08-23-2009, 02:11 PM #1Registered User
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- Aug 2003
The Adobe Executive Kidnapping
There's a series of five articles that had appeared in the paper in 1997 of an executive at Adobe's kidnapping, which I'll post. The executive survived, and the perps caught and they went to trial. Who they are is in the last article. They could be considered "a small foreign faction."
A dramatic kidnapping revisited
Adobe chairman Chuck Geschke and family vividly recall five harrowing days that changed their lives forever
EDITOR'S NOTE: The kidnapping of Adobe Systems co-founder and prominent Los Altos resident Charles "Chuck" Geschke sent shock waves through this quiet bedroom community back in May 1992. Until now, the Geschkes have kept quiet about the ordeal. In an attempt for them - and us - to bring closure to this dark time in their lives, former Town Crier editor Anne Chappell Belden offers an exhaustive overview of the five-day ordeal, what has transpired since and the ramifications on the Geschke family. The following is the first installment of a four-part series.
By Anne Chappell Belden
Special to the Town Crier
Chuck Geschke woke several times the night before his only daughter Kathy's June wedding day, anxiously pondering the toast he would give at her reception. Though as Adobe Systems' Chairman of the Board, he was accustomed to speaking before hundreds of people, preparing this short speech made him exceptionally nervous. When the moment arrived, with family, friends and acquaintances of two families gathered in the Geschkes' back yard, Chuck told his new son-in-law how much Kathy meant to the family and that if he, her husband, was ever marooned on a desert island, he could be sure Kathy would help him find safe harbor.
To about half of the wedding guests, Chuck Geschke's toast to his daughter was merely touching. The ones who knew the Geschkes, however, could comprehend a much deeper meaning, stemming from the most traumatic week the Geschke family, or any family for that matter, ever endured. It was a week when even during separation, the whole family pulled together, and Kathy took command of an implausible situation, negotiating with kidnappers for five days and actually driving ransom money to a drop-off point in hopes of freeing her kidnapped father.
It was a week that changed the family forever, but not by choice. Immediately following the kidnapping, the family vowed to not allow the terrifying events change their lifestyle. They didn't want to run away, or hire bodyguards to escort them through daily routines. They pledged to try and recover as much normalcy as they could, so the crime wouldn't take from them what it had no right to take, the way they already lived their lives. After all, Chuck was alive and safe and relatively unharmed. They were all thankful. A happy ending, right?
Wrong. It sounds good, but a lot of the damage was already done. It's not easy to forget being seized in broad daylight by two armed men, blindfolded and held hostage on the brink of death for five torturous days while your horrified family negotiates with captors who repeatedly threaten to turn you into shark bait and blow up your entire neighborhood. In the days, months and years since the ordeal, fear, anger, hostility and insecurities deluged the Geschkes. Five years later, though they've healed most wounds, some of their scars appear permanent. In that sense, this story is tragic. Yet it is mostly triumphant. The Geschkes have waded through the post-trauma emotional flood and braved a sluggish legal system with their faith and family intact, both closer and stronger than ever.
or two decades, Chuck and Nan Geschke raised their three children in a traditional beige wood and red-brick house with a white picket fence that all blended inconspicuously into the redwood tree-lined road in Los Altos' oldest neighborhood. Though Nan, 54, was active in the American Red Cross and the Los Altos Historical Commission, as a couple they kept a low-profile lifestyle, never flaunting the considerable income Chuck, 58, was bringing home from his phenomenally successful computer graphics company, Adobe Systems.
Both before and after the kidnapping, they shunned publicity. Chuck is especially critical of the San Jose Mercury News, which he believes have exploited his privacy by publicizing the value of his stock options with a characterization of his face. "That may or may not be right for football and baseball players, but I don't understand why an industrialist like myself needs to be put in that position. I don't see how the public is served by having that kind of exposure," he said. He wonders if such media coverage played a role in the kidnappers selecting him.
Chuck, with his neatly trimmed, silverized beard and mustache, seems more like a benevolent college professor than the high-tech president who negotiated a $500 million merger with Aldus Corp. and built new Adobe headquarters in downtown San Jose. "He just has an aura about him that is extremely kind," said Marva Warnock, a close friend who babysat the family during their five-day crisis. After the kidnapping, Chuck was not himself for at least two years, she said. "What they've gone through is probably the hardest thing any family would have to go through."
The Geschkes declined to talk to the press about what they'd been through immediately after the kidnapping. But the story of Chuck's rescue was documented in hundreds of newspapers nationwide. The FBI said Chuck's kidnapping was its largest Bay Area investigation since the Patty Hearst kidnapping. It got even more play when New Jersey authorities discovered the body of Exxon executive Sidney Reso the following month. Abducted a month before Chuck, Reso died in a brutal death in captivity after struggling with his kidnappers.
Friends and acquaintances have repeatedly asked the Geschkes to publish their compelling version of events. "I think people need to know they have the strength to get through this type of thing. There's a survival instinct that just takes over you," Nan said. With the trial, sentencing and some healing time behind them, they wish to share their tale of suffering and survival, and then close this chapter in their lives.
It began on an apparently normal workday, Tuesday, May 26, 1992. Dressed in slacks and a white Polo golf shirt, Chuck Geschke left for work a little later than usual, after wrestling with a broken garden hose. On his way out the door, Nan reminded him to call her as soon as he arrived at work because she needed his June schedule to make travel plans. Chuck entered the Adobe Systems parking lot in Mountain View around 8:55 a.m. and pulled his green Mercedes 500SL into his usual spot. As he removed his briefcase from the trunk, a light gray Ford Taurus pulled up and a slender, black-haired young man jumped out from the back seat with a map in his hand. It's typical for people to get lost around Charleston Road, a cluster of two-story research and development buildings.
"Do you work here?" the man asked.
"Yes, can I help you?" Chuck asked and instinctively moved toward him. The man pulled his map aside and revealed a gun. "You're coming with me," the man said. By then Chuck was within arms reach so he did not protest when the man grabbed his arm and directed him into the car. He would later replay this moment dozens of times, questioning his decision to obey.
With the gun jammed against Chuck's ribs, the man said, "You're being kidnapped. I want you to keep your eyes down." He took two duct tape cut-outs and placed them over Chuck's eyes. He covered those with a pair of sunglasses, so no one could see from outside that Chuck was blindfolded. As the car pulled away, his abductor told Chuck, "If you attempt to do anything, like get away from us, we'll kill you. We know where your family is. We'll kill them, too."
This man, Mouhammad Albukhari, Chuck would know as "Steve." The driver, Ahmad "Jack" Sayeh, Chuck would address as "Rock." Chuck prefers to talk about them using their aliases.
As they were driving, Rock complimented Chuck's car and asked how much he paid for it. He answered $90,000.
"You're lying," Rock charged. "You paid $125,000 for it. We're going to blow up your f------ house."
Steve explained that they had a remote control device that could detonate a bomb great enough to blow up not only the Geschkes' house but all the neighbors' homes as well. He said that a relative who was a munitions expert had planted the bomb. "Well that obviously got my attention," Chuck said. "I figured there was no point in messing around."
