March 13, 1994

How Barbara Mackle Was Kidnapped And Buried Alive

First Of Two Parts

"No! No! No! You can't do this! You've got to let me out. Wait! I'll be good."

Barbara Mackle pleaded with her kidnappers not to bury her alive.

Gary Krist, alias George Deacon, an escaped convict from a California prison, said, "Don't be such a baby." Methodically he began screwing down the lid of a coffin-like box --- ignoring the screams of his 20-year-old victim as she pounded frantically in her tomb.

Barbara was a student at Emory University, an exclusive girl's school at Decatur, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. When she became ill with influenza during the epidemic of 1968, she had to take a room at a nearby motel. The college infirmary was full with other sick girls.

Mrs. Jane Mackle drove from Coral Gables, a posh suburb of Miami, to take care of her daughter. Christmas was just eight days away.

Robert Mackle and his two brothers, Frank and Elliot, were wealthy land developers who had launched Port Charlotte and North Port --- among other planned communities.

By a quirk of fate, Krist was captured --- and nearly all of a half-million-dollar ransom recovered. Conclusion of the most bizarre kidnapping in U.S. history took place on Hog Island near El Jobean.

The principal participants were Special Deputy Milton Buffington and Major Richard McLeod of the Charlotte County sheriff's department.

Milton, now is retired at Punta Gorda. He treasures a scrapbook of news stories about the sensational kidnapping and recalls details vividly.

"Barbara and her mother stayed in a $32-per-night motel room," says Milton. "They were hoping Barbara's fever would abate enough to allow them to go home for a family Christmas celebration.

"Barbara's boy friend, Stewart Woodward, came by in the evening to keep the two women company. He left about midnight. As he drove away in his white Ford, Stewart noted two people sitting in a blue Volvo station wagon. He thought nothing of it at the time because many people were registered at the motel. "At 4 a.m. there was a knock on the door. 'Who is it?' Mrs. Mackle called out. 'The police,' replied a male voice. 'We are investigating an accident in which a young man driving a white Ford has been seriously injured.'

"Mrs. Mackle went to open the door. Barbara said 'Don't," but it was too late. Outside the door was a big man holding a shotgun. With him was a smaller person in a ski mask and holding a pistol. The latter was thought to be a boy but was discovered later to be a young Honduran woman named Ruth Eisemann-Schier.

"They rushed in and put their weapons to the heads of Mrs. Mackle and Barbara. 'Do as we say, and nobody will be hurt.'

"Mrs. Mackle was more annoyed than frightened. She thought they were being robbed. 'Just take our money and get out of here!' she demanded.

"The big man, Krist, pressed a cloth saturated with chloroform over her nose and mouth. In moments Mrs. Mackle was unconscious. The slightly built, masked intruder started to do the same to Barbara, but held back when Barbara said she would 'be good' and not scream or look at her captors.

"Krist and his accomplice placed Barbara face down on the back seat of a blue Buick and drove for about 20 minutes into a wild, uninhabited area. Krist pulled up Barbara's night gown and jabbed her with a hypodermic needle which he said contained a harmless sedative. Then Schier placed a chloroform cloth over Barbara's face briefly.

"Barbara became woozy but remained conscious. Krist ordered her to hold a crude sign KIDNAPPED while he photographed her with a Polaroid camera. He didn't like the picture because she was grim faced. He ordered her to smile so her parents would know she was alive. Then he photographed her again.

"He also took an opal ring from her finger. Then he slid her, feet first, into an open hole which already contained the plywood box.

"There were two ventilating pipes into the box which Krist referred to as a "capsule." Speaking into the tubes, Krist told hysterical Barbara that she had food, water, a blanket, a small light and ventilating fan operated by batteries, and a pump to get rid of water should it rain. A bed-pan was provided for bodily functions.

"The supplies and batteries would last a week if used sparely --- two and a half days if "wasted," said Krist. In a box of sanitary napkins there was a note assuring her she would be released in a week even if her father did not pay the ransom.

Manhunt Begins

"Mrs. Mackle, bound hand and foot with Venetian blind cords --- mouth taped --- regained consciousness an hour or so later. She banged on the wall with her feet but got no response. Struggling to her feet, she hopped to the door. She managed to open it from behind her back. She did the same with her parked Pontiac Firebird and pressed the horn with her head.

