Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Elizabeth Smart's Recovery is Amazing -- but so is this!

Posted on 03/13/2003 7:12:34 AM PST by i_dont_chat

As amazing as Elizabeth Smart's case is, it is not as amazing as the 1981 kidnapping and the recovery of 15-year old Leslie Marie Gattas in Memphis TN. She survived a 4-month captivity, being held in the crawl-space above the entrance hall of one of Memphis’ largest churches.


October 23, 1997


Ernest Earl Stubblefield, the kidnapper in one of the city's most notorious crimes, was denied parole Wednesday by the Tennessee Board of Paroles. The parole hearing was Stubblefield's last chance at parole. The denial means he will serve all of the 30-year sentence he received in 1982 for the 1981 abduction of Leslie Gattas. It is the third time Stubblefield has been denied parole.

``He needs to spend the rest of his time there,'' said board member Larry Hassell of Memphis. That means Stubblefield, 56, will remain in prison another 15 years and will be 71 when he is released in 2012.

The parole hearing was held at Cold Creek Correctional Facility near Henning, where Stubblefield is serving his sentence. Hassell said he and parole board members Ray Maples of Memphis and Charles Traughber voted 3-0 to deny parole for Stubblefield. Hassell said Gattas's husband and brother spoke at the parole hearing and opposed Stubblefield's latest bid for freedom.

``We had the file and all of the evidence. He didn't deny anything,'' Hassell said.

Stubblefield entered a guilty plea to kidnapping and first-degree burglary charges in 1982. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Stubblefield kidnapped Gattas, then 15, from her home in November of 1981.

He held her captive in a crawl space of the balcony of Christ United Methodist Church for 119 days.

Prosecutors said Stubblefield intended to seek a $25,000 ransom in the kidnapping.

In March of 1982, two church maintenance men spotted Stubblefield and Gattas in the church and rescued Gattas. Stubblefield was captured three weeks later in the church crawl space.

In the final days, Leslie Marie Gattas sensed the end was near.

For four months in a church crawl space with a kidnapper, the high school sophomore relied on her instincts to stay alive. Her signals were now ominous.

At 10:30 p.m., she and her kidnapper crept downstairs to the Christ United Methodist Church sanctuary. Leslie took a front pew. Dwarfed in its enormity, she prayed.

"Your God ain't so good," sneered Ernest Earl Stubblefield. "He can't help you now. The only one who can help you is me."

She wrote the notes when she could in the ladies room. He waited outside.

The mirror reflected her horror. Her round dark eyes drooped old beyond their 15 years. Her face hung sallow. She wrapped an index finger and thumb around her wrist to size up her weight loss. Thirty-five pounds.

"I was eating tons," she says. "I lost weight in anxiety."

She kept a pencil in her jeans pocket and scribbled what seemed her zillionth plea for help.

Some notes were dated. Some not. Some cursive, some printed. When he wasn't looking, before the beam of his flashlight swept past, she stuffed them in Bibles, under pews, in desks, under books, in shoes and closets.

Please help me. My name is Leslie Gattas. Call my father George Gattas and police. I am in the attic with kidnapper. Please, I want to go home. I'm scared. We come down at night and walk around in the dark.

TODAY, Leslie, 27, is an attorney at Dyer, James and Taylor. She is married and goes by the last name of Coleman. She doesn't worry that she'll be abducted again. But she does keep a gun.

She doesn't mind talking about it. People in Memphis ask all the time. They point. Stare. Interrupt dinner conversations. "I don't know if they're looking to see if I'm normal or not," she says.

From November 1981 to March 1982, her kidnapping was a nationwide mystery. It was the Memphis version of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping - a prominent family, a child taken from its bed, the agonizing period of not knowing.

Much of the story unfolded in news bites and big headlines. Afterward, journalists, publishers, TV producers and Hollywood screenwriters begged Leslie to tell her story. She refused to talk on the record.

For the past year, this reporter and Leslie developed a relationship and she eventually agreed to tell her story to The Commercial Appeal. It was, she decided, a good time for her to thank those who prayed.

This story is a compilation of police reports and interviews with Leslie and others close to the incident. Much of the information has not been previously reported.

SGT. Rick Wilson, coordinator of the Memphis Police Department's 1981-82 investigation, says the Gattas abduction was the most perplexing case he has worked. The length of time, the kidnapper, their relationship, how he kidnapped her, where they lived, how they lived - Wilson still shakes his head in wonder.

"I tell you what," Wilson says, "I've spent 27 years with the department, 16 in homicide, and that was the most amazing case I've ever worked."

There were key signs that Leslie was a runaway. There were no signs of forced entry. No footprints outside the window. No ransom note left.

