The Panther Strikes
It had been a wonderful evening for Antonia, who had been wined and dined by her boyfriend at the finest restaurant in York, before been driven back to her country cottage. They had sat in the car, talking and sharing their love for each other, before he had done the gentlemanly thing and opened the passenger door for her.
She stepped out; her shawl wrapped tightly around her body, and gave him a good night kiss before turning and opening the garden gate. He stood there, watching as she walked up the garden path and turned to walk in the side door, before climbing into his Jaguar and driving off.
If he had stayed for another minute, he may have hard her muffled gasp and cry for help, or even seen a few minutes later the small car drive down the side road by the cottage and head in the other direction. As it was, he didn’t - and so it was a while before he, or anyone save one person, saw Antonia again.
How long it was, she could not say, but eventually she felt the car stop, heard a door open and felt herself been dragged out of the car. The masked man had grabbed her as she had turned the corner, and hissed into her ear that she should “Shut up or else” as he hand gagged her and held her with his other arm. Antonia had merely nodded as she briefly saw a flash of cloth before she was blindfolded, and her hands pulled behind her back. She had then felt the twine digging into her skin as her wrists were tied together, before she had been pushed into the back of a car and driven off.
As the blindfold was pulled off her head, Antonia blinked, blinded momentarily by the bright light, before she looked around herself. She was in a large room, with much of the furniture covered with dust sheets, save for a tall high back chair in the centre of the room. As she was roughly turned round, she got her first good look at her kidnapper.
He was about six foot tall, with short dark hair, but the stocking that as pulled over his face made it difficult to see much else about him. He wore a black roll neck sweater and trousers, with black leather gloves over his hands.
“Who are you,” Antonia said quietly, “and why have you brought me here?”
“I’m called The Panther by the press,” the man said with a smile. Antonia’s eyes shot open when she heard this. The Panther was notorious - he first struck two years previously, in 1971, kidnapping the teenage daughter of a peer, and holding her for a week until the ransom was paid.
“Oh my god,” Antonia said quietly, “So this is a kidnapping?”
“What do you think? Just do as you’re told, and you’ll be just fine.” He pulled the black shawl off her shoulders, leaving Antonia standing in a high necked Victorian style white blouse, black floor length satin skirt, and matching heels. Taking her by the arm, he walked her quickly over to the chair and made her sit in, her wrists pressed against the chair back as he picked up a large coil of thick black rope.
“What are you going to do with that," Antonia asked, wide eyed as he shook the rope loose and walked behind the back of the chair she was sitting on.
“Make sure you cannot get free,” he said a she passed the rope around her waist, pulling it tightly so that she was forced back against the wooden back rest, and started to wind it round her upper body, the black contrasting with her white blouse as it was pulled against her by the loops.
As it pulled her waist in, she looked down and saw her breasts hanging over the binding, covering it as he laced it through the woodwork and under her arms to secure her further. Eventually, satisfied she was secure, he walked round and pulled he rankles against the front leg, binding them together and securing them to the heavy chair when he had done so.
“You’ll be staying with me for a little while,” he said as he looked directly into Antonia’s eyes. “You will get toilet breaks when I let you, so hold on until then.”
“Please, don’t do this....”
“N, dontmgfmdmfmdmgm,” Antonia said as he stuffed a folded black cloth into her mouth, before using a long strip of white material to force it further in. Knotting the ends together at the base of her neck, he then pulled the long lengths around the chair back, forcing Antonia’s head against the chair as he secured them on the other side.
Antonia looked behind her as the man double checked the knots. As he walked round, she saw he had a Polaroid camera in his hand, which he used to take several pictures of her, before placing a copy of the Times on her lap and taking a few more.
“Well, that should convince your daddy I have you safely tucked away,” the Panther said as he looked at Antonia. “I’m going to send these off to him now - don’t you go anywhere.”
“Plsdnntllvmmm,” Antonia called out as the masked man walked out of the room, turning the lights off and leaving her in darkness, the windows shuttered and only the eerie glow of the residual light from the covers to show her where she was.
How long she was left like that, she couldn’t say, but after an eternity the light went back on and she saw the Panther standing in front of her.
