My problem when I was a teenager and young adult was actually quite simple – people kept trying to kidnap me for one reason or another. For a period of three years, between 1981 and 1984, I was kidnapped every few weeks – and all because I happened to be announced as the heiress to a fortune without anyone bothering to tell me first!
My name’s Tina – and when I was eighteen, I was a senior just finishing high school in 1981. I certainly wasn’t a cheerleader kind of girl – I stood then about five foot seven, with unruly curly dark brown hair, and my sense of dress style was not sophisticated – I was very much a jumper and jeans or skirt girl. My one real indulgence was I liked to wear boots – and that was because I found them comfortable rather than any fashion aesthetic.
I mean – take the first time someone tried to kidnap me. July 4th 1981 – my family were staying with another one out in the Hamptons, but it was an unseasonably cool day, so I had to wear something warm with the intention of joining them at the fireworks. I had this designer jumper – dark blue upper half with white stars, red and white stripes on the bottom half – which I put on over a white polo shirt, then added a knee length light blue skirt, red tights and knee length red suede boots.
Yeah yeah – red, white and blue. I had just turned eighteen, and Ronnie was in the White House – we were a very patriotic country then. Anyway, I grabbed my purse, left the house, locked the door, and started to walk down the street There was a gentle breeze blowing in my face, and I waved to a few of the neighbours as I walked along the sidewalk. I didn’t even notice the blue panel van until I was alongside it – and then what got my attention was the sweet smelling fumes that suddenly filled my nose and mouth as a cloth was clamped over them.
My recollection is that the shock of the event made me open my eyes wide and breathe in – which, as hindsight has taught me, was the worst possible thing to do, as I breathed it the fumes, and suddenly felt very, very sleepy. As my eyes closed, I was aware of someone holding me, but that was it as I fell into a deep sleep.
When I started to wake up, my arms felt very stiff and strange, and I felt as if I had eaten a cushion or something – my mouth tasted of cloth, and something was pressing on my cheeks.
When my eyes finally agreed to open, I looked down to see my legs stretched out in front of me – and two bands of white rope, holding them together at my ankles and just below my knees, but very visible over the red.
I looked at them, and whispered “what the...” Only, what I heard was “Whththh,” and also felt something rub on my lips as I said this. Which was the moment I realised the reason my mouth tasted as if a cloth was in it was because a cloth was in it – tied between my teeth and around my head.
So, legs tied, a cloth tied round my head – I felt with my fingers and felt the band of rope round my wrists, and realised why my arms felt so funny. MY wrists were tied together behind my back, and I could now see a length of rope around my waist as well.
So, tied up and gagged – I had been kidnapped. Kidnapped? On Independence Day? I have to confess, my initial thought wasn’t fear, or wondering who did that – those thoughts came later.
My first thought was actually “bummer – I’ll miss the fireworks.”
Then came the idea of who would do this, as I tried to free myself and shouted out “HLPPPP!! SMBDEHLPMMMMM!”
“Save your breath girly – nobody is going to hear you anyway.”
I looked to the side to see two men sitting wither side of a table, casually dressed, drinking beer from bottles. “Just keep still and don’t struggle,” the other guy said, “we’ve told your parents what we want – once they deliver, we send you back.”
“Oh you know,” one of them said as he walked over and pushed my hair back, “you know.”
Well, I didn’t know, but no amount of shaking my head seemed to convince them – they just laughed and went back to the table, laughing as they took another drink from their bottles and playing a game of cards.
I just had to sit there, wondering what was going on – until there was a knock on the door . I could only watch as one of the men got up, walked over, opened the door – and then was pushed back into the room as two armed police officers ran in and held them at gunpoint.
A third one came in and came over to me, untying the rag and taking it from my mouth. I could see the dark stain in the middle as I coughed, and said “thank you.”
“The stupid idiot didn’t see us following him after he dropped off the ransom demand, Tina,” he said as he untied me and helped me up. There was an ambulance outside, and I was taken to hospital, then allowed to go home. When I asked my parents why this had happened to me, they said the two men had mistaken for somebody else with the same name, and snatched me instead.
Well, I accepted the answer at the time, but I guess I started to begin to wonder why it happened. Apart from that, things returned to normal, and in August I went to college in New York, living in a flat with two other girls.
