By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Mary hadn't thought of Ming Shiue since the last school bell rang on the last day of class in 1965. He, on the other hand, had thought of little but her during those ensuing 15 years. He'd built a fantasy life around the belief that he and Mary were meant to be together.
At 3:45 p.m., Mary and her daughter, Beth, got into the family car and drove to Carmen's Beauty Salon in Roseville. They walked out of Carmen's chatting about Beth's new haircut.
As they headed toward their car, Shiue climbed out of a nearby ditch and approached them. Shiue grabbed eight-year-old Beth and pressed his gun to her head, saying to Mary, "I need a ride."
Mary opened the door for Beth to get into the front seat and then began walking around to the driver's side. Before she got very far, Shiue told her to get in on the passenger side with Beth. Mary climbed over her daughter and settled in the driver's seat. Shiue pushed in next to the terrified little girl and, gesturing with the handgun, motioned for Mary to drive to the nearby freeway ramp onto Interstate 35W and then to head north toward Anoka County.
Confused and stunned, but trying to stay calm, Mary asked Shiue if he was in trouble. He told her to be quiet and just drive, to which Mary replied, "We're Christians, and if you have a problem, we will try to help you." Shiue made no response. She then told him they were expected home soon, that her sister was coming over for a family dinner, and that her husband would wonder where they were.
He directed her to drive into a deserted grove of pine trees and turn off the car.
He then pulled rope and duct tape out of his jacket pocket, ordered the two of them into the backseat, and tied their hands behind them. Once he had secured their hands, he demanded they get into the trunk of the car, where he then bound their feet. With an ominous thud, he closed the trunk, got into the driver's seat, started the car, and drove off.
Lying back-to-back in the stiflingly hot trunk, Beth and Mary began to pray. Shiue abruptly stopped the car, got out, and opened the trunk. He did not want to hear their prayers. He taped their mouths shut, wrapping the tape all around Beth's head; it would remain there for several hours, eventually leaving a scar. As Mary would later remember it:
Finally, he stopped the car and Beth and I could hear voices, mostly the voices of children. We learned later that he'd stopped the car in Hazelnut Park in Arden Hills. When he opened the trunk that time, he became furious when he saw that Beth had untied her ropes and had been working to untie mine.
Shiue shouted, "Look what you've done." Then he placed the spare tire on top of us so we couldn't make further attempts to get free.
Just then, a little child walked up to the car and saw us tied in the trunk; he looked at our abductor and said, "Hi, wha—?" Before he could finish what he was saying, the little boy was thrown in the trunk with us and the trunk was slammed shut.
SHIUE PARKED in the backyard of his home on Hamline Avenue in Roseville, a neighboring suburb to Arden Hills.
Guiding Beth by her shoulders, Shiue walked the child inside the house, not removing her blindfold until they stopped in front of a bedroom closet. Then he pushed her in the closet and closed the door. Engulfed again by thick darkness, Beth screamed for her mother. Telling her to stop screaming, that he was going to bring in her mother, Shiue turned away and headed back outside.
As Mary stumbled, blindfolded and led by Shiue, into the house, she thought she heard him call her Mrs. Stauffer, but she wasn't sure. "It couldn't be," she thought. "I don't know him."
Once inside, Shiue took off Mary's blindfold and led her into the bedroom closet where Beth was waiting for her, tears of fear and exhaustion running down her face. Mary was horrified to see the closet had been prepared for them. In between her daughter's sobs, she heard Shiue say, "Just get in the closet, Mary."
Stunned at the sound of her name, Mary swung around to face her abductor. She realized she hadn't told him her name. She was close enough to smell his body odor; his teeth needed cleaning and his breath was hot and sour in her face. His hair smelled rancid and hung in greasy black clumps around his pockmarked face.
But startled to realize he apparently knew her, she asked, "Who are you?" When he didn't reply, she raised her voice. "You know me; how do you know me? Who are you? I want to know—who are you and what do you want?" Mary demanded.
Wordlessly, Shiue pushed her into the closet, closed the door, and jammed a large piece of furniture against it.
