On September 10th, Lifetime released their made for TV movie ‘The Girl in the Box’, a dramatisation of the case of Colleen Stan.
Colleen was 20 years old when she was picked up by Cameron Hooker and his wife Janice while hitchhiking to a friend’s birthday party. There have been reports that the Hooker’s first child was in the vehicle too, but either way Colleen stated that she felt “confident climbing into the blue van”.
Cameron drove the van to a desolated spot and put a knife to Colleen’s throat. He warned her he’d kill her if she made a noise. Colleen’s was bound, blindfolded and gagged, then her head was placed into a homemade wooden box designed to deprive the person of natural light, air and sound.
What followed this kidnapping was seven years of rape, torture, conditioning and abuse. Hooker kept Colleen in a coffin sized box for 23 hours a day, barely feeding her and forcing to relieve herself into a bedpan inside the box.
A year after she was taken, Colleen was forced to sign her life into the hands of ‘The Company’, a fictional organisation that facilitated the ownership of slaves. Cameron told Colleen that The Company was constantly monitoring her and if she dared to run or tell anyone about her situation, they would kill her and her entire family.
Armed with this threat, Cameron was able to allow Colleen to leave the house, care for his children alone and even get a job as a hotel maid. If this wasn’t bad enough, Colleen was allowed to visit her family, with Cameron, who she introduced as her boyfriend.
So why did she continue to stay with a man who stole her life? Why, when she had access to a phone, a car, and even her own family members, did she return with Cameron to her tiny box?
Lifetime’s drama documentary does a really good job of showing why Colleen didn’t run. At the beginning of the film, Colleen asks Cameron why he’s doing this to her and swears that if he lets her go, she won’t say a word to anyone. As the Hooker’s realise that their captive knows too much about them, the threat of The Company starts to form. Once Colleen believes that her and her family’s lives are in danger, and that Cameron is the only one who can protect her from the organisation, she gives in.
Slowly but surely, Stockholm Syndrome sets in and the man who she has known for seven years, who she believes is her only protector, becomes all she has. Janice Hooker is overcome by jealousy because of Colleen’s relationship with her husband and does everything she can to make her life a living hell (as if it wasn’t already).
This woman would eventually become Colleen’s savior when, in August 1984, she would leave her husband and finally reveal what I believe a deep part of Colleen already knew: there was no ‘Company’. Janice put Colleen on a bus and told her to go home.
Despite the anger and brutal frustration I felt for Colleen, I understand her compliance. She did what she had to do to survive. If she’d had done what Marie Elizabeth Spannhake did, scream for her life, she would be buried next to her, her body never to be found.
Overall The Girl in the Box was a good watch, which made me experience Colleen’s journey with her. From anger to fear, shame to sympathy, we were able to understand what Stockholm Syndrome is and why people in situations such as these experience it.
Have you seen The Girl in the Box or heard of Colleen’s case? Let me know what you think and as always, please do suggest any cases you’d like to see covered.
Edit – if you want to read more about attachment and Stockholm Syndrome, the blog Evil Sits at the Dinner Table has written a fantastic post on this case. You can read it here.