After the turn of the year, things seemed to have settled down, and I was enjoying life as a freshman student. Then it was February 14th – Valentine’s Day. My two flatmates had dates, I didn’t, so I watched as they went out of the house, and settled down for a quiet night in.
It was February in New York, and it was cold, so I had on a brown checked jumper over a white blouse with a peter pan collar, and a knee length brown puffball skirt. I also had on what were becoming my favourite boots at the time – they were knee length, with an olive brown cloth leg, brown leather shoe, and a three diamond brown leather inlay on each side of the leg.
I was just getting comfy on an old brown leather couch we had in the apartment, with my legs stretched out in front of me, when I heard the knock on the door. I hadn’t ordered dinner, so I figured it was the landlord wanting to check the plumbing for the umpteenth time. So I put down thaw magazine I was reading, got up and walked over to the door, forgetting for the moment the first rule of apartment living.
Always look through the spyhole to see who it is before you open the door. If I had, I would have seen the man wearing the balaclava, but – well, you live and learn. I certainly did when I opened the door and then backed up, my hands in the air as he came in with a gun pointing at me!
He marched me back into the main room, and then ordered me to lies face down on the leather couch. I really had no choice, as he pulled my hands behind my back, and used some sort of thin cord to bind my wrists together. When he had done that, I felt my ankles being forced together as he used some more cord to bind them, the thin rope sinking into the brown suede.
He then told me to roll over, and as I did he pressed a length of silver duct tape over my mouth, covering my lips before he started to search the apartment. Well, I had no idea what he thought he was going to find – we were freshmen for the love of...
He came back in, his eyes blazing with anger as he demanded I tell him where the jewels were. “Whtjwllss” I mumbled back, as he put the gun to my head and asked me again. I thought I was for it then – before two of the NYPD’s finest ran in and pointed their guns at him.
He gave himself up, and I was released, but I had to ask myself why he thought I had jewels in my apartment. This was the Heights, not Park Avenue...
Anyway – nothing really happened for a few months after that. I completed my freshman year, and got a job up in rural Philadelphia as an intern at a paper for the summer. Job as an intern? Well, Mom and Dad sent money for the time.
It was early August when I was asked to go and cover a farm auction out of town. For this, I decided to wear a green and gold patterned jumper with a brown blouse, a knee length brown corduroy skirt, light blue tights and the boots I had worn that night in the apartment. The sun was high, so I had on a pair of large sunglasses as well.
The farm in question had fallen on hard times, and the family had moved on – so this was a case of selling up to settle their debts. Never a nice thing to try and do a story on, but I wanted to be a reporter, and you’ve gotta take the rough with the smooth as my mentor said.
I had to bear that in mind as I walked round some of the barns that were around the farm. They were so still, so empty and devoid of...
I was going to say life, but that idea was dashed when I was grabbed from behind, and an old rag stuffed into my mouth before I could call out for help. And the thought that ran through my mind as I was dragged into the barn?
“Oh no, not again.”
So I was dragged into the barn as a man in denims appeared before me. “You got her – good,” he said as my hands were pulled behind me, and I felt rough twine as it was pulled tightly round my wrists. “We’ll stash her in that hay until I can get the van round.”
“Whthhllsgnnn” I mumbled into the cloth as I was dragged over to some old straw bales, and thrown back onto them while the other guy lashed my ankles tightly together. As I wriggled round, the skirt rubbed on the straw – and I had to stop myself from sneezing.
“Nobody’s going to find her there,” he said as the other guy joined him, “let’s go.” And you know what? The way they left me, sitting between the bales with my wrists and ankles tied, the chances were nobody would find me.
So there I was, kidnapped again, and still with no real idea why the heck this kept happening! I tried wriggling to free myself, but the knots they had tied with the twine were too small, and the noise my skirt made...
My glasses fell off eventually, and I looked down at the edge of cloth sticking out of my mouth. Sticking out of my mouth, with nothing to hold it in... Why the heck it took me so long to realise it, I don’t know, but I opened my mouth and used my tongue t push the cloth out, eventually watching it drop to the floor with a very wet thud.
Looking round, I took a moment to catch my breath, wondering how I was going to get out of this one.
“Hey – you playing a game lady.”
I looked up to see the two scouts looking at me from either side.