Trapped once again in another dark, confined space, Mary pounded on the door, demanding, "Who are you? Why are we here?"
Not receiving any response from the strange man who had taken them and who now stood on the other side of the door, Mary stopped her pounding. As she shifted her weight, her foot bumped against a plastic pail. When her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she understood that he'd left an empty bucket and a roll of toilet paper for her and Beth.
SATURDAY MORNING, May 17, 1980, the day following the abduction, Shiue brought buttered toast and fruit juice to the closet for Mary and Beth.
Once again, Mary questioned who he was, why he'd taken them, and again begged him to let them go. She promised that if he would simply drop them off in a public place, she would never say a word to anyone about him. He laughed at her and made it clear that he was not going to let Mary contact her family.
When they'd finished eating, Shiue blindfolded Mary and took her out of the closet, leaving Beth alone in the dark. Beth cried for her mother, but Shiue ignored her. In spite of Mary's protests, he led her blindfolded into the living room, shoved her to the floor, and tied her hands above her head to the leg of a couch. He left her lying there while he set up videotape equipment focusing on his captive.
With videotape running, the previously silent Ming Shiue began a wide-ranging discussion that lasted three hours, culminating in the prolonged and brutal rape of Mary Stauffer.
Shiue: Okay, let's go back to specifics now. Uh, fourth hour mean anything to you? Just before lunch?
Mary: I don't remember much about the first year; I remember the second year my general math class was—
Shiue: Why do you keep talking about general math class? Those flunkies. I want to talk about people that, that had potential. Again, it may sound selfish, but I had potential and you gave attention to all the flunkies.
Mary: Well, I really feel badly now because as I think about it now, that's probably true. The students that I remember are almost all the ones who gave me problems. And why should that be? Because being the kind of person I am, I mean, with my background, I should have been interested in the bright students.
Shiue: I know it's 15 years later, but it's burned into my mind, okay? I can name the people; I can picture you in the classroom. I can see how the desks were placed. See, that type of thing burns into your mind.
Eventually, Shiue revealed that he had been a student in Mary Stauffer's ninth-grade math class 15 years earlier at Alexander Ramsey High School in Roseville, and that he wanted revenge for the grade she had given him a decade and a half earlier—he wanted to "unburden his hatred" for her. Shiue also revealed that he resented Mary because she had not encouraged him when he told her about a mathematic formula he'd developed.
When Mary still failed to recognize Shiue, he responded with anger and frustration. He'd spent the last 15 years of his life yearning for Mary Stauffer, secretly following her and believing that she loved him, too. He was horrified to find that she had no idea who he was or that he had been one of her former students.
Mary, trying to placate him, finally agreed that she remembered him. But Shiue did not buy it.
SHIUE GAVE MARY paper on which to write a draft of a letter. When he approved her wording and was convinced she had not included any secret message, he had her write the copy of the letter they would send on a tablet she had in her purse. He wore rubber gloves whenever he handled the paper, the envelope, and the stamp.
He was very careful and very clever.
On Tuesday, May 20—four days after his wife and daughter were abducted—Irv Stauffer received the following letter in his wife's handwriting. It was postmarked the Monday after Mary and Beth were taken—May 19, 1980, Minneapolis, MN 55401, and had been mailed from a busy downtown Minneapolis post office box.
I suppose you're wondering why Beth and I did not return home after getting Beth's hair cut yesterday. We decided to drive to a quiet place and think for a while. It's been such a busy time with packing and trying to get ready to go, that I just felt as though we needed time to rest and think. This past 24 hours we have spent a lot of time resting and thinking through this past year and our future plans. It has been good for us and the Lord has been with us and is teaching us many things.
Please keep on with our present flight plans Wednesday noon and we will try to be home Wednesday morning in time to get ready to leave. I'm sorry it has to be this way, but things have been moving so fast, and I needed time to reflect even though the main burden of packing falls on you.
I don't know what to suggest about getting the rest of our things up to Duluth—perhaps you could go on Monday or Tuesday.