"The blaring horn brought the motel night-clerk in a hurry. 'Cut that out, lady! You're waking all our guests.' Mrs. Mackle stood up, enabling the manager to see her fetters and gag. 'Oh, my God! What's wrong?'

"Within 10 minutes the police arrived. Road blocks were thrown up. All Atlanta-area patrol cars were ordered on alert. Robert Mackle was called. He rushed to the scene in his private plane commanded by two pilots.

"At 9:30 a.m. that morning, the Mackle's unlisted telephone rang.

A friend summoned to the house for the purpose, answered. 'Listen carefully, I will say this only one time. I am the kidnapper of your daughter. Look under the rock at the base of a palm tree near your front gate. Follow instructions there faithfully if you want to see your daughter again.'

"Under the rock was a bottle with three sheets of typewritten paper. They explained that Barbara was buried in a box and would be allowed to "suffocate" if a ransom of $500,000 was not paid, or the police notified.

"The money was to consist of used $20 bills, not in serial order, and bound in $1,000 packets. The ransom was to be put in a single suit case and readied for further instructions.

"If the terms were accepted, Mackle was to place a classified ad in the Miami Herald under the personal section. The ad was hurriedly placed at a cost of $3: 'LOVED ONE. Please come home. We will pay all expenses and meet you anywhere at anytime. Your family.'

"Mackle's bank spent all that day and night preparing the ransom and listing the serial numbers. There was difficulty finding a suitcase large enough to contain the money. Finally, the wife of the bank vice-president found one in her closet at home.

"On Wednesday the postman delivered a letter containing Barbara's opal ring and the Polaroid photo her.

"At 4 a.m. Thursday --- exactly two days since the kidnapping --- Robert Mackle received another telephone call. He was directed to leave immediately and drive to the foot of Fair Isle Drive at Biscayne Bay. The road and bridge was blocked off every evening at 8 o'clock.

"Mackle was told to leave the ransom on a sandy strip near the bridge and depart.

"Mackle did as instructed. However, shortly afterward a neighbor heard a motor boat coming up the shallow channel between Fair Isle and the mainland. Fearing burglars who often hit waterside homes via boats, he called police. Two officers were sent to investigate.

"They saw two persons coming out of a small woods near the bridge and ordered them to halt. Instead, the suspects dropped a large, heavy suitcase and bolted safely into the woods.

"The suitcase was discovered to contain more money than they had ever seen. Not knowing of the ransom payoff, the officers assumed they had interrupted a big burglary. They took the money to the police station. It soon was discovered the money was the Mackle ransom.

"Mackle was devastated when told of the accidentally botched payoff. He feared his daughter would be killed. 'I don't care about the money. We just want our daughter back.'

"A white boat and a blue Volvo were found abandoned at the scene. The boat's registration number indicated the craft belonged to the University of Miami Institute of Marine Sciences.

"In the Volvo, police found a passport for Ruth Eisemann-Schier, two one-way airline tickets to Las Vegas and six Polaroid snapshots. Some of the photographs were of a man, others of a woman. Both were nude or scantily dressed. One photo was of a grim Barbara Mackle.

"The license plate was traced to a George Deacon who worked for the Marine Institute. Dozens of fingerprints were lifted from various surfaces of the automobile and quickly identified as Gary Krist, fugitive felon.

"The University identified the woman in the Polaroid prints as a biologist at the Marine Institute," recounts Buffington.

Struggle For Sanity

During these developments, Barbara was struggling to keep her sanity. Her light and fan had ceased to function. Water was dripping into her box --- soaking her nightgown and blanket.

After her ordeal, Barbara wrote a book of her experience. It was suggested by President Elect Richard Nixon, a close friend of the family. The book was titled 83 Hours Till Dawn.

"After a couple of days I thought about dying. I said to myself,

'This is where I am going to die.' Three or four times I thought this is going to be my casket. When I got morbid I would think of who would find me. Who and when and how. Maybe it would be a farmer. Or someone building something. In ten years? Twenty years?

