‘I still suffer flashbacks’
Hospital worker Anita H Wooldridge, 40, is single and lives in Indiana, USA. She says: “I was so sad to hear that Stephanie Slater had died. I was kidnapped six years after her ordeal and I know too well how the nightmare stays with you.
“When I heard my doorbell ring on 15 June 1998, I was surprised to find Victor Steele, a member of the fitness centre where I’d worked, on my doorstep. He told me his bike had a puncture and asked for a glass of water. It was a hot day, so I agreed, but as I turned round, a sharp pain surged through my back, knocking me to my knees.
SICK WITH FEAR
“I turned back to see Steele holding a stun gun, then he pulled a rope out of his backpack and began to tie me up. As he stuck black tape over my mouth and shoved me into the back of a van, I felt sick with fear. After a short drive, he dragged me out by a remote farmhouse, then pushed me to the ground, pulled down my jogging bottoms and raped me. Later, he drove me 10 hours to a disused building in Wisconsin, where he locked me in a metal cabinet. For days he shut me in the dark, cramped space, only taking me out once or twice a day to give me food and water and to rape me.
“Thankfully, on the eighth day, I heard footsteps and a door was opened to reveal five policemen peering inside. At last, I was safe.
“It turned out my neighbour had spotted Steele when he walked up to my house and I was told he’d been arrested. I was overwhelmed with joy and came away with just a few bruises, but the emotional scars were much worse and I became a virtual recluse – convinced it could happen again. Steele was sentenced to life in prison six months later, but my boyfriend and I broke up shortly after. I’d changed so much and couldn’t handle being in a relationship. I also put on weight, because I was convinced Steele had targeted me for being attractive.
“I needed years of therapy to teach me ways to cope with the trauma, but thankfully I’ve slowly pieced my life back together. With my therapist’s support, I’ve written a book, Eight Days In Darkness, which also helped me move on. But I still have flashbacks, which can be triggered by the smell of a hot summer’s day, sweat, or someone unknowingly mimicking something Steele did.
“For 14 years I was too frightened to date, but two years ago I finally started again. I always tell three people where I’m going and give them a picture of the man and his licence plate. I’m sure that, like me, Stephanie would have been cautious in day-to-day life too and that the memories of the trauma would always have been there. I hope that now she is finally at peace.”
Steele was sentenced to life imprisonment
ANITA WAS LOCKED IN A METAL CABINET FOR EIGHT DAYS