His two captors also told him they were part of a much larger Middle Eastern organization. Once they collected ransom on Chuck, they planned to turn him over to the organization, which would take him to Lebanon and demand even more money.
With the loss of his sight, Chuck's other senses sharpened. He was attuned to traffic noise and the sun gleaming through the car's left side. He was pretty sure they were headed south on 101, and he calibrated the time to 30 minutes when they pulled off the highway and into a motel.
Rock and Steve ushered Chuck into the corner of a room, and proceeded to interrogate him on his personal finances. He cooperated. "I didn't know how much they knew about me. Because they said if I lied to them, both my life and my family's life were going to be in jeopardy, I figured the only thing I could do was play it fairly straight with them," he said. "They were very interested in what could be made liquid. They clearly wanted to get money fast."
He told them a majority of his assets were in Adobe stock, which he couldn't sell because of SEC rules. This was a half-truth. Other money was tied up in investments that would take weeks to liquidate. Another half truth. He indicated he had about $300,000 in cash set aside for taxes.
They repeated their warnings. "If I didn't cooperate, they'd cut me up in pieces and feed me to the sharks," Chuck said.
When they finished threatening him, they said, "It's time to kick back. Chuck, you kick back, and we're going to kick back." They flipped on HBO and watched the movie "Ghost" until noon, when Steve left to call Nan Geschke.
Nan had just returned from Russia the Friday before, attended Kathy's graduation from the University of San Francisco on Saturday and hosted a party for her daughter Monday night. "I knew she was extremely tired," Chuck said. "I candidly did not know how she would react to this, whether or not she would take it seriously. I let them know that so if she didn't respond in the way Steve wanted, he wouldn't fly off the handle."
At home, Nan was trying to figure out why her habitually responsible husband had failed to call. His secretary hadn't seen him and an 11 a.m. paging rendered no response. "I was afraid he had had a heart attack," Nan said. By noon, he was still missing. "I thought it was strange but there had to be an explanation. I never thought of foul play."
Nan, the daughter of a firefighter and nurse, and Chuck, the son of a photo engraver, grew up only a few blocks from each other in Cleveland, Ohio. Though they shared the same piano teacher, they did not meet until college. She was a freshman at Marygrove College in Detroit. He was a junior at Xavier University in Cincinnati who had spent four years in a Jesuit Seminary before deciding the priesthood wasn't for him. Both happened to attend the same religious conference on social action that spring. Chuck called Nan that summer and the pair began dating. "That was it," she said. "I think we had the same ideals."
They married in 1964 and moved to Pittsburgh four years later so Chuck could pursue a doctorate in computer science at Carnegie Mellon. Living on $300 a month, with two of their three children, the couple could barely make ends meet. Both had to take side jobs, Chuck as a teacher, Nan grading English papers. The family moved to Los Altos in 1972 so Chuck could join the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.
At 12:30 p.m., Nan's phone rang. The caller told her it was important to listen to him. Her husband had been kidnapped and taken out of state. If she did not comply with their demands, Chuck would be cut into a million pieces and left on her doorstep. The obscurely accented voice ordered her to retrieve her husband's car from the Adobe Systems lot before 5 p.m., come up with $650,000 and keep silent because she was being watched and followed.
"I instantly believed him because of how the morning had set up," Nan said.
Frightened to call from the house, she decided to find a public phone and warn Adobe Systems CEO John Warnock, in case he was next. She was sure she was being followed as she drove into downtown Mountain View. The former chapter president of the Special Libraries Association, Nan headed for familiar turf and begged to use a librarian friend's office phone. She told Warnock it was imperative he meet her at Rancho Shopping Center at 3:30 p.m. She also called two stockbrokers and demanded that they liquidate stocks into $100 bills within 10 days. In the Adobe Systems parking lot, Nan switched cars, drove home and changed clothes.
Then she left on foot, thinking the kidnappers might not recognize her, and zigzagged her way down well-traveled Los Altos streets for three miles. At Rancho Market, she casually passed John Warnock a note that described the day's events and stated that John could reach her at the Foothill College television studio, where she produces the Los Altos History show. "I felt safer outside the house than I did in," she said.
Meanwhile, in the motel room, Rock clicked the metal safety on the gun until Steve returned. "Obviously your wife does not love you. She's not very bright. I don't know what she's going to do, how she's going to respond to this," Steve told Chuck.
Chuck tried to reassure him. "I told you that my wife has been under a lot of pressure and fatigue from this trip. You have to give her a chance to respond. I'm sure you have terrified her by making this phone call. Maybe my daughter or someone else can help her," Chuck said.
Chuck's motives were two-fold. One, he wanted to prepare Steve for the likelihood of Nan bringing Kathy into the action. Second, he was trying to boost Steve's confidence. "I didn't want him to lose hope that there was money out there because I figured when I did that, either Nan and the kids, or I were going to be in big trouble."
As the evening progressed, Rock and Steve fantasized aloud about what kind of cars they would buy once they got the money. They brought Chuck some food, and when he refused to eat, they became upset. "You know you have to maintain your strength. You're no good to us unless you're in good health," they said.
The television was on the whole time, and Chuck cringed whenever he heard a news update. "I was just terrified that they would come on and say, 'It's been reported that' or 'the disappearance of' and these guys would go nonlinear, and I'm a dead man."
Back in Los Altos, John Warnock drove from Rancho Shopping Center to his Los Altos home. "The look on his face. I thought someone had died," his wife Marva said. The couple argued over what action to take. Marva strongly believed they should call the FBI, while John thought it would be a betrayal, if something happened to Chuck.
Besides being good friends, John Warnock and Chuck had worked together for more than 16 years. When Chuck managed the imaging sciences lab at Xerox, Warnock was his chief scientist. The pair developed a programming language called Interpress but could not convince Xerox to use it. Believing their invention had potential, they launched Adobe Systems in 1982. Thanks to a big break from Steve Jobs, their "Postscript" software was used for the first Apple laserwriter. Successful from the beginning, Adobe Systems' revenues topped $786 million last year.
As the Warnock's three children trickled into the bizarre crisis unraveling in their living room, they sided with their mother about contacting the FBI. John Warnock called Nan at Foothill and she gave her seal of approval, telling the Warnocks that she couldn't handle this on her own. Approximately 20 minutes later, an FBI agent appeared at the television studio and escorted Nan back to the Warnocks, where they proceeded to interrogate her for more than six hours.
Dave Szady, Supervisory Special Agent of San Jose's Violent Crimes/Gang Squad who supervised the FBI's investigation into the Geschke kidnapping, said they were working from the inside out, ruling out suspects closest to home first.
"As time went on, it was obvious the wife was very distraught. We had a very solid corporation here, with people who were very cooperative and willing to do anything to get the victim freed. We established we had a kidnapper or kidnappers who were interested in money, and it was a classical kidnapping," Szady said. FBI agents were at a disadvantage though, because the kidnapping trail was already 10 hours old.
At 9 p.m., the kidnappers moved Chuck Geschke to a "safe house" about 20 minutes away. They led him into a bedroom and ordered him to sit on the hardwood floor. A loud clattering of a metallic object hitting the floor startled Chuck. He asked what it was. One kidnapper said it was the elephant chains that their organization requires they bind hostages with, but since Chuck was cooperating, they would forego the chains and handcuffs.
