Mary Stauffer stalked by former math student Ming Shiue

Mother survives 53 days trapped in closet with her daughter

In another bizarre turn of events, near dark on the evening of July 4, Shiue surprised Mary and Beth by announcing that he was taking them to watch fireworks. With a gun holstered inside his jacket, Shiue ordered them to cover their heads with sweaters and race into his van—he'd parked it right beside the back doorstep. When they were all in, he drove about a mile to Como Lake, a popular spot where people gathered every Fourth of July to watch fireworks. He threatened that he would kill them and anyone else who came near them if they did anything to arouse suspicion.

Mary and Beth were terrified that night, but did nothing to telegraph their situation to anyone, in spite of the fact that they were surrounded by more people than they had seen in weeks. Mary remained vigilant, however, and when she noticed a Ramsey County Sheriff's squad car parked nearby, she memorized the phone number printed in large numerals on the back of the car. Later, when Mary and Beth were both back in the closet, she had Beth memorize the number, too.

That evening marked the beginning of a week that would change their lives—and Shiue's—forever.

Top: Ming Shiue's high school graduation picture. Bottom: Staff picture of Mary Stauffer.
Alexander Ramsey High School Yearbook 1965
Top: Ming Shiue's high school graduation picture. Bottom: Staff picture of Mary Stauffer.
Jason Wilkman's first-grade school picture
courtesy of Eileen Biernat
Jason Wilkman's first-grade school picture

A fireworks display of another kind was about to begin.

   

SHUIE HAD HELD MARY and Beth for almost seven weeks, and believed that over that time, the three of them had become a real family. No longer vigilant about every aspect of keeping them locked up, he let down his guard and moved them to a larger closet. He didn't bother to barricade the door with heavy furniture. He just didn't think about it. But Mary did.

Mary and Beth, though still manacled together with bicycle cabling, were free! They stepped out of the closet, and Mary, dragging Beth alongside, staggered toward the kitchen to call the police.

"No, Mommy, no," Beth screamed, pulling her mother back toward the bedroom. "We have to go back in the closet. We're going to make him mad. Please, Mommy, we have to get back in the closet."

To stop Beth's screaming, Mary said, "Okay, okay, Beth. It's all right." They walked back to the closet and Mary made a show of fastening the door back on, then turned to Beth and said, "Beth, this is our chance; we have to go now."

Once again, Beth became hysterical. This time, Mary slapped her face.

Then Mary knelt down and hugged her daughter, saying, "I'm sorry, Beth. This has been so terrible for you. Please trust me, Beth. God gave us this chance to get away; he wants us to get back to Daddy and Steve. Once we get away, we'll be safe and Ming can't hurt us anymore."

Numbed by fear but trusting in Mary's gentle words, Beth walked to the kitchen in lockstep with her mother. Dragging the cabling that bound them together, they made their way to the phone and Mary immediately dialed the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office.

To the person who answered the line, she matter-of-factly said, "This is Mary Stauffer. I think you're looking for me and my daughter, Beth. Please hurry; we're being held in a house at 19xx Hamline Avenue in Roseville."

The dispatcher told her to stay in the house but away from any windows.

As soon as Mary got off the phone, Beth said, "Mommy, I think we should go outside and wait behind the bushes. Then if he drives up, he won't see us, and he'll think we're still in the house." Mary agreed and they went out the back door of the house. They noticed an old car covered with a blue tarp and decided to hide behind it. Still locked together, they hobbled behind the car and crouched down out of sight.

Deputy Marie Ballard and Sergeant Walt Fowler were the first to reach them. They immediately placed Mary and Beth in their squad car and sped away, leaving other officers to secure the premises and wait for the owner.

Mary and Beth, still chained together, still fearing Shiue would kill them if he saw them escaping, slouched low in the backseat of the squad car.

As they sped toward the patrol station, Deputy Ballard asked Mary, "Was Jason Wilkman with you in the house?" Mary was momentarily confused about whom she meant. It had been a horrifyingly long ordeal for her and Beth, and at first Mary didn't realize the officer was referring to the little boy Shiue had shoved into the trunk with them the night they were abducted.

With despair in her voice, she mumbled, "Jason? Didn't you find him? Ming said he let him go at a place where he would be found. We haven't seen Jason since the first night Ming took us."

Beth did not understand the implications of the silence following her mother's question, so she asked, "Mommy, what happened to Jason? Did Ming take him home?" The dread Mary and the two officers felt was palpable. Silence infused the car as the horror of what that meant for Jason washed over them.

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