“Yeah – but the kids who did this to me ran off,” I said with a smile. “Want to do your good deed and cut me loose?”
“Sure,” the second kid said as he produced a pan knife and cut through the twine. I stood up, rubbed my ankles and gave them both a kiss, before I walked back and had a quiet word with the county sheriff.
The two guys were caught soon after – turned out they were a couple of local lads, but when the sheriff asked why they did it, they refused to say. As for me, I filed my story, and went back to my nice quiet summer – still no wiser as to why this kept happening to me.
In my sophomore year, I was invited to spend Thanksgiving with some friends in Boston, and I gladly accepted. So it was that I sat down for the meal, wearing a gray cardigan over a black dress, and a pair of...
No, not those boots – I had to throw them away after the got marked in those hay bales. These ones were loose fitting black felt, with a native design brown band round the ankles.
Look – it was the eighties, and believe me, those who say the Seventies was the decade that style forgot are wrong. The Eighties was fairly bad as well. Anyway, I sat down for the meal and enjoyed the company, the chatter, and the food. It really was a chance for us all to give thanks for many things.
So when I went to my room after the meal, I was in a good and mellow mood. In fact, I felt as if I could face anything at that time. What I did not have in mind was someone throwing a black cloth hood over my head, and then two people picking me up and carrying me across the room.
I knew it was two – one was holding my legs, and the other had their hands under my armpits. As to why I didn’t raise the alarm – I had been taken completely by surprise, and by the time I realised calling for help was a good move, I was dumped on a wooden floor and whatever I was sitting on started to move.
As it did so, my wrists were held together in front of me, and I felt some sort of tape being wrapped round them. When I heard the tearing noise again, and then my ankles been forced together, I hoped they understood that was this pair ruined – and I really liked them as well!
What was worse, they then wrapped rope around my arms and body, forcing them against my sides – which meant the cardigan and dress were going to be ruined as well. Great. I supposed at the time they were another pair of nut jobs who thought I had something valuable or my parents were wealthy.
Eventually, whatever I was in stopped, and I was lifted off the ground again. This time I really did struggle, and I must have hurt one of the people carrying me because they almost dropped me. Not one of my smartest moves by any way of thinking.
Then I was dropped on a bunch of mattresses – this I know because they pulled the hood off and, once my eyes adjusted to the light, I could see four of them standing and looking at me. Looking at me with a mixture of confusion and shock. Eventually, one of them looked at the others and said “you snatched the wrong flaming girl!”
“But she was in the room you told us about,” another said, and I realised they were after my friend, not me. I was offered her room because the spare room was having some work done, and these bozos must have thought I was her.
Did I mention her dad was a Navy Admiral? No? Well, obviously they wanted him to do something, but snatching someone from that sort of house? They were asking for real trouble.
As for me – they put the hood back over my head, and left me there as I heard the door open and close. There was then the sound of shouting, and the door opened again before the hood was pulled off – this time by a federal agent.
“We found her,” he called out as he took a knife out and cut me free. They’d been alerted and found me in no time – but this time it wasn’t me they were after. And yet, as I walked out, one of them looked at me properly and called out “kjo është e saj - trashëgimtari mbretërore!!”
The four of them looked at me and dropped to one knee - but before I got a chance to ask what was going on, the agents hustled me out. There was something really strange – and after the holiday week, I went home and asked my parents what was going on.
They just said it was a coincidence, that I was imagining things, but it just kept nagging away at my mind. Why did I keep ending up in these situations?
In April 1983 I was preparing to attend the church I went to for the Easter Mass on the Sunday. As I usually did, I was wearing a jumper, skirt and boots – in this case, a light brown jumper with a darker bird motif, a skirt that was gathered a little at the hem below my knees, and baggy black riding boots.
Anyway – I was reading the passage I had been asked to read that morning when I heard a knock on the door. Well, I’d learned my lesson by then, so I looked out of the door spyhole – and saw Jack, the guy who gave me a lift every week.
So I smiled as I opened the door, grabbing my bag and following him down to his car which was parked outside. It was only when I got in that he said “sorry, Tina – they forced me to do this.”
“This,” he said as he looked at me, and then I felt the pin prick in my neck – the pin prick that was followed by immediate deep sleep...
When I woke up, I was lying on a mattress, and as I looked up I saw my arms stretched out above my head, ropes around my wrists to hold them to the top of the bed.