They allowed Chuck to wash out his eyes, which had begun to water and itch from the airtight patches. When he finished, they placed a sleeping mask over his eyes and wrapped duct tape around his head. They gave him a sleeping bag, a spot on the floor and a warning that they'd be watching him all night.
"I don't know if it was survival or just the fact that the adrenaline had been pumping for so long that when it slowed down, I collapsed." He slept at least part of the night, and listened for distinctive sounds the rest, attempting to pinpoint his location.
Around 2 a.m., when FBI agents finished quizzing Nan, they sent her home, against her will. She discovered that four FBI agents had already been there for hours, setting up a phone system and searching for clues. Nan wanted Marva Warnock to come stay with her so she picked up the phone to call and the line was dead. "I just lost it," Nan said. "I put my husband's and my lives in your hands. I want you to leave," she told the FBI agents. They argued with her but retreated outside. Soon after, the Warnocks arrived and persuaded Nan to let the FBI stay. All parties agreed that Kathy and Peter Geschke, 24 and 26 at the time, should be notified.
"It was obvious that I was completely exhausted by then and not very coherent," Nan said. That state was heightened by the fact that this was not her first brush with hard-core violence.
Nan's sister was shot and killed in 1985 by her estranged husband. He retained custody of the couple's two children.
"It was on my mind throughout the whole ordeal," Nan said.
Next week: Part II - Days 2 and 3 of captivity.
08-23-2009, 03:24 PM #2Registered User
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Part 2 of a 4-part series
Two days of terror, uncertainty
Geschke family negotiates with kidnappers while investigators frantically search for clues
EDITOR'S NOTE: We began our series on the 1992 Chuck Geschke kidnapping with the story in last week's issue (Oct. 15), featuring the events leading up to the incident, the kidnapping itself, and the first night of captivity.
By Anne Chappell Belden
Special to the Town Crier
an felt better the next morning, once two of her three children arrived, after frightening 4 a.m. wake-up calls. The FBI agents briefed Kathy and Peter and then grilled them about names of people who could be involved.
Business associates. Childhood friends. Everybody was a suspect, even, for a brief nanosecond, their younger brother John. The FBI refused to let the Geschkes tell John what was happening. The fewer people who knew, the better. The FBI agents decided Kathy should handle the kidnapper's phone calls. Just a few days out of school, it was plausible that she would be at the house. They worked on establishing a story that Nan was ill and Kathy came to care for her.
This was not far from the truth as Kathy turned out to be quite a rock. Chuck Geschke used to tease his two sons that if he were stuck on a desert island and had to have one of his children with him, he would want Kathy there because she was the most resourceful. She could figure out how to get off the island. So it was fitting that she would be the one to negotiate her father's release, and she would be the one to deliver the ransom money.
She also was the one who ordered the FBI agents to stop coming in and out of the front door. And she was the one who answered every incoming call. If it wasn't the kidnappers, she had to invent some excuse as to why her mother or brother couldn't come to the phone. When her brother John, who was graduating from Princeton called, she fibbed that both her brother and mother had laryngitis and couldn't speak. And when Peter's then fiance, Diane Nielsen, called and wanted to come take care of her supposedly sick husband-to-be, Kathy told her she had everything covered. "It was hard lying to your own family members," she said.
It was the job of Agent Mary Ellen O'Toole, who has a doctorate in behavioral sciences, to coach Kathy on answering the kidnapper's calls and then try and create a kidnapper profile from phrases he used and responses to questions. The preparation became more and more organized, with Peter typing up scripts of anticipated kidnapper statements and Kathy's best replies.
The first real test came mid-afternoon. Kathy Geschke turned on the recording device and a man asked for Nan. Kathy told him that her mother was sick, practically in the hospital. She identified herself as Nan's daughter.
"OK, good," the man replied, likely affected by Chuck's subtle coaxing. "Listen, you tell your mom, do not do anything stupid."
"Don't do anything stupid," Kathy repeated.
"We know everything about you and your brother Peter. We know the house. We know everything about you people. Anything stupid, your dad will die. You understand?"
"Well, we fully intend to, uh.." Kathy stammered.
"Do you understand?" the voice demanded.
"Yes I do, but we fully understand to do anything you..." Kathy said.
The kidnapper played a recorded message from Chuck. "Hello, Nan. This is Chuck. I love you very much. I'm sick. At the moment, I'm OK. I'm being treated well. The people who have me are very serious. You should follow their directions. Please don't report to the authorities. Our lives could be in danger. They're watching the house. I love you very much."
The man said he wanted Kathy to make the ransom drop, once she got the money. He would give her seven business days, until June 5. Once she delivered the money, her father would be released 12 hours later. Kathy said she would have the money earlier, possibly the next day, so the kidnapper promised to call then.
Steve returned to the Hollister safe house in an upbeat mood. He told Chuck that Kathy seemed bright and she would cooperate so "things are going to be all right now," Chuck said.
Steve began quizzing Chuck on the various cars parked outside the Geschke residence; a Honda, Jaguar and Cadillac. Chuck could see what was coming. This wasn't about their cars; it was about which vehicle Kathy would drive to deliver ransom money. Chuck maneuvered the conversation toward allowing Kathy to drive the Cadillac, which was, for one, the safest car, and for two, the only one that would protect Kathy, if the authorities were involved. So he told Steve that the jaguar was unreliable and the Honda desperately needed new tires. "I've been telling Kathy she needs new tires and she hasn't done that. You know how kids are. That car just wouldn't be safe driving on the freeway," Chuck said.
"I don't want her to drive that Cadillac. You know they could hide someone in that car," Steve retorted.
"They are not going to do anything to compromise our lives. I know they are terrified of you guys," Chuck reassured.
In his mind, Chuck continued to believe his family could deal with this situation. "It's always hard for me to separate the natural instinct to try and survive and sort of maintain the hope of living vs. the reality of what I intellectually knew. I suspect that during the last 24 hours or so of this whole ordeal, I couldn't tell the difference between that instinct to try and survive vs. if someone had actually said, "Now wait a minute, what do you really think?"
The mind games that the kidnappers played didn't help. One conversation with Rock really unsettled Chuck.
"Do you love your wife?" he asked.
"Yes," Chuck replied.
"If we were to release you and take her captive, how many millions would you be willing to pay for her?" Rock asked.
Chuck didn't know how to answer. "Obviously I'm going to pay anything to get my wife free, but if I say that, do I put a price tag on her head? Or do I sort of lie, and say, 'No, I really wouldn't do that.' I've already told them several times that I love my wife so I decided to tell the truth. Yes I'd pay any amount, but I'd much rather you get any amount for me. It did scare me that they would get a certain amount for me and then just flip it."
It was clear that Rock was playing the bad cop and Steve the good cop. When Steve was away, Rock would pace, clicking the gun the whole time. At times, he would go off and play loud music and lift weights. When he tired of the physical activity, sometimes he would drop the elephant chain, "for no other reason than to scare the hell out of me," Chuck said.