Yet there were indications that said otherwise. Leslie came from a nurturing home. She was happy. Her grades were outstanding. Girlfriends indicated she was in good spirits the night of her disappearance.

FBI agent Ben Hale was stumped. He refused to believe she was a runaway.

"What you sense being close to a family, the more you know the family, is an unwritten understanding you absorb from that relationship," Hale says. ''The Gattases are A-number-one people. Here's a girl - intelligent, good at school, lots of friends, great family - and she suddenly runs away? Being a runaway certainly was a possibility. But not a probability."

ON Wednesday, Nov. 18, 1981, Leslie invited a few high school friends over for prayer night. Later, she went to her room, took a shower and went to sleep, cradled in the safety of her parents' East Memphis home.

At 2:30 a.m., a sweaty man with large pores and rotting teeth crawled in a laundry room window. He spent an hour downstairs. Upstairs, Leslie's door was the only one open.

He cupped her mouth, flashed a knife and told her not to yell.

"Are you a boy or a girl?"

She replied, "A girl."

He trussed her 118 pounds in duct tape, wrists to ankles, and carried the human ball downstairs. He huffed and puffed. "You weigh a ton," he said more than once and stopped twice on the stairs to rest.

He loaded her into the Gattas family Cadillac and drove her to Christ United Methodist Church at 4488 Poplar where he stuffed her in a choir loft crawl space. He drove the car back, dropped the keys on the desk where he found them and walked back to the church.

For the next four months the high school cheerleader lived at her abductor's side. There was no violence. She wasn't raped. But she was a prisoner in the house of God, in the hands of evil.

Please help. My name is Leslie Gattas. Call police and my father George Gattas. I'm in the attic with kidnapper. Help Me! I'm scared.

POLICE cast a nationwide dragnet. The FBI joined the hunt on a hunch it was a kidnapping. Both agencies interviewed dozens of students and family friends. Police checked one bogus lead after another. A local 14-year-old was arrested for submitting a $100,000 ransom note.

Psychics from around the country joined the search. Shelby County Rescue Squad dragged Nonconnah Creek. Students combed fields near their schools. Vigil candles flickered throughout the Bible Belt.

''HOW did you find my house?" she asked.

"Telephone book."

"Have you ever been in my house before?"

"No," he said and thought a minute. "You didn't tell anybody did you?"


Two nights before her abduction, Leslie remembered a man in her room who brushed a light across her face. She dismissed it as a dream.

In the attic, Stubblefield, then 42, kept a cache of high school yearbooks. He circled pictures of some girls. Leslie's picture was circled. He wore a ring of keys around his neck - keys to 27 Memphis churches and 12 residences, including federal Judge Harry W. Wellford.

He was surprised when he found out that Leslie wasn't the daughter of Fred P. Gattas, founder of the multimillion-dollar Memphis-based showroom and catalog merchandising company that bore his name. Her father, George, was Fred's brother.

Stubblefield told her his name was Ken. That he was divorced and lived in Chicago. He loved snow. He ate fried oysters at Anderton's Restaurant. He could down a 2-liter bottle of Coke in 30 seconds. Once, he almost ate a whole ham. He was a flabby 300 pounds.

At Memphis Machine Works Inc., where Stubblefield worked as a machinist in 1975, the fellas called him "Tub Belly." He's remembered as a whiz with keys, locks and machinery.

Stubblefield hated Catholics and the St. Patrick's Day pub crawl. He told Leslie he was an atheist. He read religious books, didn't swear or smoke and got angry at the mention of alcohol.

He said he'd lived in the church since June. But Sam Drash, Christ Methodist Day School headmaster at the time, is convinced it was longer. Maybe two years. "Every time I took a tool to school it would disappear," he said, ''a starting pistol, a drill, hammer, screwdriver."

IN this city of churches, Christ United Methodist Church is one of the biggest. Its multiplex includes a gymnasium, laundry room, kitchen, nursery, activity rooms, church offices and school offices.

Every night around 10:30 to 11 the two crept downstairs. He collected pencils, staplers, calculators, books, tools and files. Leslie couldn't stray from his side. When she tried, he yanked her back.

"Don't you grab my arm like that!" she demanded.

"You better watch out."

He showed a knife.

"That doesn't scare me."

"It should."

She tried to be brave. To intimidate him, she said she planned to be a doctor. He called her "Doc." She beat him at Scrabble.

"I didn't want to look like an easy victim," Leslie says. "From the beginning I acted kind of tough. In the same light, I was nice. I wasn't a snob. I was compassionate so he would like me. It's hard to kill somebody you like."

