Above: Colleen Stan was kidnapped and held captive by Cameron Hooker for 7 years. Scanned photo from circa 12th June 1984 by Owen Brewer

In 1981 Colleen Stan was allowed to visit her family on her own, the Hookers having no doubt she would give nothing away and return to them as they had said she must. And tragically she did, without breathing a word of what had become of her. Her family were hugely relieved to see her. They knew something was wrong but feared she might have joined some kind of cult and, not wishing to scare her away from further contact, did not press her too much. The next day, in yet another sickening twist, Colleen visited her family again, this time with her "boyfriend", Cameron Hooker.

The pair looked so happy together that Colleen's mother took a picture of them. After the visit Cameron grew more controlling once again, saying that Colleen had been given too much freedom. She was confined to the wooden box kept beneath the Hooker's bed for the majority of the next three years.

In 1983 Colleen was once again allowed some basic freedoms, being introduced to neighbours and the children and even allowed to work as a maid in a nearby motel. Soon after Cameron Hooker told Janice that he wanted to take Colleen as a second wife, and this proved too much for her. Janice had been a victim of sexual, physical, and psychological torture at the hands of Cameron throughout their relationship and was in denial about much of what had gone on. In August 1984 Janice told Colleen that Cameron was not part of “The Company” (although, bizarrely, she maintained that the organisation was real), and that they were not watching Colleen or her family.

Colleen went immediately to a bus station but, such was the depth of her conditioning, she called Cameron from a payphone there to tell him she was leaving. Cameron Hooker, this rapist, torturer, manipulator, and liar, reportedly burst into tears on the other end of the line. Colleen went home, but still she didn't tell anyone what had gone on. Janice had asked Colleen to give her husband time to reform, to make up for what he had done, and Colleen was still traumatised enough to believe it was somehow possible.

In November of the same year Janice informed the Red Bluff Police, Lt. Jerry D. Brown that Cameron had kidnapped, tortured, and murdered Marie Elizabeth Spannhake, who had disappeared in 1976. While Spannhake's body was never discovered, and no charge of murder ever made to stick, the investigation inevitably led into another into the terrible kidnapping, imprisonment and abuse of Colleen. Janice testified against her husband in exchange for full immunity, meaning that she and Colleen both gave evidence for the prosecution. During the trial Colleen found herself under difficult cross-examination wherein the defence attempted to paint her as some kind of willing participant in the nightmare that had been her life after the kidnapping. Cameron was eventually sentenced to consecutive terms — for sexual assaults, kidnapping, and for using a knife in the process — for a total of one-hundred and four years in prison.

In 2015 an application for parole was denied. The next hearing is in 2023. Following the trial Colleen Stan studied for an accounting degree, married and has raised a family of her own. Forty years later Colleen has gone public about her ordeal, and about how she coped for those terrible years when she was "the girl in the box". Watch Colleen Stan: The Girl in the Box on Sunday 4th December at 9pm