At times, however, the duo was oddly accommodating, rushing out to buy Chuck coffee on request and allowing him to order his own food. "From their point of view, keeping me somewhat content meant they didn't have to deal with constraining me and they could be more focused on their plan to get the money. I don't think it was an honest concern for my well-being," Chuck said.
Other times, they were almost comical in their attempts to impress Chuck with their expert planning. Like when Steve said, "You know Chuck, we've invested a lot of money to make this happen. We spent $30,000 to purchase a one-man submarine." Chuck feigned admiration.
"Well, you know we even have torpedoes for it. Here, feel this," he said, removing an object from a Styrofoam box.
Chuck felt the cone-shaped object with a propeller, guessing it was a dive vehicle that scuba divers use to propel themselves under water.
"It sure feels like a torpedo to me. That's pretty impressive," he said.
Steve, playing the operation's mastermind, continued to engage Chuck in conversation, discussing religion and other subjects and describing his plan for retrieving the money. "I would sort of let that happen, as a way to humanize the relationship and make it harder for him to kill me," Chuck said.
Steve planned to have Kathy deliver the money on the beach. An experienced scuba diver, he would swim the loot under Monterey Bay to a waiting car, thus eluding police. The drop-off point, however, was near Fort Ord, so he would have had to literally cross Monterey Bay. "These guys may have been clever. I don't know if they were smart," Chuck said.
On Thursday, a frustrated Steve returned from talking to Kathy. "Dammit Chuck. I don't understand your daughter," he said. "She's on the phone and she's negotiating with me. Doesn't she understand that I'm the kidnapper and you don't negotiate with the kidnapper? I don't get what's going on."
Inside himself, Chuck was ecstatic that his daughter was handling this guy. "I sort of said to myself, 'that's what I would expect of Kathy.'"
Steve was also concerned because Kathy was getting the money so quickly. He asked how a Mr. Brown in the investment business could gather so much cash so fast? Known for his quick wit, Chuck responded that Alex Brown Investment Co. had been in business since the Revolutionary War and was located in Maryland near the Federal Reserve, so if anyone could get money quickly, it would be that company. Steve seemed to buy it.
Meanwhile tension mounted in Los Altos. More than 200 agents were now on the case. Interviews and document searches at Adobe Systems had failed to turn over new leads.
The Geschkes slept little and prayed a lot. "I said more Hail Marys in those four days than I have ever said," said Peter, 31, a high school teacher in Fremont. The Warnocks brought over food and emotional support several times a day. Peter specifically requested that Chris Warnock, his long-time family friend, come over Thursday night so he could let off steam, cuss and say things he deemed inappropriate for the female FBI agents to hear. Kathy and Peter kept their mother out of the loop a bit, not telling her about the shark bait threats or letting her listen to her husband's voice on tape.
In the latest conversation with the kidnapper, Kathy, with preparation from the FBI, had managed to negotiate driving the Cadillac for the drop-off the next day. That had angered the kidnapper, but had given Kathy a measure of control.
At times, it seemed the kidnapper had sympathy for her. Whenever she heard her father's taped messages, she cried hysterically. "I was so emotional that I would have fallen to the ground if Mary Ellen O'Toole hadn't propped me up," she said. The kidnapper would sometimes pause a minute, intentionally giving her time to regain her composure.
Occasionally, the grievous drama was dotted with laughter. On Thursday afternoon, a graduation flower arrangement arrived at the door courtesy of family friends.
"I was so happy to see something beautiful in the midst of all the chaos and fear we were going through," she said. But she hadn't closed the door and opened the card when FBI agents seized the bouquet and plucked it apart petal by petal searching for electronic bugs. Agents even made Kathy call the senders to confirm they had, in fact, ordered the arrangement. "That kind of caused some laughter in the house," Kathy said.
Next week: Day 4 of captivity.
08-23-2009, 03:27 PM #3Registered User
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- Aug 2003
Rescue and Release
Chuck's dramatic rescue
EDITOR'S NOTE: Last week, we reported on days two and three of captivity in part 2 of our 4-part series on the 1992 kidnapping of Adobe Systems president Charles "Chuck" Geschke. This week, we recall Geschke's final day with his captors and his safe release.
By Anne Chappell Belden
Special to the Town Crier
he kidnapper rang twice on Friday, both times earlier than he had claimed he'd call. In the first conversation, he checked to see that the Geschke's daughter, Kathy, had the money and would drive the Cadillac. He told her that Chuck was in Mexico and would be released in San Francisco a few hours after the drop.
"You, no, you said an hour, yesterday. You told me one hour," Kathy said, holding firm.
"Well, it'll be an hour. Now, it's two hours at most," the kidnapper said. He warned her that if anyone followed her, if she was bugged or if the money had transmitters, the whole deal was off.
"Do you think I'm stupid?" Kathy challenged.
"OK. Good. Good," he said, apparently convinced she was negotiating in good faith.
FBI agents were in the midst of suiting Kathy into a bullet proof vest and wiring her in case she had to travel from phone booth to phone booth when the phone rang. Each call, amplified by the FBI's enhancer, would send chills through the Geschke family members.
Peter's stomach would knot up and he would leave the room, so as not to affect Kathy in any way.
All taped up with wires as the FBI instructed, and dressed in white as the kidnapper had instructed, Kathy dashed to the kitchen, turned on the recorder and picked up the phone.
The kidnapper played a tape from her father.
"Hi, Nancy. Hi, Kathy. This is Chuck. Oh, God. I'm well. I love you very much. I'm sorry that we're in this situation. To prove that I'm still alive and well, the headline in the San Jose Mercury for the day is 'Voters Lost in a Barrage of Candidate Attack Ads.'
"Kathy, I remember often saying that if I was stuck on a desert island, you're the one I would depend upon to pull me through. I had no idea it would come to this, and I trust you with my life.
"I ask you to pay close attention to the directions that you've been given and not to gamble with your life or Nancy's, or mine. Make sure that no one accompanies you in the car, either in the compartment of the car or in the trunk. Make sure there are no electronic devices on you or on the money or on the car. These people have ways of determining whether those devices are present.
"I'm sure that if you follow all of their directions, we should see one another in the morning. I'll look forward to seeing you, and I love you both very much."
The directions the kidnapper gave Kathy would take her from her home to a dead end called Dunes Drive in the seaside town of Marina.
She didn't know it at the time, but her father had manipulated Steve's planning process so that Kathy wouldn't have to walk a couple miles on a darkened beach to make the drop as originally planned.
hris and Marva Warnock, Peter and Nan Geschke held a little farewell ceremony as Kathy was leaving.
"She seemed like a small child to me, like someone playing dress up," Marva Warnock said.
"I was in tears," Kathy said. "I felt like I was saying my last goodbye to my family."