The ransom note was for $25,000. The scheme was to deliver it by Thanksgiving and make the swap at a Krystal. Stubblefield apparently never delivered it, although he told Leslie he had called and made arrangements with her father. The night of the swap, he tied her with rope, put a clock next to her face and said he would return in four hours. During the four months, he left her only five times. When he did, she was tied with tape or rope.

Stubblefield returned, frantic. Police were buzzing all over! he exclaimed. Someone must have called the cops! Excitement grew into anger. "Let 'em sweat it out a little longer," he said.

The police and the Gattas family kept busy chasing down leads.

The family distributed photos of Leslie nationwide. Her mother never left the house. Her father's hair turned gray. Police followed a cosmic-goose chase led by psychics.

Her father hired two psychics and a New York clairvoyant, a reputed expert in finding lost submarines.

The psychic's vibes indicated that Leslie was raped and perhaps murdered. He thought her body lay on the grounds of a real estate office on Summer Avenue. Memphis Police Sgt. Rick Wilson and his team tackled the neighborhood. Nothing.

The psychic shifted gears. Leslie was in Overton Park in a shallow grave. Wilson's team started to dig. "No," the psychic stopped them. She is in a drainage ditch in an industrial area.

Please help. Call police and my father George Gattas. I'm in attic with kidnapper. Help me! I'm scared. Leslie Marie Gattas.

WHEN you lie in an attic on a bed made from gymnasium tumbling mats, sheets and covers - a raft on rivers of pink insulation - your bones start to ache.

The area was 3 feet high. About all you can do is sleep, play games, read books or fidget with a Rubik's Cube. Stubblefield rigged up a light bulb and an outlet for an electric fan. He was always hot. He laid a walkway of wooden boards across the insulation to the door. When they slept he hid Leslie's shoes and lifted the boards up. She was trapped.

Stubblefield returned to the Gattas house, sneaking in and grabbing some clothes - a cheerleading uniform, skirt, warmup outfit and T-shirts. The Gattas family wasn't aware when he returned. Another time, he bought her VO-5 shampoo at Walgreens. They sponged in separate restrooms.

Mostly, she kept to herself and spoke when spoken to. He usually ignored her, unless he accused her of stealing a knife, watch or other item he had stashed under the insulation.

"He's got a temper and a half," Leslie told police.

Stubblefield's ex-wife, Ann Bates Clark, recalls their five-year marriage in the 1960s as terrifying.

"He was caught between the devil and the Lord," Clark says. "He was scary to be around. I'd either have a black eye or a knife throwed up 'side my head."

Though Leslie told police that Stubblefield "was nice" to her, there was no doubt in her mind that he would have killed her. "Every day I prayed to God to give me an extra day," she says.

God gave her 119 days. During that time, the teenager performed the balancing act of her life.

"My mind was going a mile a minute," she says. "No time for pity, it was all about survival."

She talked to herself. She recited her father's name, her mother's name, family members, addresses, dates, birthdays. "Little things to keep my brain in tune," she says.

CHRISTMAS was difficult.

"It was miserable to hear them singing Christmas songs," she says. "It's amazing that life is going on. That's what's so scary when I think of other missing children. Life is going on . . . and all that time someone is living in utter hell."

Leslie hoped she could get home by Christmas. She wrote letters to her parents telling them that her kidnapper wanted money.

But it was the same as before. The letters were never received. The night the swap was to be made, Stubblefield taped Leslie's hands and feet and left. He returned upset, saying he had called her father from a mall in Bartlett.

"When I hung up the phone, every kind of police car was there!" he exclaimed. "They were in the playground tires! Dozens of them - everywhere!"

He was angry.

MORE than a month after the abduction, police were looking for a body. There was no ransom note. No Leslie. Just a mystery and headlines, "GATTAS FATE REMAINS MYSTERY," "GATTAS GIRL NOT FOUND."

Leslie read the newspapers every morning. She reasoned there was no mention of a ransom note because police wanted to keep it quiet. She had no idea that Stubblefield never delivered them.

"It's so amazing to read things in black and white that say, 'Where is she? Where is she?' " Leslie says. "And I'm like, 'I'm here! I'm here! I'm here!' That's weird."

By February, she was convinced Stubblefield had gotten himself into something he could not get out of. He grew attached to his victim and it did not appear that he could kill her or turn her loose.

Leslie spent up to eight hours a day in prayer. God installed a "hotline" in her prison attic. Whenever the young girl needed help, she picked up the phone.

"God helps them who helps themselves," she says. "I had to do my part. That's where the notes came in. Those are things God tells you to do. It's not possible for a 15-year-old to do without God and Mother Mary. I don't think anybody's that focused."

