Officer's voice buoys victim of kidnapping

Ordeal: A Roland Park woman is robbed at gunpoint and locked in her car's trunk with a fading cell phone during a high-speed chase.

August 02, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

The figure in the Halloween skeleton mask appeared seemingly from nowhere and Elizabeth Leik, standing alone at an ATM in Roland Park just after midnight, caught just a glimpse of him.

She froze, staring at the glowing screen as the man slipped behind her. Leik felt an object pressed against her spine. He demanded cash. But Leik, with panic welling, couldn't think straight as she fumbled trying to get the money from the machine. Then, when her card was sucked into the ATM because the transaction was taking too long, she became terrified.

The man - maybe a teen-ager - appeared nervous. With his plan unraveling, he decided to put Leik in her car's trunk but he couldn't work the keys. Instead, he plopped Leik in the passenger seat, a mistake that gave the 38-year-old mother enough time to slip a cellular phone into her pocket.

Leik's quick thinking might have saved her life as her abduction quickly turned into a high-speed car chase followed by nearly two hours of quiet, lonely suffering in the dark trunk. The phone turned out to be a lifeline to her eventual rescuers and a Baltimore homicide detective who calmly promised Leik - just before her phone battery died - that she would be found.

"I was petrified," Leik said in an interview with The Sun. "Why was I [at the ATM]? I didn't have to be there then."

Leik, a slender 5-foot-6 woman with dark hair, is a writer and professor at Goucher College. She has two young daughters and lives with her husband in Roland Park.

Wednesday night, she left a friend's house in Hampden and pulled up to the automated teller machine in the 5200 block of Roland Ave. about 12:20 a.m. yesterday. She has often visited the machine at night, although she worried about robberies in the quiet Roland Park neighborhood. A few years earlier, she remembered, a man had held up residents with a knife.

Now Leik's fear was joined by self-recrimination as the robber locked her in the lightless trunk.

"If you keep quiet," he said as he rifled through her purse, "you won't get hurt."

He flipped through her credit cards and asked for her personal identification numbers.

"Don't you have any money in here?" the man asked.

Then, "Do you have a cell phone back there?"

"No," Leik answered from the trunk.

He found her driver's license.

"Are you Elizabeth?" he asked. He recited her address, just before the car pulled out of the parking lot, with Leik bouncing in the trunk. And a new fear gripped her.

"I thought he was taking me to my home," she said later. "I told him I have two daughters. I was really worried that he was taking me home."

Soon, the car stopped. Leik heard the car door open and slam shut. The man was apparently heading to another ATM with one of Leik's credit cards.

Taking advantage of her brief opportunity, Leik quickly turned on the cell phone and called 911. She told a dispatcher what happened; the dispatcher responded that officers were being sent to her house and that others were looking for her car. Leik said she would have to hang up when her abductor returned.

When she heard him open the door, she quietly hung up the phone. But seconds later, the phone chirped loudly - it was a dispatcher calling back and Leik fumbled in the darkness to turn off the phone.

"Was that a cell phone?" the man demanded angrily.

"The phone is in the front or back seats," Leik replied quickly. "It's probably just my husband."

The car pulled away. Leik could hear sirens as a police car began chasing the Jetta, which lurched and swerved, tossing Leik around the trunk, bruising her knees and arms. She suffered a rug burn on her back.

Several minutes later, she felt the car stop and the kidnapper leave.

Police are still looking for him.

Leik sat quietly in the trunk, then began looking around for tools to escape. But all she could find were a few books and inflatable toys. Desperate, she removed an arm of her glasses and began scraping the back seats with it, trying to open a hole. She worried that she might suffocate.

Afraid her abductor would suddenly return, she pulled out her phone and turned it on under her back to muffle its noise.

She called 911 again.

That's when Homicide Detective Martin Young took over. Young, a veteran investigator, was tired and working with little sleep after plowing through the previous night on a murder case.

But after hearing about the kidnapping, Young's supervisor ordered the detective - one of the department's hostage negotiators - to the city's communications center to talk to the victim.

Young spoke to Leik calmly and deliberately, assuring her every few minutes that police would find her. He knew that Leik had plenty of air but was worried that she might suffer a panic attack or go into shock.

"I'll be here the entire time," Young told her.

In the distance, every few minutes, Leik could hear what she thought was a police helicopter or a siren from a patrol car. But the noises drifted into silence.

"That was very frustrating," Leik recalled.

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