“Good news,” he said as he smiled under the stocking, “Your father has agreed to pay. Apparently they really d love you - your niece Veronika is beside herself with worry.”
“Veronika,” Antonia gasped as he pulled the scarf down and took the now sodden cloth out of her mouth, “How does she know?”
“Most resourceful child - apparently she heard your father talking to me on the phone.” As he held a bottle of water to her lips, Antonia took a sip.
“So, what happens now?”
“Now - I take you to collect my money and let you go.”
“Yes - I’m going to untie you, and let you stand up. I’m sure you need to - relieve yourself as well, and then I’ll get you ready to go.”
It was some time later, as Antonia came out of the bathroom, that she saw the Panther standing there with a length of rope in his hands.
“I must, now turn round.” She allowed him to bind her hands before he led her out to the garage. As she stepped through the door, she was stunned to see another woman standing there.
She was standing against a wall, ropes wound her body and her wrist bound behind her back, as she stared at Antonia over the thick white scarf filling her mouth. She was wearing a red minidress, the front of which had been ripped open to reveal her white bra, as she twisted in the ropes around her legs and ankles, her black hair falling over her shoulders.
Antonia stared, before quietly saying “Doreen? Doreen Clark?” The other woman nodded as the Panther put his hand on Antonia’s shoulder.
“I almost forgot,” he said as she turned to look at him, “I need you to take a message to Doreen’s parents as well. Now, open wide - I need to keep you quiet for the journey.”
Antonia Mueller was found twelve hours later, bound and gagged, in a clearing in a forest near Northallerton. It was a further week before Doreen Clark was released, after the payment of a second substantial ransom.
Neither girl could tell the police much - they had been blindfolded when taken and returned. All they could say was they recognised each other, and it was the man called The Panther.
The first time police heard of this man had been a year or so earlier, when the daughter of Sir Dennis Fowler, the chairman of UCC, was kidnapped from her school...
Amy slowly opened her eyes, the ringing sound in her ears sounding like her bedside alarm going off. She had no recollection of getting home, however, nothing really since she had left her gym class the day before.
As she allowed her eyes to focus, Amy suddenly realised she was not in her bedroom, nor was she lying down. She was in an old wooden seat, and her arms seemed to be pulled behind the back of the chair. She tried moving them, but realised that not only could she not move them round, something was holding her arms firmly to her side as well.
“Whtsbngn,” she said. What she wanted to say was “What’s Going On,” but her lips refused to move - something was pulling at them, and holding them together at the same time.
There was a wardrobe that she could see to her side, with a large mirror at the door. Twisting herself, she managed to move the seat round so that she could see herself in the mirror - which led to her screaming “NNNHLPMMMM” as she saw her reflection.
She was still in her white blouse and short dark skirt, with her feet in the white socks and deck shoes she had worn yesterday. What was new was the rope around her ankles and knees, as well as her arms and chest. As she probed with her fingers she felt the rope around her wrists, running down to the back of the chair.
Over her mouth was a length of white tape, sealing her lips together as she tried to talk.
“WHTTLSGNN,” she called out as the door opened and a man walked in. He was wearing a t-shirt and shorts, with a black ski mask over his head, only his mouth and his blue eyes showing.
“Well, I see you’re awake,” he said with a smile. “I was afraid you were going to miss all the fun.
“Yeah - listen.” He switched on the radio, as Amy heard the newsreader say “Police are still looking for Amy Fowler, the missing daughter if Sir Dennis Fowler, who disappeared on her way home from school yesterday. Amy was last seen wearing...”
“Well, you know what you’re wearing,” the man said as he turned the radio off,” and by now your parents will have got the ransom note with your photo.”
“Yeah - not much, just ten thousand pounds.”
Amy’s eyes widened - that was a small fortune. “Thylnvp,” she mumbled.
“Oh I think they will - let’s wait and see shall we? For now, sit back, and relax, I’ll leave the radio no for you.” S HE SWITCHED IT BACK ON, THE SOUND OF Tony Blackburn coming through the air, Amy started to try and free herself - but with little progress. The ropes had been tied too tightly.
The ransom was paid, and Amy released some time later, but this was only the first time the Panther struck. Over the next few years, he became bolder and more sophisticated in the approach he took, and in the demands he made.