There are still several things in the guest room desk—photos, etc.—that can go up to Duluth along with the photo albums and baby books in the living room. My pink dress and brown coat go to Duluth as well as the sewing machine, afghan, and bag of stuff in the dining room.
I hope you can get it all taken care of.
All my love,
Mary and Beth
PS – Hi, Steve!
When Irv turned the letter over to the FBI, they knew they had to keep the fact of the letter confidential; otherwise, the perpetrator might panic and kill his captives.
ADDING TO THE OPPRESSIVE atmosphere in the closet was Minnesota's record-breaking heat wave that May and June—temperatures fluctuated between 88 and 100 degrees. With no air circulation in Mary and Beth's confined space, the heat in the closet was nearly unbearable.
In an attempt to distract her daughter from the reality of their horrid living conditions, Mary would hold Beth on her lap, telling and retelling Bible stories. Clinging tightly to each other, they would also reminisce about fun times they'd shared as a family. This would sometimes lighten their mood, but Beth's laughter most often disintegrated into silence, and then came the tears of loneliness—tears for her dad, her baby brother, her friends, and most of all her freedom. Surprisingly, there developed a "normalcy" to Mary and Beth's daily routine—a bizarre normalcy, but a normalcy nevertheless.
Early in their captivity, Shiue would microwave canned food and bring it to them in the closet. Mary, concerned as always for her daughter's well-being, told Shiue that as a growing child, Beth needed healthy food. She asked him to buy meat, vegetables, and fruit, and he complied. As the days wore on, she began preparing meals for all of them. Chained together in the kitchen, with the shades pulled down and under the watchful eye of Shiue, Mary and Beth would cook, and when the meal was prepared, the three of them would sit down to eat.
In many ways, this was Shiue's dream come true. He finally had the family he so desired. He would come home in the evening and the three of them would play Uno together after dinner.
While Mary's life was a nightmare, with rapes occurring almost every night, she never revealed to Beth the horrors she went through when Shiue took her out of the closet alone at night.
ONE NIGHT IN EARLY JUNE, Shiue arrived at the house after nine o'clock and brought Mary and Beth out from the closet. He heated a can of Dinty Moore beef stew. While Mary and Beth sat chained to the kitchen table eating the stew, Shiue told them he'd been invited to attend a trade conference in Chicago the following week.
He went on to tell them that he'd spent that evening at the Roseville Library researching the criminal aspects of kidnapping; he wanted to attend the conference and planned to take them with him. But, he told them, he would be taking a big risk by taking them across state lines. He had learned that, by doing so, he could be charged with the federal crime of kidnapping. Were he caught and arrested, that would add about five years to his sentence.
He also said he'd been studying other abductions so he wouldn't make the same mistakes that other kidnappers had made.
"So, if we were traveling and someone was near the RV, what would you do?" Shiue asked.
Mary replied, "Well, I guess I'd tell them you were holding us against our will."
Shiue sort of chuckled. "Yes, I guess you would," he said.
The next day Shiue rented a fully equipped Winnebago and purchased additional bicycle cabling and duct tape.
That night after dark, they began their road trip. He made Mary and Beth cover their heads with jackets, then rushed them into the motor home and covered each of them with a large cardboard box. Shiue began the drive to Elk Grove, Illinois.
"We were chained together and to a chair that was welded to the floor of the van," Mary later testified. "He drove through the night, and the next day we stopped in Wisconsin for gas. He had a gun and told us if we tried to shout out to anyone while we were in the gas station, he'd kill the people and us.
"That Sunday night at about 8 p.m., we arrived at the Midway Motor Lodge, and I think we were in Elk Grove, Illinois. That night and whenever he left us during the day to go to meetings, he'd park in an isolated area of the parking lot, remove the inside handle of the door, and tape the curtains tight against the windows. Then he would wrap the cable underneath the stove that was attached to the gas line. He warned us if we tried to pull on it that the gas line would break and that we would be breathing in gas."
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.
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.
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?"
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.
Shiue had not buried Jason, but left his body out in the open. When they located Jason, only his skeleton, along with his blue corduroy pants, striped T-shirt, and one tennis shoe were left.
