Elizabeth Shoaf's abductor, Vinson Filyaw, had been serving a sentence of 421 years in prison

By Jeff Truesdell
May 04, 2021 09:09 PM
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Vinson Filyaw and his victim, Elizabeth Shoaf
Vinson Filyaw, left, and Elizabeth Shoaf
| Credit: Rex/Shutterstock; courtesy Kershaw County PD

A South Carolina man whose 2006 kidnapping, detention and rape of then 14-year-old Elizabeth Shoaf in an underground bunker for 10 days led him to be sentenced to 421 years in prison has died there.

Law enforcement officials confirm that Vinson Filyaw, 51, died behind bars at South Carolina's McCormick Correctional Institute on Monday, reports Columbia TV station WLTX.

Elizabeth's abduction, manipulation of her captor and her escape inspired the 2018 Lifetime channel movie Girl in the Bunker.

Her abductor had approached her pretending to be a police officer.

Elizabeth was on her way home from school in Lugoff, South Carolina, on Sept. 6, 2006, when the man dressed in combat fatigues handcuffed her, walked her into the woods, and then held her captive in the hand-dug underground bunker for 10 days, during which he repeatedly raped her.

elizabeth-shoaf
Elizabeth Shoaf in 2008

As part of her strategy to escape, Elizabeth resolved to win his trust, convincing Filyaw to share his cell phone so she could play games on it. Then, when he slept, she urgently texted family and friends, Elizabeth told NBC's Today show in 2008.

That rallied police who initially had considered her a runaway, and they were able to zero in on Filyaw, who was then an unemployed 36-year-old construction worker and a suspect in an unrelated sexual assault.

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Alarmed as he watched news coverage of the manhunt with the girl, Filyaw asked Elizabeth what to do.

"I told him he needed to leave because if they'd catch him, he would go to jail," she said.

After he did, she fled and was recovered — exhibiting her own bravery as later recounted in the TV movie.

Kidnapping
Vinson Filyaw, at center
| Credit: Bob Soflay/Beaufort Gazette/MCT/Getty

Filyaw was captured five miles away and arrested. Facing multiple charges including kidnapping, he avoided trial by pleading guilty to all counts and was sentenced in September 2007 to 421 years in prison.

"I look at her all the time and think what she went through and how she did it," her father, Don Shoaf, told Today in 2008. "I'm still amazed."

Elizabeth said she focused her thoughts on family and prayer as she devised her way out.

"I guess if I wanted him to trust me I'd have to have him think I kind of wanted to be there and be more comfortable letting me do things I wanted to do," she told Today.

That included asking for access to his phone. When he gave it to her, she texted her mom.

"Hey mom, it's Lizzie," Madeline Shoaf recalled the message as saying, she told CNN in 2006.

"I looked at the text, and I ran straight to [my husband] and told him, 'It's Elizabeth. No one else has my cell phone,'" she said.

"She told me exactly where she was, down the road, which road it was … get the police. She's in a hole."

Investigators traced the message as coming from an area around Filyaw's trailer located less than a mile from his victim's parents' home. Authorities moved in, eventually finding Elizabeth wandering on her own.

After her ordeal, Elizabeth turned the case of her abduction into activism.

"I'm the perfect example of what can happen," she told dozens of mothers and daughters in 2013 at Lugoff-Elgin Middle School, sharing her warning to be cautious around strangers, according to WISTV.com.

"I survived and I can help others survive," she said.

"Unfortunately we can't stop it from happening, but we can reduce it if parents are more cautious of what's going on and who's around," she said.

No cause of death for Filyaw was released.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to rainn.org.