The first few times his approach was conventional, but then there was the occasion when he kidnapped, in broad daylight, a well known pop singer called...
“I’ll go and get some more drinks - you lot just stay there.”
Jenny walked out of the crowded front room and made her way to the large country style kitchen in her mansion near Coventry. She had just returned from a successful tour, and this was the party she had promised everyone.
She was wearing for the occasion a blue puffseleeved mini dress, which had a floral pattern on the front running from her shoulders to the gathered waist, white stockings and a pair of brown wedge sandals. Her blonde hair had been cut to fall over her face and accentuate her beautiful blue eyes.
As she walked into the kitchen, Jenny put her glass on the table and walked to the large fridge, opening it and reaching for a bottle of champagne. Before she could pick it up, however, she was grabbed from behind, a gloved hand clamped over her mouth as she heard a man say “Stay nice and calm, Jenny - I want to take you for a little trip.”
“Whru,” she mumbled as she tried not to gag at the leather smell penetrating her nostrils.
“Your kidnapper,” the voice said as she was dragged backwards, one hand over her mouth and the other around her waist as she was turned and made to lean over the large oak table. “Keep your head down, and put your hands behind your back.”
“Please,” Amy said as the hand was finally removed, “You can’t expect to take me hostage, not with all my friends in the front of the house. They’ll hear you.”
“Only if you shout - and if you shout, I will be forced to keep you quiet.” Whoever had grabbed her let those words hang in the air as he grabbed her hands and held them behind her back, her wrists crossed as she felt some sort of twine been pulled tightly around them to hold them together.
“Please I’ll give you money, just leave me alooowwwww,” Amy said as she felt the fibres digging into her skin.
“I know you’ll give me money - or at least, your manager will,” the man said as Amy felt one more tug on the wrist and then her head was lifted up. “Now, pout your lips together.”
“What do you mmmmm,” Amy said as a strip of white plaster was stuck over her mouth, forming to the shape of her jaw as it sealed her lips together.
“Let’s go,” her captor said as he grabbed Amy by the arm and frog marched her to the kitchen door, opening it as they walked out into the large garden. The tow walked down the pathway, the sound of the party receding into the distance as they approached the fence at the bottom.
As the intruder opened the gate and ushered Amy out, one of her friends walked into the kitchen. “Amy?” she said as she looked round, but there was no sign of the girl. “Must have gone upstairs,” she said with a shrug as she collected the bottle from the open fridge door and walked out, tottering on her heels as she did so.
Amy looked over her shoulder as the kidnapper pulled again at the ropes that were criss-crossing her chest, holding her fast to the back of the old wooden chair she was sat in. She had been bundled into the boot of a car, driven for at least an hour, and then brought out of a garage into this room, where she had been sat down as he grabbed more rope.
It went around her arms, holding them into her side as it had been wound both the chair back and her bust, as well as over her shoulders. More rope went around her ankles, holding them tightly together side by side as she swung her legs to and fro under the chair seat.
“There now,” the man finally said as he walked round, and Amy finally got her first real look at him. She stared at him, before saying “sht - thepnfr.”
“Guilty as charged,” he said as he reached down and pulled her skirt up, revealing the tops of her white stockings. Her eyes widened as he did this, saying “plsntt” through her gag.
“Oh I’m not going to do that,” he said with a smile under his stocking mask, “I just need the ransom photographs to look good. Smile for the camera now...”
The photographs had the desired effect, and when Amy was released she made a fair amount telling her story to some of the more salacious of the British press. Some years later, when she attempted a comeback, she actually used one of the photos as the cover of the album, called “Please Release Me”.
It sold well, and her autobiography had a slightly embellished version of what happened during the week she was held. In truth, it was boring, with her bound and gagged most of the time, but when in doubt, print the legend.
This, however, was not the most notorious or celebrated snatch by the Panther. That happened six months later, at the home of the television presenter Suzanna Prior...
It was the pressure over her mouth that first made Suzanna stir. She opened her eyes to see a blurred face looking down at her, a gloved finger to the lips that she could just about make out.
Her eyes opened side, as she looked to her husband sleeping next to her. “Not a word,” the face in front of her said, “we don’t want to waken your darling daughters up, do we? If we did, they may have to come with us as well.”