Please help me! My name is Leslie Gattas. I need your help. Call the police immediately and my father George Gattas. I am in the attic with the man who kidnapped me. Please this is no joke. Show this note to the police. They will know what to do. They have been looking for me for a long time. I am so scared. I beg of you call the police right now . . . I am so frightened . . .

WHEN Leslie's notes were found in the church and school, they were discarded. ''We thought it was some teenager putting the notes out," says Rev. Jerry Corlew, former executive minister.

When Drash, the headmaster, turned over the notes he found to police in March he discovered there was some concern at Christ United Methodist about police involvement.

Only two weeks before Leslie was kidnapped, a tragedy had rocked the church family. Dr. Harold Beaty, senior minister for 12 years, was found shot to death in his home. The Shelby County Medical Examiner ruled that his ex-wife, Stella, fatally shot her husband, then herself.

"My understanding was that Jerry (Corlew) was concerned that by contacting the police (about the notes), if it were not a real situation, that would cause undue negative attention because Dr. Beaty had been murdered. The church was in a state of shock."

Please help me. My name is Leslie Gattas. Call the police and my father George A. Gattas. I am in the attic with the man who kidnapped me. This is no joke. Show the police this note. They will understand. I put this note on your desk when he wasn't looking. Please, whoever you are, don't leave me here . . . He might be armed.

SHE could see the workmen. Two maintenance men entered the attic space to fix the heating system. Stubblefield cupped Leslie's mouth and hid low behind a false wall of insulation. Leslie's heart pounded. She tried to emanate energy. She watched their movements and prayed that they would come closer to the back.

They left.

CHURCH employees were shocked at the large amounts of food missing - potato chips, coffee, hams, turkey, shrimp, canned goods, Coke and Sprite.

Milton Bennett and his maintenance crew changed the refrigerator locks several times. Drash, the headmaster, suggested they set up a watch.

"Logically," Drash says, "somebody here on the grounds was getting in and doing this. We couldn't figure out how." Stubblefield would remove the refrigerator door by its hinges and set it to the side. Meals were another opportunity for Leslie to work toward freedom. She ate until she was sick so someone would notice missing food.

"I was eating but the worry and stress made me lose weight," she says. ''I weighed 70 pounds. My body was slowly deteriorating."

Night after night, she gorged herself. She couldn't figure out why no one responded to her notes. Night after night, she pleaded.

My name is Leslie Gattas. You do not know me but I need your help. Please call the police immediately and show them this note. I am up in the attic with the man who kidnapped me. The police have been looking for me for a long time. Please call my father George Gattas. Please do as I say. This is no joke. We come down at night to walk around.

THIS time a third-grade teacher at Christ United Day School found one of Leslie's notes folded up on her desk. She looked at it, asked around the office and dismissed it as a prank. She threw it away.

IT'S odd to know people by their things.

Leslie tried to envision the face of the people who sat at desks that became the landscape of her life. She ate their candy. Rifled through drawers. Nothing could help her escape.

Once, when Stubblefield was in another room watching a favorite TV show, Starsky and Hutch, she left the room and went for the phone.

"It was a push button," she told police at the time, "but it didn't dial fast enough. He came in the room and I hung up."

The cook was a favorite target of Leslie's psychological tactics. She provoked the cook for attention. Of two shoes parked side-by-side on the floor, Leslie placed one on the table. She lifted an apron off its hook and set it on another table. Her actions needed to be large enough to make the cook take notice, subtle enough so Stubblefield didn't.

That night, Leslie felt certain the cook would report the missing food. No such luck. Instead, the following night, the teenage prisoner found a note. It read: "Please stop stealing our coffee."

LESLIE was discouraged. One night a maintenance man, who often roamed the church at night, saw her and Stubblefield. She worried that he might be an accomplice. At the time, he did not report the sighting to police.

Please help. My name is Leslie Gattas. Call police and my father George Gattas. I'm in the attic with kidnapper. Help Me! I'm scared.

ON March 3, Drash found a note on his desk. He told his secretary. She had gotten one too. He copied his note and immediately called police. Drash told police about the missing food.

The note said she was in the attic but didn't say which one. The church had three. Police checked attics and basements. Nothing.

They asked about the crawl space in the church sanctuary - where Leslie was kept - but Bennett reported that his crew was just up there to fix the pipes and there was nothing unusual.

On March 3, the FBI was notified by a Memphis man who was on vacation in San Diego. He reported that Leslie was on Broadway Street in a waitress uniform. A San Diego search began.

DRASH was suspicious. He knew other notes had been found and too many things were missing. "I felt strongly there was something to it," he said.

