Mary Stauffer stalked by former math student Ming Shiue

Mother survives 53 days trapped in closet with her daughter

ON JULY 7, 1980, less than an hour after Mary and Beth were picked up from Shiue's house, but before Shiue was arrested, officers from Ramsey County, FBI agents, and a volunteer chaplain were dispatched to the Wilkman home in Roseville—about three miles from the Shiue residence.

As gently as possible, a sergeant from Ramsey County informed the Wilkmans that Mary and Beth Stauffer had been held captive since the night of the abductions, but had safely escaped that afternoon and were presently being questioned about the circumstances of their capture and captivity.

Their throats nearly closed with emotion, the Wilkmans immediately demanded, "What about Jason? Was he with them? What did they say about Jason? Where is our little boy?" They asked each succeeding question with more volume until Sandra's voice reached a final scream. "Where's Jason?"

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

The officers' bowed heads told Sandra and David everything they needed to know. With an emotional catch in their throats, the officers explained that Jason had not been found with the Stauffers. Mary and Beth had not seen Jason since the night they were all taken. They could not provide any information as to where Jason had been for the past seven weeks.

   

JUST HOURS AFTER Mary and Beth Stauffer escaped and police arrested Shiue, their paths crossed once again. In an unfortunate twist, FBI agents escorting Mary and Beth out of the federal court building through the parking ramp walked past FBI agents ushering a manacled Shiue into the building. On that occasion, Shiue cried out to Mary, asking her why she had run from him. He repeated his apparent mystification at her actions several times during the subsequent court trials, when he cried out to Mary, "Why did you go? Why did you run?"

   

ON SEPTEMBER 9, 1980, at 9:30 a.m. in St. Paul's federal courthouse, Ming Sen Shiue's kidnapping trial opened. Judge Edward J. Devitt presided; Thomas Berg and Thorwald Anderson represented the United States in the kidnapping case; Ronald and Kenneth Meshbesher represented Shiue.

Shiue's defense team never denied that Shiue had kidnapped and held Mary and Beth Stauffer captive for seven weeks, repeatedly raping Mary. Rather than having Shiue plead guilty, Ron Meshbesher entered a plea of "not guilty by reason of insanity."

He admitted that was a tough argument to make to a jury, but in the case of Ming Shiue, he believed the actions of his client were so bizarre—so repulsive—that only a psychotic and criminally insane person could have perpetrated them.

Therefore, in his opening statement to the jury on September 9, Tom Berg explained that it would be the government's job to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did willfully, intentionally, and unlawfully kidnap, and then willfully transport, Mary and Beth Stauffer across state lines.

He informed the jury they would hear evidence of the defendant's mental condition, and that the court would later inform them about the exact meaning of that term. He noted for them then, however, that the legal meaning of the term "insanity" involves the capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of one's conduct and the capacity to conform that conduct to the requirements of the law.

"This story began long before May of this year," Ron Meshbesher said in his opening statement. "It began years ago when a certain Mr. Shiue was 13 or 14 years old. He started doing strange things. 'Pressures,' as Mr. Shiue describes, began to take hold of him, and he could not control his actions.

"... [H]is mother reported to the psychiatrists that he would sneak into her room in the middle of the night. That on one occasion on May 5, 1965, she was awakened by this and noticed he had cut a hole in the crotch of her pajamas and he had a flashlight in his hand and was looking in the mother's private parts."

Once court resumed on Tuesday, September 16, the prosecution and defense presented their closing arguments.

Judge Devitt then instructed the jury in the requirements necessary to classify a person as legally insane. He further instructed them regarding their choice of verdicts—guilty of kidnapping Mary and Beth Stauffer or not guilty of kidnapping by reason of insanity.

With the weight of his exhortation on their shoulders, the panel members shuffled slowly out of the courtroom.

In less than eight hours, the jury returned a verdict of guilty.

   

IN RETURN FOR ANOKA COUNTY charging Shiue with second-degree murder rather than first-degree, he agreed to show the FBI where he had left Jason. He told them he'd left Jason alone and unharmed in Carlos Avery Game Preserve five months earlier.

Carlos Avery consists of hundreds of acres of brush, forest, swamp, and open fields. Using forensic evidence removed from the undercarriage of Mary Stauffer's car, game preserve staff members were able to narrow down the locations where the car had been parked. But the preserve is so vast that, even with guidance from the staff and directions from Shiue, it took searchers three days to locate the area where Shiue had abandoned the six-year-old boy.

On a perfect autumn day in Minnesota, searchers, police, and a volunteer chaplain walked the fields in silence, joined in determined community to fulfill a macabre task. The expected, but still startling, shrill whistle blown by the finder of Jason's body shattered the silence. The sound tore through the preserve, summoning the searchers to the remains of Jason Wilkman.

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