“Nnn,” the dark haired beauty mumbled under the leather that was over her mouth. “Very good, when I take my hand away, I want you to get up and come with me, nice and quietly.”
The man removed his hand and pulled the covers back, allowing Suzanna to stand up as she saw the glint of metal in the dim light. She was wearing a black negligee that went down to just above her knees, a lace border at the top over her beast and chest, and her hair was held back in a ponytail by a cloth band.
Taking her by the arm, the man led her out of the bedroom, along the corridor and down the staircase, stopping at the foot as he said “turn round and put your hands behind your back.”
“What is this,” Suzanna whispered as she did what he had commanded, looking over her shoulder as he took white rope and quickly passed it around and between her wrists, pulling them tightly together as she grimaced slightly.
“What do you think it is, Suzanna,” he said as he tied off the final knot and produced a longer length of rope, wrapping it around her waist to pin her wrists against the small of her back and then between her arms and her back to tighten it further.
“A robbery? If so, I’ll give you the combination to the safe, and you can take whatever you want.” As she was talking, the man was wrapping yet more rope around her upper arms and body, pulling them into her side before cinching the ropes at both sides under her arms.
“It’s not a robbery,” he said as he turned her round and sat her on the stairs, placing her ankles together as yet more rope was used to tie them together. Suzanna wasn’t sure how he was producing it out of thin air, until she finally saw the canvas holdall on the floor next to them, the white coils more visible in the dawning light coming through the open front door.
“But if it’s - oh Christ, no, you’re...”
“Yes, I am - but not the Black one,” the Panther said as he bound her legs together, two bands of rope above and below her knees, the higher one going over the skirt of her negligee. “So long as you do as you’re told, you’ll be just fine.”
“But my babies, please don’t...”
“Lady, I don’t take kids as a rule, but if you wake them up then they are coming as well. My advice to you is to shut up and relax - I’m not going to hurt you. You’re much too valuable to do that to.”
Suzanna wasn’t sure if she should be flattered or angry, but a she pushed a sponge into her mouth and tied a black silk scarf rolled into a band between her lips, she settled for just scared.
“Whrwgn,” she mumbled as the Panther collected his ropes and put them into the bag, hoisting it over one shoulder as he did so.
“Trade secret,” he said as he picked her up in her arms and carried her towards the open door, “I suggest you relax and enjoy the experience.”
Suzanna looked out of the door at the grey van, then back to the stocking covered face of the man carrying her, as the tears started to roll down her eyes. “Don’t worry,” he said a she looked down at her while climbing into the back of the van, “You’ll be home soon with your loved ones, I’m sure of it.”
Suzanna was indeed returned to the bosom of her home soon, and the Panther continued to strike, the police seemingly unable to catch him, until one day in the early 1980’s, when they finally had a lucky break.
The victim this time was one Anne Windsor, who hosted a well known lunchtime chat show. She had been missing for two days when the ransom photo finally arrived, demanding the delivery of £100,000 pound for her safe release.
She had last been seen at a Jungle Rock party, and the photo showed her seated on an old style steamer trunk, staring at the camera she leaned forward. Her outfit was a black v-necked sweater, with a pink silk scarf tied round her neck, white britches with a gun belt, and knee length brown patent leather boots.
It was obvious from the photo that her arms were pinioned behind her back, with bands of white rope encircling her chest at her waist and above her bust. Her legs were bound side by side, and a white scarf was pulled tightly over her mouth.
What was different this time was a very observant police scientist, who recognised the style of trunk as a particularly vintage one - a collectable, in fact.
As he was searching antique shops for ones in the area Anne was taken from, word came in of another television personality kidnapped - Hazel Irvine, otherwise known as the Crimson Campaigner, due to her habit of wearing red on her program, Snoop Hound! She had been taken from a gym as she left, with witnesses describing the man who grabbed her as tall, well built and dressed in black, with something over his head.
As this news came in, the details for the delivery of the ransom for Anne arrived - as did the news that a trunk similar to the one in her photo had been sold recently to a man called Daniel Way. As the ransom delivery was made for Anne, the police were waiting nearby, poised to strike...
