Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

My Baby is Missing!

The Facts

The most reliable research available indicates that there are only 100-130 cases of stranger abductions a year in the United States. These events are most frequently committed by males (86%) who are between the ages of 20 and 39 (57%). Again, the child was taken from an outdoor area in 54% of the cases but in 16% of the cases, the victim was abducted from his own yard or home. In the wider category of non-family abduction, NISMART found that 71% of the victims were taken from an outdoor area. In stereotypical kidnappings, less than 7% were taken from a store or mall. Stranger abduction events are usually committed for sexual purposes (49%) and in over 40% of the cases, the victim was murdered. That is in addition to the 4%, like Etan Patz in New York City, that have never been found.

The F.B.I. handled 93 cases of stranger abductions cases in 2001. That figure is actually a decrease from years past, especially during the 1980s when the average per year hovered around 200 incidents a year. Though the victim in most of these cases did not know the suspect, there was previous contact between them prior to the crime. This contact was usually a brief visual observation that took place while the suspect had a legitimate reason for being where he was. Those reasons included work related activities, such as a home delivery, a store clerk, a drive-by, in a park or sporting event. In over 85% of the cases, the child was kept within 50 miles of the abduction location and most frequently (28%), the victim was held in the home of the suspect.

The duration of a kidnapping episode was usually less than 24 hours (90%). Only less than 10% lasted longer than one day. Non-family abductions showed the same patterns though 30% lasted less than even 3 hours. The most dramatic difference between non-family abductions and kidnappings was in the treatment of the victim. In 99% of non-family abductions, the child was returned alive. In kidnappings, a safe return occurred only 57% of the time. Ominously, the child suffered a sexual or physical assault in an astounding 86% of the stereotypical kidnappings. These findings powerfully emphasize the extreme danger of these events and the urgency of police interaction as soon as possible.

Stereotypical kidnapping, in which a child is abducted and either assaulted or held for ransom, is a crime that first appeared in the United States in the late 19th century. During the 1920s, it became entrenched in the public consciousness when a series of child abduction cases terrified parents across the country.

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