Originally published 20 June 2008;
Here, she reveals how she has overcome her ordeal and believes Austrian dungeon victim Elisabeth Fritzl will recover too .
Flicking through her local newspaper Colleen Stan was horrified to read about Elisabeth Fritzl who last month emerged from an underground dungeon after being held her captive for 24 years.
It brought back traumatic memories of the seven years Colleen spent trapped in a coffin-sized box, only allowed out to be raped and tortured by her captor. But mum-of-one Colleen hopes her remarkable recovery will give Elisabeth, 42, and her three children, who were held against their will by Elisabeth’s father Josef, 73, in Amstetten, Austria, hope.
“I couldn’t believe someone else had endured something as horrific,” says Colleen, of northern California. “But with enough support they will get through it.
“I survived by shutting off my emotions which I imagine is what Elisabeth’s had to do,” says Colleen, who escaped her abductor in 1984. “But when I was thrust back into the world I had to learn to use them again and that was very difficult for me. Elisabeth will struggle too.”
Colleen was 20 when she was abducted in 1977 while hitchhiking to a friend’s birthday party. She felt confident climbing into the blue van being driven by Cameron Hooker, now 54, as his wife Janice, now 50, and eight-month-old daughter, Cathy, were also in the vehicle.
Colleen’s nightmare began 20 minutes into the journey when Cameron suggested stopping off to visit some ice caves. Colleen says: “Janice got out of the car and went down to a lake with the baby. They were playing when Cameron got into the back seat and held a knife to my throat. He tied me up and placed a box over my head.”
Colleen was then driven to the family’s home in Red Buff, California where she was dragged into the cellar, tied up, raped and tortured.
“I was terrified,” says Colleen. “Janice watched as Cameron tortured me and then they had sex in front of me. I was convinced they were going to kill me. I was tied up and put into a wooden box measuring 3ft X 6ft for the rest of the night.”
Colleen spent the next seven years tied up in the box and was only removed to be tortured or raped. She was fed potatoes or a sandwich once a day, and given a bedpan to use as a toilet.
“I was stretched on racks, electrocuted, whipped until I bled and tied up by my wrists and left to hang for hours on end,” says Colleen. After seven months Colleen was ordered to sign a ‘Slave Contract’ stating she was owned by Cameron and that she would obey him.
Colleen says: “He told me he belonged to a very powerful international organisation called The Company. He compared it to the mafia and said if I ran away they’d come and get me. He told me I’d be nailed to a cross and left for days. And by then I was so broken I believed him. After signing the contract I was allowed out of the box for an hour a day to clean their house.”
Incredibly after three years Cameron even drove Colleen to her parents’ home for a brief visit.
Colleen says: “I was so scared of Cameron and The Company that even when I was alone with my parents I didn’t tell them where I’d been for three years. We mostly talked about everything I’d missed out on – special occasions and family news. They were convinced I’d joined a cult.
“When Cameron returned to collect me he pretended he was my fiancé. They wanted an address for us but Cameron told them we were in the process of moving and he’d send it to them. I was distraught but too scared to contradict him.”
When her captors moved house to a nearby caravan park in 1981, there was no cellar so Colleen was kept in her box underneath the marital bed. Then, seven years after being taken prisoner, Janice set Colleen free while Cameron was out, telling her The Company didn’t exist.
“I was confused and despite my absolute fear of Cameron and belief in The Company I ran away with Janice,” says Colleen.
'I didn’t feel any anger towards Cameron or Janice while I was held captive. The only emotion I felt was terror'
On 9 August, 1984 the pair escaped with Janice’s two daughters, Cathy and Dawn, to Janice’s parents’ house. Colleen was then left at a bus stop to make the ten-hour journey back to her own parents’ home.
Two months later Cameron was arrested and is currently serving a life sentence after being sentenced to 135 years for ten charges including rape, sodomy, kidnapping, and false imprisonment. Janice was never prosecuted and claims she only took part in the torture because she was being abused too.
“I didn’t feel any anger towards Cameron or Janice while I was held captive. The only emotion I felt was terror. But once I started to feel safe again the anger came,” says Colleen, a secretary.
“Elisabeth Fritzl will be going through the same thing and it’s that emotion which is hardest to deal with. I needed a lot of counselling and I’m sure she will too. At least I had my family to lean on but for Elisabeth it was those who she was supposed to be able to trust who betrayed her the most. It will take her a long time to get over her ordeal but eventually she will.”