Then came the pecan caper. Someone was stealing bags of pecans. A stakeout was planned. Drash counted the bags and hid under his desk until it got dark.

At 10 p.m., discouraged, he left. The next morning, four bags of pecans were gone. Someone had been there between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Please help me! My name is Leslie Gattas. Call the police immediately. Call my father George A. Gattas. He is vice president of Fred P. Gattas Co. I am in church attic with the man who kidnapped me. Show this note to the police. They have been looking for me a long time. This is not joke. Hurry! We come down at night at 10:30 or 11.

ON March 15, Drash called police to report three more notes. The following Sunday, Drash and his family arrived at church. His son opened a front-pew Bible and another note fluttered to the ground.

This time the note said church attic. After the service, Drash went up to the sanctuary attic.

Stubblefield and Leslie crouched low behind the false wall. He cupped her mouth. Drash stood for 15 minutes and left.

"Now," Drash says. "I'm not a religious fanatic or anything but I was sure that God was telling me something." That night, Drash grabbed his son's baseball bat and went to the school alone. His son was frightened and cried after his father left.

Drash waited in his dark office. He doesn't mind admitting that he was scared. The phone rang.

"I nearly jumped out of my skin," Drash says. It was his son. Unnerved by the call Drash left before 11:30. Leslie and Stubblefield came down around 11:45.

ON March 17, maintenance men Milton Bennett and Thomas Mungen were convinced that Leslie was somewhere in the church. That night, they set up a watch. Around 11:30 p.m., in the nursery, one of the men spotted Stubblefield and his victim walking downstairs.

"Hold it!" Mungen yelled.

Stubblefield grabbed Leslie and dragged her. She feigned a broken ankle and dropped to the ground. Bennett arrived with a billy club. Stubblefield nearly wrestled the club away. Leslie tried to run. Stubblefield grabbed her hair and dragged her up an embankment. Bennett hit him at the base of the neck. Leslie broke away. Stubblefield ran off into the darkness.

Leslie, at last, was free.

When police called the Gattas home, Leslie's sister, Lee Proctor, then 21, answered. "I freaked," she says. "I said, 'Listen I'm the oldest and if you have to tell my father that Leslie is in the morgue you can forget it.' I lost it. I thought there's no way any good phone call comes at midnight."

When Leslie got home, the sisters slept in the same room for months afterward.

Stubblefield remained at large. When police entered the attic they hauled out a pickup truck full of Stubblefield's hoard.

Police found an upper plate of false teeth, chain saws, pans, flashlights, candle holders, silverware, watches, rings, radios, citizens' band radios and directories to 40 churches.

Notebooks contained names and addresses of about 4,000 white females between the ages of 13 and 15. In some cases, maps corresponded to their homes. Some listed their father's occupation.

Police posted a sketch of Stubblefield. The manhunt began and calls flooded the police station. A man from Mississippi reported a mysterious naked man who roamed Union Avenue Church of Christ. Church employees nicknamed the streaker Stanley.

On April 6, a police dog named Smokey sniffed his way through Union Avenue Church of Christ. The dog stopped at a wall and started to chew.

Sgt. Pat Exley of the Dog Squad was confident of his canine. He bashed in the wall. Stubblefield, naked and in a narrow space under a stage, tried to squirm away. The dog attacked. He was arrested and treated for dog bites.

Stubblefield refused to speak to police. He still won't talk to the media. Or his family.

"Silence is my weapon," he had told Leslie.

Ernest Earl Stubblefield was indicted by the grand jury of Shelby County for aggravated kidnapping and burglary first-degree. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was denied parole in April 1991 due to the ''seriousness of the crime." He's at Cold Creek Correctional Facility (formerly Fort Pillow State Prison) near Henning, Tenn., and is up for parole again in April 1994.

TWO weeks after her release, the pale, thin sophomore returned to St. Agnes High School and resumed life. She did not receive therapy.

People from around the nation sent flowers, clothes, telegrams and letters. Her friends at school were amazed how quickly she fit back in. She credits her family for her easy assimilation.

"Nobody said, 'Everybody, tiptoe around Leslie.' " she says. "It was pretty much like, 'Well, OK. Let's get over it and let's move on.' That was a good attitude."

She adds, "What good would it be for me to lose my mind? If I had gone bonkers I would not have gone to college or law school. I wouldn't have married a wonderful man." If she had lost, he would have won. "But I did."

Leslie and her husband of two years, Wayne Coleman, look to be a typical American couple - ambitious, attractive, embracing life. They giggle in bed at night and plan their future and secretly want to be movie directors. They eat at Wendy's.