Thus began the scariest thing Kathy ever had to do, deliver ransom money to save her hostage father. The drive to Monterey County was long and lonely, though she was not alone. Agent Harry Fujita was crouched on the back-seat floor, communicating via a walkie-talkie to other agents in unmarked cars and repeatedly chiding Kathy for driving too fast. She was supposed to make the drop at 11:30 p.m., but they hadn't left until 10:30 p.m. The kidnapper would wait, Fujita reassured her. Besides, the FBI needed time to set up a perimeter. SWAT teams had left San Jose within half an hour of the final phone call. FBI agents took different routes to the drop-off point to avoid detection. Law enforcement agencies from San Jose to Monterey knew of the situation.
Kathy took Interstate 280 south to Highway 101 south, Interstate 156 west and Highway 1 south to the Reservation Road exit and then made the formidable right turn onto Dunes Drive. "I just really lost it emotionally," she said.
Through her tears, she steered past rows of motels, a creepy mobile home and a few suspicious-looking cars parked on the side of the dimly lit street. The FBI, through Fujita, instructed her to drop the money under the light at the end of the cul-de-sac, so agents could see the kidnapper when he retrieved his loot.
Mouhannad Albukhari, "Steve," was hiding only 10 feet away with a gun when Kathy leaned out of the window, plopped the backpack on the sidewalk and then floored it out of there. The Syrian native grabbed the bag of money and fled on foot into the foggy dunes. He abandoned his gun and shoes in the sand, discarded the electronically-bugged backpack and hunkered near the ground so the FBI helicopters couldn't spot him.
"He basically got away at that point," Agent Szady said. "But we had so many resources. We had agents on the street. Highway patrol was assisting us. With all the commotion taking place, we sort of forced him to go in a certain direction. North toward the cement factory."
wenty-five miles away in Hollister, Chuck Geschke sat blindfolded and more terrified than ever, while a nervous Rock paced back and forth, back and forth.
It began to dawn on Chuck that he couldn't come up with one plausible reason why his captors would free him. Their stories had changed throughout the week. First they'd let him go in San Francisco, then San Jose. In 12 hours. No, one hour. Make that two. Then they said it would take 10 days to convert the money into foreign currency so they could flee the country. "This didn't compute, that they would let me go and have me hanging around for 10 days without telling anyone," Chuck said. Yet there were a few positive signs. Behind Rock's back, Steve had given Chuck $100 and his credit cards, without fingerprints, to keep for emancipation day.
Before Steve had left, he said he planned to pick up the money at midnight and should return before 2 a.m. If he was not back by 4 a.m., something had clearly gone wrong and Rock would take care of Chuck. Chuck had sent him off with generous parting words: "This may sound strange to you, but I pray God is with you on this journey so that you come back safely, nothing happens to Kathy and I will be left free."
Chuck listened to the sounds of cars approaching and fading as he whispered the prayer of the rosary. He couldn't remember the five mysteries of the rosary to meditate on so he substituted his children, wife and father. It helped him stay in touch psychologically with the people nearest to him. In fact, he was so deep in prayer he is convinced he saw Nan.
"It was almost like there was a telepathy that happened. I
felt she was about to talk to me. It was a real dramatic feeling," he said. He would later learn that his wife, who would periodically steal away from the chaos to the solitude of her bedroom and pray, had felt his presence with her.
"I don't know if we were praying at the same time, but there was definitely a connection," Nan said.
Suddenly an alarm buzzed. Rock let it ring for 15 seconds. "What does that mean?" Chuck asked.
"It's 3 o'clock and you've got an hour to live," Rock stated.
Chuck took the offensive with some mind games of his own. He told Rock that he was sure Kathy had complied with all the demands, but maybe Steve decided to take the money and run. By the way, how much did you ask for?
Three hundred thousand, Rock answered.
"Well, I have to tell you, Steve told me he asked for more than that. He didn't tell me how much, but he did say it was hundreds of thousands more. Maybe if he comes back, he isn't going to give you your share," Chuck said, attempting to drive a wedge between his abductors. Then he worked on giving Rock a way out. "You know I've never seen your face. I don't know who you are. Why don't you drive me up to a Versateller and I'll take out whatever money it will give me and you can take it and split?"
The alarm sounded again at 4 a.m. Rock was sure something was wrong, but he said he'd wait another half an hour before implementing plan B.
"What's plan B?" Geschke asked.
"You don't want to know," Rock said. He handcuffed Chuck's hands behind his back and attached two more cuffs around his ankles.
Like a mantra, Chuck repeated the memorare and then began his last confession to God. As a Jesuit seminarian, part of Chuck's training included how to pray and what to pray for. Though three decades had passed, it all came back to him that night. "I certainly felt that was a major source of strength for me. The feeling I could be sitting there, talking to God, having a conversation about the miserable circumstance he put me in."
In the last few hours, he progressed in his prayer. Until then he had prayed for his family and for his release. Now he decided that was presumptuous. He decided to pray for whatever was God's will or intention. He would live or die with the consequences.
"I also believed I had more to give in life, and, hopefully, God would see that and give me a chance to prove it," he said.
A half-hour passed. Rock directed Chuck to sit in a closet and moved his handcuffs to the front. He unhitched the leg irons but replaced them with the elephant chain that he fastened between two bolts on the floor and around Chuck's legs. Rock left the house, reminding Chuck not to try to escape. Chuck immediately pulled up his blindfold and realized that Rock had done a shoddy job of confining him. He worked his legs out of the chains, jammed a blanket over the bolts and leveraged his way out of the closet. He paused for a moment, wondering whether this was the rational thing to do. "If I get caught, they are obviously going to do me in. But on the other hand, how can I face myself if given an opportunity to run, I don't run?"
He initially tried to climb over a back yard fence, but couldn't make it with the handcuffs so he headed for the street side, an alley with six houses. Maybe he could knock on a door. But what would the person think seeing a stranger with handcuffs on? A safety-paranoid person might just shoot him.
He ran to the end of the alley, where he had to choose between going right or left. As a wannabe basketball player years back, he never achieved his potential because if he was trying to get to the basket and a defensive player challenged him, he always went right. And so he instinctively turned right at the intersection and there was Rock, carrying something that looked like a knife.
"Get back in there," Rock ordered, quickly catching up with Chuck. Back to the closet, this time lying flat on his face with duct tape over his eyes, chains on his legs, a lamp cord around his handcuffs and legs and a gag in his mouth, which he fortunately was able to spit out before it choked him. Rock warned Chuck if he tried to escape again he would die and then cranked up the music.
Meanwhile, Albukhari had walked and run all night, avoiding capture. The heat was on - dogs, local police, SWAT team, even the military. Early in the morning he tried to bribe a cement factory worker into giving him a ride. When the worker refused, Albukhari headed north again, this time hiding in a 1/2 mile-wide thickly wooded area between the beach and the road. Apparently thinking the FBI had retreated, he strolled out onto the road and walked right into an enclave of a Ninja-suited SWAT team. He innocently told the agents he had slept on the beach. But he had the same last name as the owner of the gun the FBI had recovered from the sand and traced.
"There was no doubt he was the kidnapper," Szady said.
Agents interrogated him in a nearby motel room and eventually broke him. They convinced him it was in his best interest to cooperate, that he could face the death sentence if Geschke was murdered. Albukhari finally confessed and said he wasn't sure whether his partner would honor the deadline and kill Geschke. He agreed to take them to the scene.