The chaplain prayed over the remains while the men and women who'd gathered that day wept silently. Ming Shiue was not allowed near the body, but was led away from the site, shackled and sullen.
Because of the decomposition of Jason's body, the medical examiner could not do an official autopsy, but Dr. Amatuzio's preliminary findings indicated there was a large round hole in the skull and the skull itself was fractured. During the murder trial, Dr. Amatuzio would provide additional evidence about how Jason may have died.
The medical examiners were never able to determine if the damage to the skull was from a gunshot wound or from trauma caused perhaps by the tire iron from the trunk of the car.
WITH THE OUTSIDE TEMPERATURE hovering at -20 degrees and with eight inches of snow covering the ground, the jurors were asked to consider the events of a warm spring evening in May when the innocent inquiry of a six-year old boy, coming upon an unusual circumstance, turned into a ghastly murder.
Mary testified that she and Beth never saw Jason after the defendant took him out of the trunk the night of the kidnappings.
Meshbesher turned his questioning to the Bible quotations Mary had recited to the defendant during her captivity.
"Did you tell him that people should have love for one another and because he was a person, that you loved him?" Meshbesher asked.
"I don't recall saying that. I..."
Before Mary could finish her sentence, a blood-curdling scream reverberated through the courtroom. Shiue leapt from his chair at the defense table, dashed to the witness stand, hurtled himself at the witness box, and violently grabbed Mary Stauffer. Brandishing a knife, he threw himself on Mary, toppling the witness chair and landing full on top of her. One arm encircled her neck and the knife blade glistened in his other hand. He held the knife to her throat and cried out, "I just want to be with her one more time!" He threatened to take Mary hostage and to kill her if anyone came near them.
Ignoring his threats, several deputy sheriffs, as well as FBI Agent Gary Samuels, rushed to Mary's assistance. With the force of their combined strength, they knocked Shiue to the floor, but not before he slashed Mary's face.
All this happened in front of an astonished courtroom. Screams rang out from terrified spectators. Jurors huddled together at the far end of the jury box—some breaking into tears while others simply cowered in horrified silence—as blood gushed from Mary's face.
One witness described Shiue's actions as gorilla-like. She said that he looked more like an animal than a human being when he tackled Mary. The witness said, "We couldn't believe what we'd seen and heard; we just couldn't grasp it. That unearthly scream he let out before dashing at her just sent a shock through all of us. Everyone was so horrified that we could hardly breathe. The jurors all scrambled together into the corner of the jury box as far away from the witness stand as they could. You could tell they feared for their lives."
When the deputies subdued Shiue, his body went completely rigid. He was in a catatonic state and unable to respond to verbal instruction. It took five men to carry him from the courtroom.
An ambulance rushed Mary Stauffer to Mercy Hospital, located about a mile from the courthouse, where emergency room doctors closed her massive facial wound with 62 stitches.
Ming Sen Shiue was committed to the custody of the Commissioner of Corrections on the second-degree murder conviction for a term of 40 years, to be served concurrently with his federal sentence for the kidnapping of Mary and Beth Stauffer. This was an upward departure from the sentencing guidelines that called for a presumptive sentence of 140 months (approximately 11 and a half years). The state's request for consecutive sentencing was denied.
MARY STAUFFER IS NOW in her late sixties and living in seclusion with her husband Irv and their son Steve. They spent many years in the Philippines continuing the work they began over 30 years ago. They retired from the Baptist General Conference in February 2009. Beth is married and has a young family.
In 1986, Mary and Irv Stauffer agreed to be interviewed by Dr. James Dobson, host of the radio program Focus on the Family. In that interview, Mary details her experience and emphasizes how important her faith was in pulling her through the ordeal.
Mary and Irv have told this story many times to Baptist church groups throughout the Midwest, and they continue to share Mary's story of faith and forgiveness.
Ming Sen Shiue is scheduled to conclude his prison sentence on July 7, 2010, exactly 30 years to the day Mary and Beth Stauffer escaped from his home in Roseville, Minnesota. Shiue is scheduled for a March 8 hearing to determine if he should be civilly committed as a sex offender—locked up for the rest of his life—or released into the community.
