Inside the Miraculous Escape of a Mom and Daughter Held Captive in Closet for 53 Days
Mary Stauffer and her daughter Beth were kidnapped by her former student and held captive for 53 days
She was kidnapped at gunpoint with her 8-year-old daughter in 1980, then held captive and raped repeatedly for 53 days. On the second day of her abduction, former teacher Mary Stauffer learned who her tormentor was: Her former ninth grade math student from 15 years before, Ming Sen Shiue.
Mary, then 36, didn’t remember him initially, and when Shiue, then 29, jogged her recollections by talking about the class, she didn’t recall anything alarming about him.
“Very bright. Very capable student. Just a typical ninth grade boy,” Stauffer tells PEOPLE.
Nothing from the teenage Shiue’s comportment would have predicted that he would become obsessed with Mary and spend years stalking her or that, unbeknownst to her, he would try to kidnap her at least four times before he was successful. Nothing would have predicted the horror Mary and daughter Beth experienced inside Shiue’s Minnesota home, when they spent days chained up inside a closet just 21 inches wide and four feet long.
Shiue, who murdered a six-year-old boy who’d witnessed the abduction in progress, would videotape his sexual assaults of Mary, forcing her to comply by threatening Beth. He played constant mind games with them, telling them that he’d kill them and the rest of their family if they tried to escape.
“Every day we wondered if it was going to be our last day,” says Mary. “We had no confidence that we would get through it alive.”
Their ordeal is the subject of Abducted: The Mary Stauffer Story, which premieres on Lifetime on Saturday, Oct. 5 at 8/7c and stars Alyson Hannigan as Mary. (An exclusive clip of the film is shown above.) Mary says that having her experience portrayed on the screen shows other survivors that they’re not alone and that their traumas don’t have to define them.
“I think many people have gone through really bad things; many women have been raped,” she says. “They need to see that there’s life after this.”
Shiue told Mary that she had derailed his life by giving him a B in algebra, which cost him a college scholarship and forced him to fight in the Vietnam War, where he said he became a prisoner of war.
But this was all a lie: In reality, Shiue was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by his high school peers and attended the University of Minnesota, after which he became the owner of a successful electronics store. He never fought in Vietnam
‘Do You Think an Angel Will Let Us Out of the Closet?’
Mary had doubts she would make it out alive, but she tried to convince Beth that things would work out. A devout Christian, Mary would tell Beth stories from the Bible to preserve her optimism, like about the apostle Peter who was imprisoned and was set to be killed the next day, only to be saved when God sent an angel.
“And Beth said, ‘Do you think an angel will let us out of the closet and let us go home again?’” Mary recalls.
Beth tells PEOPLE that she knew what she and her mom was experiencing was horrible, but that as a small child, “I didn’t have enough life experience to fully process what was happening.”
“Never during the kidnappings did I understand that [Mary] was being raped. I was insulated from that,” she says.
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Decades later, now a parent and grandparent herself, Beth has a handful of vivid recollections, but most of her memory is an amalgam of what she experienced and what she was told happened afterward. The aspect that angers her the most is that Shiue used her as a pawn “to control and manipulate my mom.”
One time, Shiue complained that Mary wasn’t being physically affectionate with him while he raped her. He took Beth out of the closet and put a plastic bag over her head and under her feet for several minutes, telling Mary she would suffocate after several minutes. He only took it off after Mary kissed him on the mouth.
If Beth didn’t fully grasp the horror, Mary did. She leaned on her religious faith that things would somehow work out, even if she didn’t know how.
“Our job was not to understand [what was happening]. It was to trust that the Lord was going to work this out in his own way, in his own time,” she says.
On their 53rd day in captivity, while Shiue was at work, Mary, who says she is not mechanically inclined, noticed something about how Shiue was holding them in place: There was a cable connecting Mary and Beth, and that cable was secured to a hinge pin on the closet door. If she could get that hinge pin out, Mary and Beth could walk free.
She went to remove the hinge pin — “and nobody was more surprised than I when that hinge pin came out as if it were greased.”
Mary called police and identified herself. The wait for authorities to rescue them seemed interminable. Mary and Beth initially waited by the front door, but they moved to the backyard because it was taking so long and they worried Shiue would come and find them before authorities did. He had successfully instilled in them the fear that he was always watching them, even when he wasn’t present. They were crouching down in the backyard behind an old car when two unmarked cars pulled into the driveway.
Mary and Beth were going home. Soon after, Shiue was arrested at his workplace.
Kidnapper Attacked Mary During Trial
Five years before Shiue kidnapped Mary and Beth, he broke into her in-laws’ house, thinking it was Mary’s. At gunpoint, he tied the couple up and threatened to kill them if they told police. They complied, and Mary and her family didn’t know about the crime until after her abduction.
Even while in custody, Shiue continued to terrorize them. He had vowed to Mary that if he got caught, he’d find her if he was released from prison, and if she were dead, he’d go after her kids. While in jail awaiting trial, he offered another inmate $50,000 to kill the pair so they couldn’t testify against him.
During his trial for the kidnapping of Mary and Beth, while Mary was testifying, Shiue got out of his chair at the defense table and charged her, but he was stopped before he could harm her. However, during his trial for the murder of the six-year-old boy, Jason Wilkman, Shiue snuck a knife into the courtroom and again lunged at Mary when she was testifying, slashing her across the face. The wound required 62 stitches.
Shiue was ultimately convicted of kidnapping Mary and Beth and of murdering Wilkman. In 2010, he was denied parole and a judge determined he would spend the rest of his life in prison.
After the trials were over and the media spotlight faded, the family moved back to the Philippines to resume doing Christian missionary work. Getting away from the U.S. allowed them to reclaim a sense of normalcy. Being in a country with higher crime and poverty rates helped them realize they weren’t alone in what they had suffered.
Now, Mary and Beth take pride in their ability to live fulfilling lives and not, as Mary says, “live in that horrible moment forever.”
Says Beth, “[Shiue] said he didn’t want to leave physical scars, just emotional. He took 53 days of our lives. If I let him have one more, evil wins, and I’m not gonna let that happen.”
Abducted: The Mary Stauffer Story, premieres on Lifetime on Saturday, Oct. 5 at 8/7c.