Kathy had driven at top speeds all the way home, even though the FBI agent in the car said he probably couldn't get her out of a ticket on the return trip. Her bulletproof vest was so incredibly uncomfortable that she had to pull over to remove it on the way.
The Geschkes and Warnocks had stayed up most of the night, praying, crying and waiting around the living room coffee table. When Kathy returned, everyone sobbed. Kathy curled up on the couch like a little girl, Marva Warnock recalls. But Kathy couldn't sleep. She repeatedly woke up the agents and told them to call San Jose headquarters for news. "We just played the waiting game. Every hour that went past, it was more and more terrifying because we hadn't heard anything." By morning, an ominous feeling was brewing inside her, until 9:30 a.m., when they learned that the FBI had captured Albukhari. Agents faxed a copy of his driver's license to see if anyone knew him. No one did. They continued to wait.
Chuck too was waiting, blindfolded in the dark closet. Rock periodically checked on him but had given him no food. At one point Rock played a trick on Chuck, pretending he was a third person from "The Organization" who was trying to clean up the mess Rock and Steve had made. He blew the gag, however, by failing to change his shoes or pants until after Chuck had noticed the likeness through the crack in his blindfold.
A couple more hours passed.
"What happened next was probably the scariest thing that has ever happened to me," Chuck said. People began screaming, "FBI. FBI. Get down. It's going down. FBI." Chuck assumed a full fetal position, sure that gunfire would erupt any second. "I thought, 'That's it. This is the end.'"
Suddenly someone opened the closet door and said, "Hi. I'm Larry Taylor. I'm with the FBI," Chuck recalls.
"At this point, I was about as close to Looney Toons as you can get without flipping out. I said, 'I don't believe you.'"
"Really. I'm Larry Taylor, and I'm with the FBI," Taylor said.
"If you'd been through what I've been through you would realize that I just don't believe you. I'm sorry," Chuck said.
Taylor removed Chuck's blindfold. The man Chuck saw was clearly not Middle Eastern. In fact, he looked more like the astronaut character on the television series "Northern Exposure." Chuck still wasn't convinced. "Show me your badge," he demanded. Taylor smiled widely. "I want to see your badge too," Chuck said to the agent behind Taylor, not that he had ever seen an FBI badge or would know what to look for.
"I'm glad to see you're safe and sound Mr. Geschke," Taylor said.
nsteady on his feet, Chuck put on his shoes and walked out front, into a black sea of SWAT team soldiers, some with diver hoods, bulletproof vests and what looked like machine guns. Chuck remembers thinking, or even saying, "I don't know what an angel looks like. I always thought angels were in white. You guys are in black, but you sure like angels to me. I actually felt like God sent this army of angels to sort of sweep me up."
Chuck's first priority was to contact his family. Taylor, the same agent whose broken cellular phone sent Nan into a frenzy the first night, offered his portable. It didn't work. They had to approach a neighbor working on his car.
At 12:09 p.m. the phone rang, again sending chills through the sleep-deprived Geschke family. Kathy answered the call. An FBI man asked for Agent O'Toole. "When they asked for Mary Ellen, I didn't think my Dad had made it. They talked to Mary Ellen, and she had absolutely no emotion on her face. And then she said, 'Kathy, come here.' She gave me the phone. It was my Dad and he just said 'Kathy' and I started to cry. And he was crying. He had known what I went through. He wanted to tell me he was OK, and he was coming home."
O'Toole summoned Nan from the living room to the phone. Hearing her husband's voice, she screamed. Peter flopped backward onto the floor and cried. "It was just elation, jubilation," Nan said.
Before taking him home, the FBI loaded Chuck into a helicopter and made a few beach passes looking for the money. He didn't care about the money, he told them, so they flew him to the San Jose headquarters for debriefing. There he received a standing ovation from the agents who had been working around-the-clock to secure his freedom. Chuck shook hands with each of them, and then the FBI returned his briefcase. Under his initials, CMG, the kidnappers had scratched in the words "is dead." "That was going to be my tombstone," Chuck said.
A "Welcome Back Chuck" banner and a dozen friends and relatives anxious for hugs greeted the ex-hostage as he pulled into his driveway. Included in the crowd were Chuck's elderly father, whom Peter summoned from a nearby retirement facility, and Peter's fiance, Diane. Everybody was crying. Chuck took a few minutes to change his five-day-old clothes before toasting his closest friends and relatives, who trickled in all day and evening.
08-23-2009, 03:53 PM #4Registered User
- Join Date
- Aug 2003
Yes, It was a small foreign faction
This is the last in the series---note the description of the two guys that masterminded this kidnapping---had hundreds of law enforcement combing the area for them. One was the mastermind--the other a follower.
Last of a 4-part series
Aftermath of a kidnapping
Geschke family deals with new fears, but also comes closer together in the years following Chuck's abduction
It was supposed to be a normal day at the office for Adobe Systems president Charles "Chuck" Geschke when he pulled into the parking lot of his Mountain View headquarters on May 26, 1992. Instead, his kidnapping at gunpoint by two Arabic men began a five-day nightmare in which Geschke was blindfolded and unaware of his location. His frantic family, in the meantime, enlisted the help of the FBI in a search that was the biggest of its kind since the kidnapping of Patti Hearst. Chuck's rescue was triggered by daughter Kathy's drop-off of ransom money and her negotiations with the captors. The news of the kidnapping made headlines all over the world. The family, still, has not fully recovered from the emotional harm. In the last of this four-part series, we look at what scars were left by the kidnapping, and how the Geschke family coped with them.
By Anne Chappell Belden
Special to the Town Crier
he kidnapping ordeal lasted five days, but its profound impact has resonated through many lives for five years and counting. Those lives include the Geschkes, their friends and associates, the kidnappers and their families.
For the Geschkes, the happy ending to the crisis marked the beginning of a lengthy recovery process, in which family members had to wrestle with post traumatic fears, insecurities and anger, and endure a lengthy court proceeding before finally moving on with their lives.
Living in fear
Less than 48 hours after his release, Chuck re-entered the same parking lot, this time surrounded by bodyguards and FBI agents, to give a first-person account to Adobe Systems employees, assure them that their lives were not in jeopardy and thank his friends, family and FBI agents for his release. After hugging and shaking hands with dozens of tearful employees, he exited the building.
"I felt very insecure. My eyes started darting around, my senses were all alert as to whether there was anyone walking around. I'm sure it was exacerbated by the fact there was this bodyguard who kept telling me he had to walk in front of me," Chuck said. To this day, he still has flashbacks when he drives into a parking lot void of cars or people. And he has replayed his capture dozens of times, both during and after captivity, questioning his decision to obey the armed stranger.
Initially, Chuck feared a third person was involved in the kidnap-for-ransom plot and would return to exact retribution for the capture of his two cohorts. His suspicion was rooted in his last day of captivity, when Rock altered his voice and pretended to be a third terrorist coming in to help out Rock and Steve. It would take some time for Chuck to sort out the details and realize there were just two abductors. Meanwhile, the FBI strongly suggested he hire bodyguards, which he did for four or five days until the family escaped to an East Coast retreat. "Having bodyguards was very intrusive on our privacy," he said.