Somewhere in her prison hell, Leslie went from her aspiration to be a doctor to a lawyer, from a healer to a fighter.

"It's funny," she says, "litigation is my favorite part. I love getting in that courtroom."

Today, she handles various cases for her law firm. She wants to establish herself as a family attorney.

"It's rewarding 'cause you make a difference," she says. "You know, when one parent is more capable you're gonna fight to get that child in a nice home. It's not good enough to get by in life. I want people to say, 'While she was here, she made a difference.' It's not enough for people to say she was kidnapped and survived. I want them to say, 'In her 20s she did this, in her 30s she did this, in her 40s - this.' "

Leslie is personable, bright, eager. She radiates light. There is an honesty about her. And a somber side.

There isn't a day that goes by she doesn't think about it but she never talks about it unless someone asks. Her family speaks in terms of "Before Leslie went away" and "After Leslie got back."

It's made her more resilient, less trustful. She's no optimist who believes things happen only to other people. But she believes in happy endings.

"Thank God it happened to me 'cause I could handle it," she says. "What if it happened to someone else in my family who couldn't handle it? Their whole life would be ruined."

Her parents will probably never recover. Her mother still cries. When Leslie spends the night, in the crack of light under her bedroom door, she can see her parents' feet. Just making sure she's still there.

"It's so much worse to see people you love hurt," Leslie says. "He made two people hurt and they will never - in a million years - be the same. Even when I say, 'I feel fine and look fine,' they worry."

It's all part of God's plan. Leslie thinks her kidnapping happened for a reason. God allows free will.

"God figured: 'This is gonna happen but I will give her something. I can have a little hand in it and put her in a place that isn't so horrible.'

What better place to be than in God's house? There's a limit to the evil that could happen."

On her way to work, Leslie drives past Christ United Methodist Church. She always makes the sign of the cross.

"If I had to do it all over again just (to be that close to God) I would," she says. "I was so in tune. So many people go crazy over the smallest things. If they could see how it really is. Mine was so large it was out of spectrum. What happened to me is someone's worst nightmare."

When things look their bleakest, she says, is when you should be down on your knees. "Faith is a great thing," Leslie says. "Most people go their whole lives wondering if there is a God. I'm one of the lucky ones. I know there is."

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; News/Current Events; US: Tennessee
KEYWORDS: gattas; kidnapping; memphis; smart
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-37 next last
Copyrighted by Commerical Appeal.
1 posted on 03/13/2003 7:12:34 AM PST by i_dont_chat
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: i_dont_chat
Bump to read later.
2 posted on 03/13/2003 7:15:45 AM PST by Celtjew Libertarian (I like being free and that makes me an idiot, I suppose. -- Stan Rogers)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Howlin
Check this out! Perhaps this story will keep the jerks who keep crying "Elizabeth went willingly," "Why didn't Elizabeth try to escape?" or "Why did she cooperate if she wasn't willing?" ad nauseum!

Just looking at the pictures of Elizabeth's creeping-looking abductors and now reading this story makes me understand why Elizabeth may not have tried to run away. It's called survival. I'll bet you anything that Mitchell and that ugly hag who was with him kept Elizabeth quiet via threats and 24 hour guard duty!

Poor kid. Praise God that she is alive. I hope and pray that her recovery is a good as this story indicates...

3 posted on 03/13/2003 7:31:25 AM PST by demnomo
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: demnomo
That is truly an amazing story.
4 posted on 03/13/2003 7:32:33 AM PST by mel (Let's get the show on the road. Let's Roll.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: i_dont_chat


5 posted on 03/13/2003 7:33:23 AM PST by Jakarta ex-pat
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: i_dont_chat
What an amazing story! Thank you for posting it. I did some searching and found this:,1426,MCA_437_1699329,00.html

Ernest Stubblefield

File photographs

Following his capture (in the nude) on April 6, 1982, at Union Avenue Church of Christ, Ernest Stubblefield was given a set of clothes and treated at a hospital for dog bites.

The first public apeparance Leslie Gattas made following the end of her 119-day ordeal was to attend mass at St. Louis Catholic Church.


Abductor of Gattas is freed, secretive as ever
By Lawrence Buser
January 26, 2003

At 9 a.m. on April 6, 1982, police converged on Union Avenue Church of Christ with a lead on a most unusual fugitive.

While searching a storage area below a stage, Sgt. P. L. Exley kicked a hole in a false wall made of fiberboard and sent his barking canine Smokie inside. In the dark, narrow area, a man began hollering and quickly surrendered.