"I started to count sheep. I pretended to see a little wooden rail fence. I had white sheep jumping, and I counted eight or nine hundred. I thought about decorating our Christmas tree.

"You know how you try to make a bad situation seem better than it is? Well, I kept thinking to myself. It's nice and cozy and warm here. If I were outside, it would be cold.

"What better place could there be than right here? If were out, why, maybe something would go wrong and the kidnappers would want to shoot me. But here they can't. I'm safe here. I'm glad I'm here.

"I talked to myself this way, but it didn't work for long. I was cold and I was wet, and I ached. I couldn't stretch out. Once I scrunched up and got stuck. I got real panicky thinking I was going to die this way.

"My tiny light ceased to work very soon. Then I was in total darkness. I thought about being blind. When I was a child I used to close my eyes and pretend I was blind. It was pretty scary.

"I used to work for the blind, and I wondered what it would be like to be blind. Now I know. You want to see. You are so frustrated. You can't see your hand in front of your face. And I thought, if they can spend their whole life like this, well, I can tolerate it.

"I would turn off the ventilating fan from time to time just to stop the noise. It was getting to me. And then I would deliberately sing happy songs. I have such a bad voice that when I hear myself sing, I laugh. I felt silly singing, but it felt good.

"My mind was just wandering. I was thinking of walking on the Emory campus with Stewart. Ice skating, and I remember he was falling down, and I was laughing, and one time it was cold and we were just running... just running and playing leap frog. Childish things, but it was fun. I thought of all the happy and fun things I could."

"The time came when I started to talk to God. For awhile in my life, I was kind of agnostic, I suppose. I believed in God most of the time. When I was down there in the ground I thought that maybe I should believe more.

"I just started talking, as if God were there beside me. I said, 'God, 'I know you are not going to let me die here. Even if no one knows where I am, You know where I am.' I found this very comforting."

NEXT WEEK: The Chase And Capture


cutline l --- news clip

Photos courtesy Mr./Mrs. Milton and Beverly Buffington

Beverly Mackle forces a "sorry smile" in this photograph taken by her kidnappers to convince her parents she was alive and in the power of her abductors.

cutline 2 --- news clip
Gary Krist, kidnapper and escaped felon.
cutline 3 --- magazine clip
Photo by "Front Page Detective."
Decatur , Ga. , motel from which Barbara Mackle was abducted.
cutline 4 ---
Photo by "Front Page Detective."
Abandoned station wagon and boat which cracked open the case.

March 20, 1994

Local Butcher A Key Deputy In Capturing Kidnapper

Last Of Two Parts

Robert Mackle was distraught when he learned the delivery of a half-million-dollar ransom for his daughter, Barbara, was aborted accidentally by an alert police officer in Miami.

"My God, they're going to kill my daughter," Mackle declared.

By a twist of fate, a Punta Gorda butcher played a key role in bringing the kidnapper to justice.

Milton "Butch" Buffington, at that time in 1968, was the popular meat department manager for U Save. He also was a special deputy for Charlotte County Sheriff Jack Bent. Milton owned two bloodhound "track dogs," and two German shepherd "attack dogs." Consequently he was called on frequently to aid searches for fleeing criminals.

It was in this capacity that Milton became involved in the famous kidnapping of Miss Mackle who was buried alive near Norcross, Georgia.

He relates the thrilling conclusion:

"Mr. Mackle pleaded with the FBI to do something to save his daughter. It was decided to issue a press release addressed to the kidnappers," said Milton as he opened a scrapbook containing the statement by Mackle:

"I had nothing to do with the action Thursday morning of the Miami police who tried to arrest you and recovered the money which I had left for you. I regret that you did not get the money because my only interest is the safety of my daughter. I pray that you have not harmed my daughter. I did everything you told me to do. I had nothing to do with the accidental appearance of the Miami police on the scene. Please contact me again through any channel. I will do anything you ask so my daughter will be freed."

Milton Buffington continued:

"This statement was featured in all the afternoon newspapers. At 10 p.m. that evening, Mr. Mackle received a telephone call from Krist.