At their own private hideaway, the location of which they wish to keep confidential, the family felt safe. They were anonymous, free from the pesky reporters who had tracked their every move in California. One had even crashed through their back gate in hopes of landing an interview. Three thousand miles away, the family could try to sort out what they had just been through. They joked about who would play each of them in the television movie. They resumed teasing each other, no mercy for Chuck.
"There were some tense times during the first couple weeks," Chuck said. "Each of us got emotional in our own way. We were just so fortunate to have that retreat. If we hadn't had that arranged, I don't know what we would have done. I don't think it would have been healthy to have just jumped right back in."
But they were not totally removed from it all. There were daily conversations with the FBI and attorneys. From time to time, the realization of the magnitude of recent events would suddenly sweep over Chuck like a tsunami consuming a bodysurfer. When he attended youngest son John's graduation from Princeton, for example, a faculty member asked Chuck if he had seen the day's Wall Street Journal. Chuck had not. The professor informed Chuck he was plastered all over the front page.
"It just completely unnerved me because I was so focused on trying to celebrate that day with John. It's a 'wow, this thing really did happen.' That just really brought me back."
If not for daily reminders, like the 400 letters and faxes from well-wishers around the world, there were also nighttime ones to haunt Chuck. He dreamt about life-threatening situations and in the split second between slumber and cognizance, he'd hear the click of the trigger. Since Chuck was blindfolded most of the time, he cannot visually recollect most of his captivity. But clicking sounds or heavy objects hitting the ground instantly evoke the feeling of being a prisoner.
The nightmares, which continue to this day, were just the start of a whole new deck of fears the family had to deal with once they returned to Los Altos after their month retreat. Chuck's insecurities about his safety invaded all aspects of his life. The 6-foot, 1-inch, 220-pound Chuck now scares easily.
"I see someone walking or parking in front of the house and I try to notice if there is anything suspicious about it. I never, never had that feeling ever in my life before. I've always been a very open person, never felt any physical fear of any kind," he said.
The uncertainty about accomplices tended to paint ordinary events with an air of conspiracy. A year after the kidnapping, two 20-something Arabics tried to pick Chuck's pocket in the Paris Metro Station. "I was very disquieted for a day," he said. "I felt very vulnerable." And when his recycling bin was tagged with graffiti during the trial, he was certain someone was trying to send him a message in Farsi. He called the police and asked them to have it translated.
Just last spring, Nan and Chuck were antique shopping in Paris when a man swiped Nan's wallet out of her purse. "It just brought the whole thing back," Chuck said.
Chuck is not the only one with lingering fears. The entire family's sense of security may be irretrievable. His daughter Kathy, son Peter, and wife have also lost some of their trust in mankind.
"I'm always looking over my shoulder. I'm always looking in doorways when I walk past, making sure someone is not going to jump out," said Kathy, 29, an interior designer. "I don't know if there is any place I can be where I can really feel safe. If it can happen to my dad, it can happen to me. That is extremely difficult to live with on a daily basis."
She, too, was the victim of another violent incident a year after the kidnapping. She was driving her friend to the airport and while she was stopped at a light, a man tried to get into her car through a passenger-side window crack. Kathy floored it. The car-jacking assailant clung to the car window as she swerved for two blocks. He finally let go after his fingers began to bleed on the window. Before calling police, she called her parents, who insisted she move back home.
Peter swears he had weird phone calls and that someone stopped in front of his house late at night during the trial. "I'm just more suspicious of things," Peter said. He is now married to Diane and the father of a baby boy.
Nan, too, has had additional brushes with crime. Besides the Paris wallet theft, she endured a frightening incident a year after the kidnapping. In preparation for a dinner party, she raced to Rancho Shopping Center in Los Altos for a pint of whipping cream. She was in the store for only two minutes, but when she returned to her car it wouldn't start. A mechanic at the shopping center gas station told her someone had broken into her car. Familiar terror filled her body. She immediately suspected it was tied to Chuck's abduction.
For years, Nan had flashbacks whenever alone in the house. "It was mission control during the whole ordeal. Every room in this house has memories for me, so I am never really going to be able to escape that," she said two years after the kidnapping. The Geschkes did escape that by purchasing and renovating a house down the street, one a bit closer to town. "Even though it's a fairly well-known piece of property, it seems a lot safer," Nan said.
hile the Geschkes struggled with their changed world, two other South Bay families were also confronting the kidnapping's aftershocks. "Every day I wake up and my heart bleeds for my brother," said Imad Sayeh, Jack "Rock" Sayeh's brother in 1994. "His face is not a criminal face. He was manipulated, brainwashed by a criminal." The two brothers, from a family of seven children, emigrated from Jordan to the United States in 1987. In court documents, friends described Sayeh as peaceful and honest.
Imad said his brother is immature, easily manipulated. "If I told my daughter, 'Let's go rob a bank.' I'll give her $10. We rob it. Police arrest her. She's 7 years old. Do you think she knows what she did because I forced her or gave her cash? This is my brother. This is my brother."
Bernard Bray, the attorney who defended Sayeh in his February 1994 trial, also believes his client was an incredibly naive, unsophisticated young man, and said he was unable to comprehend how much trouble he was in for several months. Sayeh, 23 at the time of the kidnapping, had met Albukhari, then 26, only a couple months before.
Against the advice of Bray, Imad Sayeh took the family's remorse one step further, paying for a public apology to appear in the Mercury News. "We the Alsayeh family publicly extend our sincerest apology to the Geschke family for the kidnapping of Charles Geschke. We deeply regret the misdeeds of our son and brother, Jack, who perpetrated this senseless and unjustified act. Our family will live with this shame and guilt for all time, and we can only offer our deep-felt sympathy and sorrow to the Charles Geschke family for their pain and suffering," the ad read.
The apology coincided with the Geschkes' return from the East Coast. "My first reaction was anger that they were trying to go to the newspaper and evoke pity," Chuck said. "It may have been very sincere, I don't know. I just had this cynical point of view that he was trying to raise public sympathy for what happened." Chuck asked a friend knowledgeable in Middle Eastern culture to analyze it. He responded that it was indeed sincere.
The anger, however, was a good sign. Immediately after the kidnapping, Chuck was initially inclined to forgive his kidnappers. In fact, he wasn't angry at all and even considered funding scholarships for the kidnappers' children. After time and counseling, he now attributes that reaction to post-traumatic stress syndrome. "You've worked so hard to preserve your life that you actually become dependent on the kidnapper as something that helps you cling to life," Chuck said. It's a bond of dependency common among abused children and battered wives. Counseling helped him work through the emotional trauma and develop a more genuine reaction to the events.
"As I got through the trauma, I became angry, indignant and really offended by the fact that someone would allow greed to take them to the point that they were prepared to kill me and threaten and abuse my family, just for (expletive deleted) money," he said, a surge of animosity filling his otherwise composed speech. "How can money ever be that important to be worth that? I can understand if they were going to kill me out of some passion but just to kill me for money, I have no sympathy for that."