“You’ll soon be safe in the bosom of your friends again Anne,” the man said over his shoulder to the bound, gagged and blindfolded woman laid in the back seat of his Daimler.
Anne Windsor grunted, the squeak of her leather boots as she twisted her legs round the only other sound that could be heard above the traffic on the road beside them. She had been held by this man for a week now, never seeing his face, not even now as a black scarf had been tied tightly over her eyes. Instead, she tried to twist herself free, with no luck as the ropes held firm.
Eventually she heard the car stop and the door opening, as the man said "You just stay there - I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
He walked away from the car and across the field, stopping by a large tree as he looked at the telephone box that stood in the road. The light from the sun rising over the horizon cast a red glow over the countryside, with nobody else round at that time to watch.
A silver Daimler made its way down the country road, the headlights blazing as it came to a stop by the telephone box. A man got out, carrying a case which he left inside the door to the box, climbing back into the car and driving off. He smiled to himself as he watched this - another successful payday for him.
Waiting until the car had driven over the hill, he walked quickly own the field, hopped over the gate and made his way to the box. Opening the door, he picked up the bag and placed it on the shelf, slowly opening the zip and looking inside.
He stared at the piles of neatly cut paper inside, on folded over sitting at the top. Taking the loose note out, he opened and read the one word message inside.
The door to the telephone box was pulled open and he was pulled out, forced to the ground by the two burly policemen as his hands were cuffed behind him. “Daniel Way,” a voice said behind him, “you’re nicked. Get him out of here.”
Anne turned her head as she heard the door to the car opening, and a pair of hands pulling gently at her legs. “whtnw,” she mumbled as she felt herself been sat up, but as the blindfold was removed from her eyes she saw not the stocking covered face of her kidnapper, but the face of a policeman as he said “It’s all right, Anne - we’ve got him.”
Hazel stared straight ahead, unsure of what she could do. She was sat on a stool, dressed still in her crimson leotard and tights that she had been wearing when the man had snatched her, and she was aching in every bone of her body.
Her arms were stretched behind her back, her wrists held tightly together with rope that had been wound up her arms to her elbows, then down to one of the crossbeams at the bottom of the stool. A wide leather belt had been fastened around her arms and waist, holding them firmly against her back as the rope creaked and affording her very little movement.
She had been like this for three days now, with only a little movement each day. The last thing he had done was to tie a length of rope around her elbows, pass the ends over her shoulders and then fix them to the belt buckle in front of her, leaving her able to do little more than rock very, very slightly to and fro.
Her ankles were tightly tied together, the rope clear over the red suede boots she was wearing, and then secured to the crosspiece at the front of the stool, while her legs were tied together above her knees. Finally her mouth had been filled with a bath sponge, pressing her tongue to the floor of her mouth and absorbing whatever saliva she could produce, while a red scarf had been tied tightly over her mouth, trapping her long black hair against her head.
He had been gone for hours now - longer than he had ever done so, and Hazel was beginning to wonder if and when he was coming back. As she stared ahead, she heard the sound of a door opening, and would have called out if her mouth did not feel so dry.
As the door opened behind her, she mumbled “whtshopngnw,” but instead of hearing her captor she felt the scarf been untied from around her face, falling around her neck as she slowly turned her head round.
“It’s all right, Hazel,” the man standing there said as he motioned to somebody behind her, “We’ve got him.” As two ambulance men came in, he gently eased the sponge out of her mouth as she sobbed “Thank god - thank god,” the tears starting to flow from her eyes.
The trial was one of the most sensational of the time, but eventually Daniel Way, otherwise known as The Panther, was sentenced to life imprisonment. As he was taken from the courtroom, eh turned and looked at those of his victims who had attended, smiling as he said “thank you for your help.”
As Veronika closed the magazine, she thought about that time when her aunt had been kidnapped. She had some inkling of what that was like, given recent events, and felt she needed to talk with her again - a sharing of experiences, if you like.
As she stood up and walked towards her kitchen, she didn’t hear the soft footstep behind her. The first she knew of the intruder was when the gloved hand came over her mouth, and the voice said “Hello little Veronika - I always wondered what you looked like when I told your aunt about your message.”
“I got released - I just wanted to pay one more visit - now, you’re not going to struggle, are you?”