Naked, handcuffed and limping from the fresh dog bites, Ernest Earl Stubblefield - perpetrator of one of the city's most bizarre and highly publicized crimes - was finally captured.

At 10 a.m. on Nov. 17, 2002, Stubblefield walked out of West Tennessee State Penitentiary at Henning a free man, having served more than 20 years behind bars for the kidnapping of 15-year-old Leslie Gattas.

He had $75 in his pocket, some personal belongings and a ride from waiting relatives. There are no supervision requirements, no limits on his new freedom.

"I helped him when he left, and he's gone home up north, but I haven't heard from him since he got out," said Rick Huffman, a Tipton County banker who has known Stubblefield for 15 years through his church's prison outreach ministry. "He's a pretty private type person so I don't feel like sharing a lot of confidences, to be honest with you. I don't want anybody hounding him."

Numerous messages left at the unlisted telephone number of Stubblefield's sister in northern Illinois have gone unanswered. Stubblefield has never explained his motives to authorities or in the media.

"Silence is my weapon," he once told Gattas, who is now a lawyer. She did not respond to inquiries regarding Stubblefield's release.

He was turned down for parole five times between 1989 and 1997.

Still, his 30-year sentence was shortened considerably by time credits for good behavior and program participation.

His institutional record included only two writeups, regular church attendance and minimum security trusty status as a prison farm worker. Yet parole board members were not willing to take a chance on him.

"He seemed like he kind of enjoyed talking about what happened," recalled parole board member Larry Hassell of Memphis. "I did tell him I do regret the day you do get out of prison because you've given me the impression today you might do it again. He really wasn't remorseful, and he never really told us what he was thinking about."

No one has ever been sure what Stubblefield was thinking about when at about 3:30 on the morning of Nov. 19, 1981, he walked into the East Memphis home of George Gattas, bound young Leslie and drove her in the family's car to his attic hideout at Christ United Methodist Church.

Stubblefield then returned the car, put the keys back in the house and walked back to the church at 4488 Poplar nearly 3 miles away. There, for the next 119 days, Stubblefield held young Gattas captive in a crawl space above the sanctuary that measured 14-by-15 feet but was only 3 feet high and disguised by a false wall.

One theory was that Stubblefield was after a ransom and mistakenly thought Leslie was the daughter of prominent catalog showroom re tailer Fred P. Gattas. Her father is Fred's brother, but in any event a ransom demand was never made.

The other theory was he wanted a replacement for his teenage daughter Patti who just weeks earlier had refused to leave her mother in Alabama to live with him. He was divorced and had had virtually no contact with his daughter between 1970 and 1981.

Gattas later said she sometimes was frightened by his temper but that he never harmed her.

Church officials began finding frantic notes Gattas secretly left around the church during evening forays with her captor to the kitchen for food. Despite the details and frequency of the notes, they were mostly dismissed as pranks.

But eventually, coupled with constant problems of missing food, two church maintenance men set up a still watch. At 11:15 p.m. on March 18, 1982, they spotted Stubblefield and Gattas in the kitchen area. After a struggle, they rescued Gattas, but Stubblefield lumbered off into the night, shirtless and barefooted.

By the time he was captured 5 miles away at the Union Avenue church nearly three weeks later, police had cataloged Stubblefield's odd and frightening cache of collectibles he had left behind in the crawl space.

There were:

Keys to dozens of churches and residences throughout the city, including more than a dozen with the names of teenage girls taped to them.

Church directories and combinations to the safes of several schools, including St. Agnes Academy, where $3,800 was taken from the safe in July 1981. Two months later Stubblefield bought a car in Alabama for $2,500 cash.

Notebooks and papers with the names of 4,000 girls between ages 14 and 17, many with map book page numbers designating where they lived.

High school yearbooks in which he had circled the pictures of girls, sometimes with notations beside them and the occupations of their fathers.
Less than two months after his capture, Stubblefield - against the advice of his lawyer - pleaded guilty to aggravated kidnapping and burglary and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Although defendants often try to void their guilty pleas later by claiming their attorneys did not properly represent them, Stubblefield filed nothing. The 6-2, 270-pound inmate quietly went to prison to do his time.

"He was a gentle giant," recalls outreach minister Gary Waller of Brentwood, who met Stubblefield at the main prison in Nashville 20 years ago. "He was a big old guy with a big heart. I remember what (crime) he did, but I didn't in any way see those traits or characteristics. He was kind and I thought pretty sharp. I don't know why he did what he did."

Born and raised in Haleyville in northwest Alabama, Stubblefield later moved to Rock ford, Ill., where, police said, he spent a week in 1967 at a psychiatric hospital on a voluntary commitment.