Albukhari, too, appeared repentant, opting to plead guilty to spare the Geschkes a lengthy court proceeding, his public defender, Tim Fukai, said at the time. Albukhari's wife, Safaa Bukhari, was eight months pregnant with the couple's second child and distraught and embarrassed when she learned of her unemployed husband's actions. She had met her husband at Santa Monica City College, where he was studying criminology. The couple had been living off their savings when Albukhari told her he was going scuba diving and fishing in San Diego for a few days.
Both Nan and Chuck spoke at Albukhari's sentencing. "I remember this feeling of fear when I saw him, though he was a very diminutive man. It was rather terrifying for me to actually see him and know what he had done," Nan said. Albukhari pleaded guilty, and his sentencing - life plus 20 years - was over within five months of the kidnapping. But Sayeh demanded a trial, and that took almost two years to resolve.
"We were not given the luxury of being able to forget about the case," Nan said. "To do a good job testifying, you just couldn't erase it from your mind. You had to do the opposite - remember details - because it was those details you would be asked about," Nan said. "You can't let it go because you're afraid if you do, your memory will play tricks on you or you won't remember an important fact and you'll be dismissed as not a credible witness."
Chuck did not anticipate how psychologically draining testifying would be. Though accustomed to speaking in public, the courtroom setting, the jury presence and Chuck's overwhelming desire to convince them of the truth translated into a level of nervousness he had never before experienced. "It was much like reliving a great deal of the stress and trauma of the original crime. Under the circumstances, it felt like I was a victim a second time," he said.
The jury convicted Sayeh of kidnapping, robbery and making terrorist threats, but acquitted him of weapons charges. He was given a life sentence but could be eligible for parole in 12 years, eight months.
Geschke spoke at the sentencing, requesting the maximum sentence, plus deportation should Sayeh ever be freed. He also told the court he is convinced that had the FBI not rescued him, he would have been killed. "There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that these two individuals planned to murder me," he said.
Attorney Bray and brother Imad disagree. Bray points to the measures the men took - blindfolding Chuck and lying about their names and lives - to protect their identities. This shows their intentions to release Chuck, he said.
The Geschke's emerged from the trial three years ago with battle scars ripe again. "That's where injustice really lies in terms of being victimized," Nan said. "It's not only the crime, pain or whatever ordeal you have to go through. It's the excruciating time it takes to bring a case to trial and how it affects the people who have to do the witnessing and freezes them in time so they can't get on with things," Nan said.
Though the perpetrators were behind bars, lingering questions remained for Chuck. "Why me? Why did I become a target? The kidnappers clearly invested some time getting ready for this - it wasn't a drive-by. I've never gotten a satisfactory answer to that," Chuck said. "I'm not sure I'll ever find out. That's very disquieting."
Nan's "why me?" stage was directed more toward life in general than the kidnappers. Everyone goes through tough times, whether it be loss of a job, child, divorce or health problems, but some people seem to be dealt easier cards. "I was just dealt a more difficult hand to play," she said. "I think you start to reconcile that you can overcome it. The alternative is to go kind of crazy and become depressed and despondent."
Over time and with justice served, Nan thinks the family will forgive the kidnappers. "In terms of their extended families, our hearts really do go out to them. They were innocent of these crimes but in their culture, shame plays a big role. We have sympathy for them," she said.
Her children are not as forgiving. John Geschke, 27, an attorney, was not told about the kidnapping until Chuck was safe and sound. Since he didn't share in the week's roller coaster ride of fear, worry and exhaustion, he was not traumatized or scarred like the rest of the family. But one emotion rang clear. "I was so angry," he said. "It just disgusts me that somebody could be so greedy and that they had no respect for a life. For money, they could inflict that kind of pain. My first reaction was to make them feel that pain."
Kathy has become passionate in her views on crime. "For Jack (Sayeh), American citizens are paying to house him in jail and then he might not be deported. If he had done this in his own country, he might not be alive. It's gotten to the point no one feels safe to walk the streets anymore. Radar on kids. What kind of world is it to live in if you have to keep your kids on a leash to protect their safety?"
With time off for good behavior, it is possible the kidnappers could be eligible for parole in five years, said Geschke attorney John Gibbons.
That thought terrifies Kathy. "I think that will be a very emotional time for my family. How do we know they won't come back and try to contact us in some way? Even if it was good wishes, I just don't want anything to do with them. I just want to put it behind us."
New Priorities in Life
ociety often views those who have close brushes with death - the lone airplane crash survivor, the couple who survives nine days in a Sierra blizzard - as enlightened sages who have learned the meaning of life by kissing death. It's a lesson they often try to teach others, but it doesn't really hit home unless you're a member of the club. And only a select few can join this club, usually against their will, by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The near destruction of the Geschke family has reprioritized what they feel is important in life. Nan, for example, has less tolerance for phoniness, status seekers, people who want to impress you with the car they drive or the money they spend. "When it comes down to it, what's really important?" she asks.
For the Geschkes, the answer to that is family. Always close, they are even tighter now. Sporadic family dinners have become Sunday evening rituals. "We're more aware of what everyone else is doing," Peter said. "Your family is more important than anything else. People were real concerned that we got the money back. We would have paid $650 billion if we could have gotten a hold of it. The amount of money was not an issue."
Kathy agrees. "It has really made us appreciate what we have, the time we've had together and the time we'll have," she said.
John notices that the closeness is more open now. "We're not afraid to tell each other how much we care about each other," he said.
As for Chuck, family friend Marva Warnock said he is finally back to the same old person friends and family knew and loved. With one exception. "I think he values life and family and people that surround him much much more," she said.
Nan agrees. She tells of an ordinary day this summer, when the Geschkes' children and new grandchild would be coming over for dinner. Suddenly Chuck had tears in his eyes. "I can't believe I'm here to celebrate this day with all my kids and grandchildren," he told Nan.
"They are everything I live for," Chuck said. "Both what they did for me and how I feel about them. A piece of me is grateful we went through this. It's reinforced a feeling we all collectively have about how important our relationship as a family is. I think while we always felt close as a family, this has sort of reinforced that bond to an incredible level of strength."
When the trial was finally behind them, the Geschkes began focusing on the good that came out of all the pain and suffering. The near loss of life gave them a sense of urgency about following their dreams. Two weeks after the kidnapping, they found a spot on the East Coast to build a vacation home.
"We've been building something important to us for our whole family to enjoy," Nan said.
"That's been a saving grace for all of us," Kathy added.
Next they purchased their historic Los Altos home and began "rejuvenations." Then came three weddings, first Peter's, then Kathy's last June and John's in late summer, and one, much cherished, grandchild.
"Building houses helped. Between working and our kids getting married, and our first grandchild, our full attention is on things that are constructive," Chuck said.
"You feel there's been a new beginning, but with a sense of our incredible past," Nan said. "We've had a very interesting life. Our work isn't done yet. There are another few chapters that haven't unfolded yet."
But the kidnapping chapter is closed, Chuck said. "We don't sit around and talk about it. There are times when it tweaks up." Like when driving past the Monterey area recently, or while giving a toast at his daughter's wedding.
Sums up newlywed Kathy, "We have a lot of blessings. That's what we like to dwell on."