Looking down, I could see the ropes that were also tied round my ankles, then leading to the bottom of the bed. The ropes allowed me to move a little, but no way was I going to get free. More to the point, there was some sort of tape pulling at the skin around my mouth, and it was keeping me fairly quiet.
I was actually more worried about where Jack was – so when a voice said “your boyfriend’s safe – we just knocked him out and left him on the sidewalk,” my response of “whdddumkhmdths” was heartfelt.
I looked over at the man standing there – he looked as if he was Greek or from the Med somewhere, and he was tall. He just looked at me, and then said “relax, your highness, you’ll be home soon.”
“Your royal highness – but relax, when the family pay, you will be released.”
Now I was totally confused – why was he calling your highness? Those men that Thanksgiving had called me something that sounded like princess – what was going on?
He leaned over and checked the ropes, and then brushed my hair away from my eyes. “Relax, it can be quite pleasurable like this,” he said as he turned the television on, and left me in the room.
The only thing I could do was watch daytime soaps for a while, and hope I could get something to drink soon. A few hours later, a masked man came in and released me, before a woman came in and laid a tray of food and a glass of water on the bed after I set up. Before I could remove the tape from my mouth, I watched as they both walked backwards out of the room, heads bowed.
I pulled what turned out to be brown sticking plaster from my mouth, and took a long drink before I started to eat the burger and fries. As I swallowed the meat and bun, I picked up the glass and took a drink – but when I put it down again, I saw writing on a piece of paper. Curious, I picked it up and read the words.
I then heard a sound on the door outside, and ducked before it was blown out, and armed men came in. I wasn’t able to say anything at all as I was pulled out by two of them, and into the open courtyard outside. I could see the men and woman who had been holding me, kneeling on the ground with armed guards behind them, but I had no idea what the hell they had meant in the way they had looked at and talked to me.
When I got back to my apartment, Mom and Dad were waiting, and after we had hugged each other – and I had hugged Jack – I asked what the hell was going on.
They looked at each other, and then said they would tell me.
And so they did...
The week after my 21st birthday, I was in my apartment, still trying to process what they had told me the previous month. I was dressed casually, and for once not in a skirt – instead, I was wearing a pair of old blue jeans with a pair of knee length black leather boots over the bottoms. I still had a sweatshirt on though – a red one with blue upper sleeves and “Colorado Cross Country Trip” on the front, the pan collar of my polo shirt over the top.
Sitting on the floor, I was looking through the papers that told me my ancestry. My grandparents had fled Albania before the war, and settled here, giving birth to my dad, and I was the next generation.
The next generation of the royal family of Albania – Princess Katiana, but my parents always called me Tina. Still, they had wanted to keep it secret, given we really did not have any money. They had always intended to tell me when I was 21, but – well, turns out some of the times I’d been nabbed, trussed and gagged were genuine kidnap attempts, and some plain dumb luck. Even that Thanksgiving thing was linked – my friend’s dad had served in the Mediterranean.
I stretched and stood up, heading for the kitchen with the intention of making some coffee. So when I was grabbed from behind, and a knife was pressed to my throat, I sighed and said “now what?”
“Shut up lady,” a man’s voice said, “keep quiet and I won’t hurt you. Now, bend over that table and put your hands behind your back.”
Like I had a choice? I did as I was asked, and then felt him tie my wrists together with rope, before he made me stand up and tied my arms to my sides, the rope going above and below my chest.
“In there,” he said as he pushed me into the front room, and made me sit down. I got a look at him – late teens, t-shirt and jeans, sandy hair. He looked kinda cute, but given he was tying the rope around my ankles, making it tight as it went around and between my leather covered legs, I let that one pass.
He then secured me legs together below my knees, before he rook a bandana from his back pocket and rolled it into a band. I opened my mouth and let him tie it as a cleave gag, watching as he went to search the bedrooms.
It was starting to get dark, but there was a standard lamp next to me, and the switch was on a cord that lay across the cushion next to me. So I sidled over and used it to turn on the red bulb so that there was a warm light in the room.
When the guy came back in, he looked at the red light, and then at me – followed by the door as it was thrown open and two agents came in, dragging him off as a third one untied and ungagged me.
Well, being a princess did have some advantages...