By Erin Carlyle
It could have been her.
Eileen Biernat was just three years younger than Mary Stauffer, a missionary and former high school math teacher who was kidnapped and repeatedly raped by a former student. The connections between the women's lives sent shivers down Biernat's spine.
The Biernats—Eileen, her husband, and their ten-year-old son and six-year-old daughter—watched the 10 o'clock news in the family room together. They learned that a mother and daughter and a six-year-old boy were missing.
"We thought, 'Oh my god, there's a pedophile taking kids,'" Biernat recalls.
As the weeks unfolded and details of the crime were revealed, Biernat learned that Ming Sen Shiue had kidnapped his high school teacher and her eight-year-old girl, held them for 53 days, and murdered a six-year-old boy who witnessed the abduction.
Biernat lived in New Brighton, two miles away from where the Stauffers were taken. She worked a mile away from Hazelnut Park, where the little boy was kidnapped. Every day on her way to work on County Road D, she drove by Carmen's Beauty Salon, which the Stauffers visited minutes before the abduction. Biernat was active in the PTA at Valentine Hills Elementary School in Arden Hills and knew the little Stauffer girl's third-grade teacher. The little boy across the street was in the same third-grade class.
"It was really relevant there, it was kind of right in your face," Biernat says. "The dichotomy between how common, ordinary lives are going on and you realize how quickly something like that can turn your whole life around."
Biernat, now 64, followed Shiue's kidnapping and murder trials until he was convicted and locked up in 1981—and then her life moved on. She worked as a legal secretary and earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in counseling. As she studied, she kept thinking of the bizarre case of Ming Sen Shiue, wondering what had caused him to become so obsessed with Stauffer.
In February 2008, Biernat retired. She and her husband put their tennis shoes on and started walking in shopping malls.
"After about eight days of doing that I said, 'I'm going to have to put my head under a delivery truck if this is what it is for the rest of my life,'" Biernat recounts.
She needed a hobby. So she decided to look up what had become of Shiue. Biernat headed down to the Ramsey County records department to print out sheriff's reports, FBI records and police reports.
"Two days later, with carpal tunnel syndrome, I had two three-ring binders," Biernat says.
She did the same in Anoka County, where the murder trial had taken place.
When Biernat started digging into the case, she realized with alarm that Shiue would be up for release in July 2010. "I thought, 'Oh my God, what about Mary?'" she recalls.
Biernat paid for access to an online people-finder database, and within a few clicks she had Mary Stauffer's current address. She was horrified by how easy it was.
"I thought, 'This guy's a genius. If in 1980, this guy could find her, follow her, and keep track of her, what would happen if he gets out of jail?'"
That's when she decided to write a book. She requested $1,300 worth of documents from the federal kidnapping trial, paying for them with her $600 George W. Bush tax refund. Her husband threw in his $600, too.
Biernat collected 11 thick three-ring binders full of documents and began making her way through 5,000 pages.
"There were certainly times when I was reading that I would have to say, 'No more. What this guy did was just too icky,'" Biernat says. "I'd have to put down the reading and go outside and work in my garden."
Starting in July 2008, she interviewed everyone she could: the former Ramsey County sheriff and the investigators who had rescued the Stauffers, the former Ramsey County district attorney, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the federal kidnapping case, and Shiue's defense attorney.
Biernat contacted the Stauffer family, the Shiues, and the Wilkmans, the family of the little boy who was killed, but they did not respond to her interview requests.
Biernat wrote her book, Stalking Mary: One Man's 15-Year Obsession with His High School Teacher, in a year and a half. She sent it around to a few publishers, but didn't get much response. Then, in a class at the Loft Literary Center last June, Biernat happened to meet Milt Adams, founder of Beaver's Pond Press, a local self-publishing company. Within a few weeks, Biernat signed.
As she was wrapping up her book, Shiue was facing a hearing to determine if he should be released from prison or civilly committed—locked up for life—as a sex offender. The hearing on civil commitment is March 8.