He lived in Memphis during the 1970s, belonged to several churches and worked as a machinist at three different companies. Colleagues remember him as being good with locks and keys. His addresses included North McNeil, Overton Crossing and the old Tennessee Hotel.

While in prison, Stubblefield held jobs as a milk machine operator for 25 cents an hour, as a farm worker for 42 cents an hour and as a maintenance worker for 50 cents an hour.

He also attended church services and Bible groups on Sundays and Tuesdays.

"He takes the lead in the services by leading singing, leading prayers and serving the Lord's supper," gospel preacher Larry D. Powers of Burlison wrote the parole board in 1990. "I have found him to be reliable and dependable as well as being a good student of the Bible."

He earned a high school equivalency diploma and more than 80 hours of college credit through Dyersburg State Community College.

Stubblefield also established a bank account and donated several hundred dollars to Powers's Elm Grove Church of Christ to help support gospel preachers and to aid victims of Hurricane Hugo, Powers said.

His only two disciplinary marks in prison were for fighting in 1991 and for having excessive property - nine pairs of socks, a large bag of peppers and syrup stored in cracker boxes - in 1997.

While behind bars, his daughter, now 38, got married and started a family. When she sent him pictures of his grandchildren, Stubblefield wrote back thanking her. He also told her it would be best if she did not write him again.

6 posted on 03/13/2003 7:38:30 AM PST by Mrs.O'Strategery
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: demnomo
>I'll bet you anything that Mitchell and that ugly hag who was with him kept Elizabeth quiet via threats and 24 hour guard duty!

7 posted on 03/13/2003 7:38:43 AM PST by theFIRMbss
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: i_dont_chat
How about this is a great day for the Smart family !
8 posted on 03/13/2003 7:40:04 AM PST by hippyhater
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: i_dont_chat
I'd like to see this story get more publicity. Others, older people, have been kidnapped and held prisoner, and couldn't escape.
9 posted on 03/13/2003 7:40:36 AM PST by Dante3
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Mrs.O'Strategery
Thanks for the update.

I have to say that I am sorry that he is out of prison.

10 posted on 03/13/2003 7:43:41 AM PST by i_dont_chat
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: i_dont_chat
Wow, that is astounding. My impression is that Gattas is a woman who can do & handle just about anything.

WHEN Leslie's notes were found in the church and school, they were discarded. ''We thought it was some teenager putting the notes out," says Rev. Jerry Corlew, former executive minister.

Anyone who ignored those notes should be beaten unconscious with a shovel every day for the rest of thei lives.

11 posted on 03/13/2003 7:44:18 AM PST by Sloth ("I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!" -- Jacobim Mugatu, Zoolander)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: i_dont_chat
Wow, what a story and an incredible girl.
12 posted on 03/13/2003 7:46:47 AM PST by TheOtherOne
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: i_dont_chat
What a tough cookie! Smart with the will to survive...can't believe so many people ignored her notes. Bizarre!
13 posted on 03/13/2003 7:48:22 AM PST by minmospop
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: i_dont_chat
All I can say is: WOW. Thanks for posting.
14 posted on 03/13/2003 7:51:18 AM PST by CheneyChick (Lock & Load)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: i_dont_chat
What a disgusting comedy of errors. That poor girl.........surrounded by idiots.
15 posted on 03/13/2003 8:04:43 AM PST by RightOnline
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: TheOtherOne
Won't it be encouraging to the Smart family, to read how this Gattas young woman survived her terrible ordeal?

Perhaps someone could bring this to the attention of the parents of Elizabeth Smart. Just a thought.

16 posted on 03/13/2003 8:09:05 AM PST by i_dont_chat
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: i_dont_chat
"When Drash, the headmaster, turned over the notes he found to police in March he discovered there was some concern at Christ United Methodist about police involvement."

Denial is an amazing thing. Why are people so afraid of looking bad or feeling shame?! I like this Gattas girl - she lived to fight another day, and makes a difference.

Would that I will have enough courage not to be an ostrich..
To notice what is out of place, and to take action.

17 posted on 03/13/2003 8:18:01 AM PST by SarahW
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: i_dont_chat; GailA
You beat me to it. Thanks for posting it.
18 posted on 03/13/2003 8:29:47 AM PST by Maigrey (Member of the Dose's Jesus Freaks, Jack Straw Fan club, and the Gonzo News Service)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: i_dont_chat
That was incredible. Thanks for posting it.
19 posted on 03/13/2003 8:48:49 AM PST by Jaded (Why? Because they can.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Aaron0617
Thanks also. Will read later.
20 posted on 03/13/2003 8:50:46 AM PST by Aaron0617
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-37 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson