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Colleen Stan: the girl in the box

On May 19th 1977, twenty-year-old Colleen Stan was hitchhiking along interstate 5 to a friends house in California from her home in Eugene Oregon. Like a lot of young people in the 1970s Colleen decided the best way to travel the long distance was by hitching a lift with other travellers. She made it to Red Bluff, California and waited for another car to pull over, wary of who might pick her up, she turned away two cars before getting into a blue van with a young family. The driver was Cameron Hooker, in the car with him were his wife Janice and their young baby. All seemed normal until Colleen used the bathroom at a service station and when she returned to the car there was a wooden box on the seat next to her. Colleen had felt safe with the Hookers, but it wasn’t to last.

After travelling for a further 20 miles or so, the car turned down a side road, and Cameron Hooker took out a knife. He tied Colleen up, gagged her and placed the heavy wooden box over her head, depriving her of sight and sound. The Hookers drove back to their home in Red Bluff where Colleen was brought down to the basement. That night she was chained up in a crate. Each day she was tortured into submission, her wrists would be tied to the ceiling while Cameron Hooker whipped, burned, beat, or electrocuted her.

Cameron Hooker had agreed with his wife that she could have a baby if he could have a sex slave. It was no accident that they picked Colleen up as she was travelling that day in May. They had planned to kidnap a young woman and keep her imprisoned in their home. Janice had previously been the victim of Cameron's depraved fantasies and so she was happy to have someone else take the brunt of his punishments.

Cameron and Janice had agreed that he would not have sexual intercourse with Colleen, instead, they would abuse her and then make her watch as they had sex afterwards. Cameron convinced Colleen that he was a member of what he called 'The Company'. A powerful organisation that were watching their every move and would not hesitate to kill her if she tried to escape. Believing her life, and her families lives, were in danger, Colleen signed a contract in January 1978, agreeing to be kept as a slave.

Colleen would be referred to as ‘K’ and she was to address Cameron and Janice as ‘Master’ and ‘Ma’am’. As well as making the 20lb wooden box that was placed over Colleen's head to deprive her of her senses, Cameron Hooker had come up with other torture devices to wear his victim down. These devices included a stretcher that would inflict excruciating pain on Colleen and leave her with permanent damage to her back and shoulder.

When the Hookers moved to a mobile home, Colleen went with them. For up to 23 hours a day, Colleen was kept in a wooden box under the Hooker's bed. Eventually, she was trusted to do housework, even babysitting the Hooker's children who had no idea that their parents were keeping a slave under their bed. Colleen's compliance earned Cameron's trust, and she was allowed more freedom over time. Cameron knew that Colleen was so terrified and conditioned into obedience that she would not try to escape, or tell anyone the horrifying truth.

Cameron trusted Colleen so much that he allowed her to phone her family two and a half years after she had been reported missing. He even let her visit them four years into the ordeal, in 1981. Cameron went with her, posing for a photograph as her loving boyfriend. Fearful that any questions might distance Colleen from them further, her family did not pry in case she lost contact with them again. They spent two and a half years, prior to her phone call, missing her and wondering what had happened, now at least they knew she was alive. For the next three years, the abuse and confinement continued. In 1983, Colleen was allowed more freedom, including a part-time job as a cleaner in a nearby motel.

While the initial agreement had been that Cameron would remain loyal to his wife, he had been raping Colleen at least once a month. Janice began to resent Colleen, and when Cameron said he wanted to marry her too, Janice snapped. Janice had been a victim of Cameron Hooker for their entire relationship and had been compliant in his kidnap and torture of Colleen because it gave her abuser another outlet. After confessing to a priest who advised her to leave, Janice had had enough. In August 1984, 7 years after Colleen Stan was kidnapped, Janice told Colleen that Cameron was not a part of The Company and Colleen went to a bus station where she rang Cameron Hooker and told him she was leaving.

Colleen had been broken down to the point where she would do whatever Cameron Hooker commanded her too, seven years of brutal torture, rape and sensory deprivation meant that she was compliant to the point that she did not report the ordeal to the police. Janice had asked Colleen to give Cameron time to reform, but in November that same year, she reported her husband to the police.  

Janice also informed the Red Bluff Police that her husband had kidnapped, tortured and murdered Marie Elizabeth Spannhake, who went missing a year before Colleen was kidnapped. No body had ever been found, and Hooker was never charged with her murder. He was charged with eight felony counts of rape, sodomy, kidnapping and forced oral copulation. In exchange for immunity, she agreed to testify against her husband and the abuse he inflicted on her.

Colleen also testified at the trial, recounting years of sustained trauma. The defence tried to use Colleen's compliance against her, stating that the rape should not be considered criminal as Hooker said she chose to stay. They had a psychiatrist argue that the abuse inflicted by Hooker was not much different than Marine recruit drills. The judge interrupted the psychiatrist's argument, Colleen Stan was not a willing participant despite what the defence intended the jury to believe.

Cameron Hooker tried to convince the jury that Colleen had fallen in love with him and stayed of her own volition. He claimed that the sex was consensual but the jury did not believe him. He was found guilty of seven out of eight counts for the kidnapping and rape of Colleen Stan.  The judge stated that Cameron was 'the worst psychopath I have ever dealt with' and sentenced him to 104 years in prison. Colleen Stan's ordeal resulted in an unprecedented trial. There had never been anything like it in the history of the state and the judge thanked the jury for their service in the case.

Janice Hooker has a new identity, as does Colleen Stan.  She suffers from chronic pain in her shoulders and back, a direct result of years of confinement. Colleen underwent years of therapy and has had a family of her own. Unfortunately, she has had a number of broken relationships, but remains resilient and actively helps others. She worked with a charity for abused women and is vehemently opposed to Hooker's release. Despite an appeal, Hooker remains in prison. He applied for parole under California's Elderly Parole Program, but this was denied parole in 2015. 

At Hooker's 2015 hearing Colleen said that she wasn’t convinced he wouldn’t be able to do it again. Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, he may be eligible for early release next spring.