This one-off documentary tells the disturbing true story of a bizarre kidnapping case that took place in America in the late 1970s. In northern California, a sexual sadist abducted a young woman and kept her in a coffin-sized box for seven years, relentlessly abusing and torturing her. But when the case came to court some years later, serious doubts were to emerge as to what had actually taken place.
On 19th May, 1977, Colleen Stan was hitchhiking through Red Bluff in California when she accepted a ride with Cameron Hooker, his wife Janice and their baby daughter. Hooker drove to the outskirts of the town and stopped, allowing his wife and child to leave the car. He then grabbed Colleen and blindfolded her, before fitting her with a homemade contraption that was to become known as the ‘head box’. “The purpose of the head box was to prevent people from hearing you scream,” explains Al Shamblin, a former Red Bluff police chief.
Hooker took his victim to his house, hung her by her wrists in the basement and, after whipping her, left her overnight – bound, gagged and struggling for breath. The next day, Colleen was chained to a homemade torture rack and left all day. “I didn’t understand what was going on,” she recalls. However, her ordeal was only just beginning.
After a few days, Hooker moved Colleen into a coffin-like box he had constructed and left her there for three to four months, feeding her scraps to keep her alive. Hooker had no police record or history of violence, but had developed an obsession with bondage and extreme sexual practices from an early age. By torturing his prisoner and keeping her isolated, he intended to break her spirit and make her utterly compliant. “Cameron Hooker was after the perfect slave,” explains ex-FBI agent Roy Hazelwood.
Eight months after the abduction, Hooker decided to formalise Colleen’s status as a slave and drew up a contract laying claim to her body and soul. He told her he was part of a powerful network of male slave-owners called ‘The Company’ that operated across America. Under this extraordinary fiction, Colleen was made to believe that any attempt to escape would result in her family being killed by the Company. She signed the contract and accepted her new slave name, ‘K’. “I totally believed it,” she says.
In May, 1978, Hooker moved Colleen and his family into a trailer on the outskirts of the town where he began a new stage of his plan. He put Colleen in a tiny box below the bed that he and his wife shared, and kept her there for 22 hours of every day. When not confined, Colleen was set to work in the garden, or tied to a device Hooker called the ‘stretcher’ and tortured. All this time, Hooker’s wife, Janice, was aware that her husband was keeping Colleen as a slave, but allowed it to go ahead in return for immunity from his abuse.
As time went by, Colleen’s domestic chores expanded until she was acting as a live-in nanny for the hours she was out of the box, looking after the two children Hooker and Janice now had. Hooker granted her the occasional freedom to go out, and even once allowed her to visit her family – all the time trusting in his absolute control over his victim. Colleen’s family realised she was not herself, but were happy to see that she was alive. On her return to the trailer, however, Colleen was to pay an awful price for her brief freedom, and spent the next three years in the box below the bed.
Eventually, after herself suffering abuse at Hooker’s hands, Janice told Colleen that the Company did not exist and told her to run away. With Hooker’s control now broken, Colleen escaped, returned home and contacted the police. In November, 1984, Hooker was eventually brought to trial on 17 charges of rape and sodomy.
However, what seemed like an open-and-shut case was to offer a sensational twist. Hooker’s defence lawyer argued that while his client did abduct Colleen, the sex they had was consensual. To support this claim, he produced a series of love letters written by Colleen to her supposed captor. The shocking trial that followed lasted some five weeks and explored, in the most dramatic way, the real meaning of consent, coersion and control.