On May 19, 1977, 20-year old Colleen Stan was a carefree young woman who wanted to go to a party, but couldn’t find a ride to get there. Stan decided to hitchhike from her Eugene, Oregon home to the party near Red Bluff, California. That fateful decision would result in a seven-year ordeal that she kept secret from friends and family. It wasn’t until disaster struck, and someone else came forward, that Colleen spoke about her terrible secret.
Highway to Hell
When Colleen hit the road, she was approached by a young couple with a baby. They were Cameron and Janice Hooker, a couple who were driving through the area in a van. They offered to drive her to the party. Once on the road, they made a pit stop at a rest area. For the briefest of moments, Colleen had a fleeting thought that she should run. However, she quickly dismissed the notion, since the Hookers and their child seemed perfectly normal.
Unfortunately, that decision sealed her fate for the next seven years. Thirty minutes later, Cameron pulled onto a road deep inside the woods, tied Colleen up, gagged her and put a homemade 20-lb wood box over her head. He threatened to kill her. “I thought I was going to die,” Colleen recalls.
A House in the Woods
The Hookers took her to their home in Red Bluff and locked her in a box for 23 out of 24 hours every day. The box was stored underneath the couple’s waterbed. When Cameron wanted to rape Colleen, he would remove the box, rape her and then beat and torture her into silence. Colleen was electrocuted, whipped and beaten with chains.
Janice Hooker knew about her husband’s dark plans. She went along with Colleen’s capture because Cameron promised that he would stop torturing his wife if he had someone else to satisfy his sick impulses.
Cameron brainwashed Colleen into believing he was part of a shadowy, all-powerful group called “the company.” He told her she couldn’t escape without the company tracking her down and killing her. Colleen was forced to sign a “slave contract” and told her name was now “K.”
Eventually, Colleen was let out of the box for a few hours a day, during which time she was required to help Janice care for the couple’s children. Sometimes Collen was allowed to go out in public with Janice, but she was so terrified by Cameron’s threats and violence against her, that she did not dare tell anyone what she was going through. As the years past, Colleen was allowed to work in the yard. Nosy neighbors who asked about the mysterious woman were told Colleen was the nanny.
Cameron tested Colleen’s loyalty by handing her a gun and ordering her to put it inside her mouth and pull the trigger. She did as she was told, despite not knowing whether the gun was loaded or not. Thankfully, it wasn’t loaded, but at the time, the potential of death seemed a better option to Colleen than continued torture.
Despite her situation, Colleen kept her faith. She prayed every night that God would help her live and one day escape her captors.
Meanwhile, Cameron was so convinced that Colleen had been brainwashed that he let her leave briefly in 1981, when she returned to her family. Cameron warned Colleen that if she didn’t keep quiet, he and his men would murder her whole family. Colleen was a different person than she was when the family had last seen her four years earlier. She wore homemade clothing and didn’t have any money. The family were concerned that Colleen was involved in a cult, but they didn’t confront her about the situation, because they feared she might leave and never return.
Hooker picked Colleen up from her parents’ house and then the two returned to the Hooker’s household, where the abuse and beatings escalated. Eventually, the Hookers gave Colleen a Bible inscribed with their names. That’s when everything changed. Colleen and Janice started studying the Bible together, which began to humanize Colleen in Janice’s eyes. She confessed that her husband intended to kidnap more women, with the intention of having Colleen train them as sex slaves.
Janice was wracked with guilt over how much Colleen suffered. With Colleen’s help, she realized she needed to stop her husband from committing more evil deeds. One day in 1984, she confessed to Colleen that her husband did not work for “the company.” She drove Colleen to the bus station so that Colleen could escape. Her help came with one caveat: that Colleen promise to never tell a single soul about what the Hookers had done to her.
Colleen kept her word, returning home but not telling anyone about the years of torture and abuse. Cameron Hooker’s conduct continued to get worse, and Janice decided the time had come to stop the madness. Janice told her pastor about her husband’s behavior, and confessed that he had killed a woman in 1976. On November 18, 1984, several months after Colleen’s escape, Red Bluff police arrested Cameron.
Police tracked down Colleen and although she was initially reluctant, she decided to tell the officers and her family where she had really been for seven years. As a result, in 1986, Cameron went on trial for the rapes and assaults on Colleen.
Although Janice testified that Cameron had killed a 19-year old named Marie Elizabeth Spannhake on January 31, 1976, her body was never found. Authorities decided not to prosecute Cameron for killing Spannhake due to lack of forensic evidence. Still, Cameron was found guilty of committing crimes against Colleen Stan, and was sentenced to over 100 years in prison.
Colleen Stan changed her name, wrote a book, became an accountant, got married and had children and grandchildren. She also devoted substantial time and effort helping other victims fight back and heal from persistent abuse, starting a foundation and reaching out to Jaycee Duggard.
Controversially, Janice Hooker was never arrested or prosecuted for her role in the kidnapping and abuse of Colleen Stan. Police and prosecutors reasoned that Janice was also brainwashed and victimized by Cameron Hooker, making it impossible for her to have the requisite mens rea to commit crimes as an accomplice. Janice met Cameron when she was just 15-years old and living in an abusive household. Prosecutors gave Janice full immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony.
Cameron Hooker was denied parole in 2015 and told he would not have another hearing until at least 2022. He showed no remorse. In 2015, Lifetime aired a movie based on the case, called “The Girl in the Box,” starring Robin Williams’ daughter Zelda