"Instructions, given only once, were simple. 'Go now to the end of a dirt road off Tamiami Trail nine miles west of Miami. Leave the suitcase of money. If there was no interference, you will receive another call before noon Friday telling you where to find your daughter.'

"Mr. Mackle did as directed. A checkup at 3 a.m., disclosed that the money had been picked up.

"Mr. and Mrs. Mackle and the FBI waited tensely at the Coral Gable mansion. By noon, no call had come. The group feared the worst.

"At 3 p.m., the switchboard operator at the Atlanta office of the FBI received a call from a man who said, 'Listen carefully. I'll only give this once so you can't trace me.'

"With this, Krist gave directions in tenths of a mile to Barbara's location. Eight cars of FBI agents raced to the spot. It was an abandoned homesite overgrown with thorny bushes. However, there was so sign of the living grave.

"Agents were about to give up when one man heard a faint knock, knock, knock. He fell to his hands and knees and crawled into the bushes. There he found freshly turned earth with two, protruding pipes. "The agent called, 'Barbara, is that you? This is the FBI. If you can hear me, knock again. The knocking sound was repeated.

"'Here she is!' shouted the agent. Frantically the men began clawing into the earth with their bare hands and sticks. Twelve minutes later, their hands bleeding, the agents reached the coffin lid. 'Hang on, Barbara! It's the FBI. We'll have you out in a jiffy.'

"They pried off the lid with a tire iron. There was Barbara, still dressed in her nightgown, weeping with relief and shock. 'How are my parents?' The agents cried as they lifted her out of the box. She was unable to stand so they carried her to the cars and radioed the dispatcher that Barbara had been rescued.

"FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover personally telephoned the Mackles to tell them Barbara was alive and in remarkable good shape considering the ordeal she had suffered through three nights and four days.

"Meanwhile, the police at Miami were closing in on Krist. A car he had rented was discovered in West Palm Beach at a parking lot near the waterfront. A canvas of stores and homes in the area located a marine dealer who had sold a small boat Friday afternoon to a man who gave his name as Arthur Horowitz and paid for it with $20 bills.

"Among $400 worth of additional equipment the man bought was a chart for the intracoastal waterway through Lake Okeechobee to the west coast. Fifteen minutes after the purchase, the man who called himself Horowitz sped up the intracoastal toward St. Lucie and turned into the Okeechobee canal.

"The police learned he had passed through the Okeechobee locks and sped down the Caloosahatchee just an hour earlier. The Coast Guard at St. Petersburg was lofted to patrol the Gulf Coast. The pilots spotted the suspect off Cayo Costa. As the copter dropped low for a close inspection, the boat driver looked up and was positively identified.

"The fleeing boat suddenly swerved through Boca Grande Pass in an apparent effort to elude the chase craft, but the copter never lost contact. Ahead was a desolate, wooded shore. "Krist headed for it and rammed his boat into a sandy strip surrounded by dense mangroves. He leaped from the boat with a small suitcase and struggled into the mud and mangroves.

"The time was 1:30 p.m. The place was Hog Island just below El Jobean. Sheriff deputies, state police and FBI agents --- in all, 200 armed men --- swooped to the area by car, boat and air sleds. We tied yellow ribbons around our hats to identify ourselves. I still have mine.

"A command post under the supervision of Captain John P. Shannon, later a county judge for Charlotte County, was set up at the Lazy R fishing camp south of El Jobean.

"In the abandoned boat, whose registration number matched that sold at West Palm Beach, they found a duffel bag with $480,000 in $20 bills. "I was ordered to join the hunt as soon as I could leave the market and change into my uniform while my two sons loaded the dogs.

"When I got to the Lazy R an hour later, I found the FBI agents with their three-piece suits and city shoes floundering in the mud. Many had lost their shoes --- sucked off by the mud. It was obvious that none of them had ever before tangled up with a mangrove thicket.

"They ferried me and my dogs over to Hog Island, and we worked the sandy strips. We couldn't do any good because everything was wet and muddy. Scents don't hold in the wet.

"At nightfall, we gave up trying to track the fugitive. I took my dogs home, changed into dry clothes and returned to El Jobean. There I and Deputy Major Richard McLeod were ferried over to Hog Island about 10 p.m. where the search party had gathered around a campfire to wait for daylight. Air boats circled the island continually to keep Krist from wading across to the mainland.

