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How 'The Girl In The Box' Escaped Years Of Torture And Captivity

Colleen Stan was hitchhiking in California when she was picked up by a young couple, Janice and Cameron Hooker, with sinister intentions.

By Becca van Sambeck

It's the warning given to every person who considers hitchhiking: You never know who will pick you up. Sure, most people finish their rides completely unscathed. But for some, their hitchhiking pursuits end in the ghastliest ways possible.

That's exactly what happened to Colleen Stan, who, in May 1977, accepted a ride from a young couple on her way from California to a friend's birthday party in Eugene, Oregon. What followed was a horrific seven year-ordeal, where Stan was raped, tortured, and often kept in a box for much of the day. 

Stan tells her story in "Snapped Notorious: Girl In The Box," an Oxygen special hosted by investigative reporter and former prosecutor Beth Karas, airing Saturday, July 17 at 9/8c on Oxygen. Here's a deep dive into Stan's escape and the evidence that eventually put Cameron Hooker, her kidnapper, away.

Colleen Stan's Imprisonment

Colleen Stan was planning on attending a friend's birthday party in Eugene, Oregon when she left her home in California in May 1977. The 20-year-old hitchhiked her way up the state, when she was picked up by a young couple with a baby. The child. made them seem like a safe option, Stan said, CBS News reported in 2009.

But then, the couple pulled over in a secluded wooded area and the man, Cameron Hooker, attacked Stan, placing a "head box" on her. Cameron had made the contraption, which weighed roughly 20 pounds, himself, according to "Snapped Notorious." Stan was plunged into darkness and barely able to move with it on her head. 

Stan was subjugated to years of torture, often spending 23 hours of the day in a tiny wooden coffin-like structure, often with the head box still on. She was given little food to eat, was repeatedly raped, whipped, electrocuted, and burned, and was left chained and dangling from a rack. Months into captivity, Cameron forced her to sign a contract agreeing to become his slave. She was thus referred to as K" by the couple, according to court documents.

There were periods of time during her captivity when Stan was allowed to move about the house, watching the couple's children, and even working briefly as a maid at a hotel (although she had to turn her entire paycheck over to Cameron), according to court documents. In fact, about three and a half years into her captivity, Cameron even let her visit her family while he posed as her boyfriend.

"You just remove yourself from the real situation going on and you go somewhere else. You go somewhere pleasant, around people you love. Whatever makes you happy."

Stan never attempted to flee and didn't tell her loved ones what was happening because Cameron told her he had the backing of a mysterious organization called "the Company" which would go after her and her loved ones if she tried to resist or escape, CBS News reported.

“I learned I could go anywhere in my mind,” Stan told PEOPLE in 2016 of surviving the horrific ordeal. “You just remove yourself from the real situation going on and you go somewhere else. You go somewhere pleasant, around people you love. Whatever makes you happy.

Who Were The Hookers?

Cameron and Janice Hooker met in 1973, when Janice was just 16 years old. Within two years they were married, Chico News & Review reported in 2010.

Cameron, a lumber mill worker, enjoyed practicing bondage on Janice, but Janice wanted to end that element of their relationship and have children, according to court documents. The pair agreed Cameron could keep "a slave" to practice bondage on, and when Cameron was 19 and Janice was 23, they picked up Stan.

Janice, who eventually had two children with Cameron, would later testify that she lived in fear of him and was also a victim. 

Did The Hookers Kidnap Another Girl?

Janice would also claim that Stan was not the first girl Cameron kidnapped. She claimed they kidnapped Marie Elizabeth Spannhake and murdered her.

Spannhake was 19 years old when she moved to Chico, California in December 1975 from Cleveland, Ohio to be with her boyfriend. Weeks later, on January 31, 1976, the young woman vanished during a shopping trip.

Spannhake's family, her boyfriend, and police frantically searched for her. However, her body was never found.

Stan told "Snapped Notorious: Girl In The Box" that there was a photo of another woman, believed to be Spannhake, in one of the boxes she was kept in. It seemed to be a warning: There was another woman there first, and then she was gone.

Maria Girl In Box

According to Janice, Spannhake was held hostage by the couple after they offered her a ride while she was walking down the road. She was tortured by Cameron, who placed the head box on her and put her on a rack like he did to Stan. He even tried to sever her vocal cords, Janice claimed, Chico News & Review reported. He eventually shot her with a pellet gun in the stomach and strangled her, killing her.

Janice alleged they buried the body off a dirt road, but police were unable to ever find her remains.

Colleen Stan Finally Escapes

Stan's escape came with the help of an unlikely ally: Janice.

"People don't understand all the threats made against me, my family. There's a lot more to it than just walking away. When you're sexually abused, these things solidify the fact that if you don't do what I say, I can take your life. I thought, 'What if he catches me when I try to escape?' It wasn't like I never thought about these things. I did but I never felt safe to act out on them until his wife came to me and said, 'We have to get out of here,'" Stan later said in an interview with CBS News.

Janice had confided in her minister, who advised her to leave and let Stan go, according to court documents. Janice then finally told Stan the truth: The Company was a lie. No one would go after her or her family if she escaped.

"People don't understand all the threats made against me, my family. There's a lot more to it than just walking away."

In August 1984, over seven years after she'd been kidnapped while hitchhiking, Stan went to a bus station and had her family wire her money for a ticket home. She then called Cameron and told him she was leaving and there was nothing he could do about it, according to court documents.

Janice asked Stan not to turn Cameron in, insisting she could rehabilitate him. Stan agreed, and tried to move on with her life and her family.

But Janice soon realized she could not fix Cameron, who she lived in fear of. After more counseling from her minister and a warning from her friend that Cameron could hurt the children in similar ways, Janice went to the authorities in November 1984 and turned Cameron in.

The Trial And The Aftermath

Cameron Hooker was hit with a slew of charges, including kidnapping, rape, sodomy, and more. Ultimately, authorities opted not to charge him in relation with Spannhake's death, as they couldn't find the body and didn't have enough evidence. Janice, meanwhile, agreed to testify against her husband and was granted immunity.

At the trial in 1985, Cameron admitted to kidnapping Stan and keeping her in a box, but insisted the sex was consensual and pointed to the fact that Stan had never left, according to court documents. In response, the prosecution provided all sorts of physical evidence: the headbox, photographs of Stan in bondage, a copy of the slavery contract, the coffin-like box she was kept in, and more. Janice's testimony and Stan's testimony sealed the deal, and in November 1985 Cameron Hooker was sentenced to 104 years in prison, the New York Daily News reported in 2014. He remains there to this day.

Janice went back to her maiden name and now works as a social worker in California, according to the Chico News & Review. Stan does not keep in touch with Janice, "Snapped Notorious: Girl In The Box" noted.

Stan, meanwhile, has worked hard to put her past behind her. She is a mother now and has, she says, achieved some peace.

"Life today is good. You have to learn how to live in the now and not let that past drag you back," she told producers.

For more on this case, watch "Snapped Notorious: Girl In The Box" on Saturday, July 17 at 9/8c on Oxygen.