"Mac and I tried to put ourselves in the fugitive's shoes. We figured Krist didn't realize he was on an island and would try to make his way to the lights at El Jobean on the mainland. We decided we would wade around in the dark to the landward side of the island and wait for sounds.

"Sure enough, about midnight we heard soft splashing like some one walking along the edge of the mangroves. We eased out into water up to our chests so we wouldn't splash. I held my pistol over my head to keep it dry, and held a flashlight in my left hand at arm's length --- ready to flick it on, but at a distance so any shots at it wouldn't hit me. Mack held a carbine over his head.

"The splashing would stop for a minute or two, then resume. An air boat came by in the dark, and the splashing stopped. We waited a half-hour or more in silence for the splashing to resume. Finally we heard a rustle in the bushes. Mac whispered to me to move away from him a bit and get ready for his signal to turn on the flash light toward the spot where we had heard the rustling.

"'Now!' shouted Mac. I flicked on the light and there on a log sat Krist with a small suitcase. 'Put up your hands,' Mac shouted. 'You're under arrest.'

"Krist raised his hands; and we waded up to him, our guns cocked. He didn't move. 'I'm tired,' he said. 'Can I have a drink?' I walked around behind him and put my hand cuffs on him. Mac fired three shots into the air to call for help.

"They brought an air boat around, but it was too difficult in waist-deep water to get the handcuffed prisoner aboard. We waded him to camp. When we dragged him ashore he collapsed on the ground from fatigue. In his suitcase we found $18,000 of the ransom money. That was the last of the $500,000 he had hoped to get away with.

"When we got to El Jobean, the FBI agents grabbed our prisoner and rushed him to one of their cars. Mac protested that Krist was our prisoner and should be taken to the nearest federalized prison, ours, at the Punta Gorda court house.

"The agents paid no attention to us. They pushed Krist into one of their cars and raced away to Fort Myers. However, they forgot to take the suitcase of money I was carrying --- crucial evidence the FBI needed for a trial. The next day, a couple of FBI agents came back and very nicely asked us to relinquish the evidence.

"Only casualty of the massive search occurred when two state wildlife officers --- rushing in their car to get an airboat --- slammed into another car on Tamiami Trail. The officers suffered broken bones; but Harry Taylor, a 63-year-old car salesman, was killed.

"Mac and I received citations from Sheriff Bent for our capture and letters of commendation from FBI Director Hoover.

"The 18-foot $3,400 boat and outboard motor with which Krist fled was given to Mr. Mackle because it had been purchased with his money. Mr. Mackle then gave it to Sheriff Bent's office. Then it was discovered the boat belonged to the West Palm Beach dealer because the purchase money had been confiscated by the FBI.

"Mr. Mackle re-purchased the boat for Charlotte County. It was the first marine craft for the sheriff's department.

"Gary Krist was tried and given 20 years. The death-penalty for kidnapping --- instituted after the kidnapping and murder of Charles A. Lindberg's baby --- had been repealed. Krist served 10 years, and upon release went to Alaska where he now lives.

"His girl friend, Ruth Eisemann-Schier, gave up the kidnapping plot after they were nearly caught in Miami trying the first time to pick up the ransom money. She was apprehended in Texas where she worked as a waitress. She served two or three years in prison as an accomplice. Her whereabouts today is unknown.

By Lindsey Williams, columnist for Sun Coast Media Group newspapers



cutline l
Photo by "Front Page Detective"
Heavily armed manhunters used shallow-draft airboats to search for the Barbara Mackle kidnapper on Hog Island near El Jobean.
cutline 2
Photo by "Punta Gorda Herald
Charlotte County sheriff deputies Richard McLeod (left) and Milton Buffington related their adventure to reporters.
cutline 3
Photo by " Miami Herald"
Multimillionaire Robert Mackle, developer of Port Charlotte and North Port, presents his daughter Barbara to news photographers shortly after her rescue.
cutline 4
Photo by "Front Page Detective
Kidnapper Gary Krist was chained and shackled for court appearances. He served 10 years of a 20-year prison sentence.

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