CultureKidnapping — the game
|More from Sarah Klein|
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Bloody playthings (11/15/2006)
The kindler, gentler Satanist (10/25/2006)
Adam Thick is chatting on his cell phone, his car idling in the rear of the Great Lakes Crossing parking lot on a late Saturday afternoon. Two women clad in black sit in the back seat, fidgety and anxious.
“Yeah, man, we’re about to do this thing,” Thick announces into the phone as he tugs a black ski mask over his face. Taking his cue, the two women cover their faces as well, one with a pink cat mask, the other with a red bandana.
The trio wait in edgy silence, focusing intently on an SUV parked several hundred feet ahead — the vehicle belonging to their target.
“Here he comes!” Thick yells, abruptly piercing the tense quiet, as he spots the target — a man in blue jeans and a baseball cap — exiting the mall. “Get ready!”
Thick floors the accelerator and races his car up to the SUV, screeching to a halt as the target fumbles for his keys. In a blur, the women spring from the car, toss a sheet over the man’s head, roughly grab him by the shoulders and throw him headfirst into Thick’s car.
Clusters of families witness the event, their mouths gaping in awe. As Thick peels out of the parking lot, the women handcuff the target. “Keep your eyes closed,” one sneers in a menacing voice as she removes the sheet and tightly blindfolds her captive.
“You just been kidnapped, fool,” Thick says through a devious grin.
The target knows this. He paid several hundred dollars to arrange his own abduction.
Kidnappers for hire
Our TV-weaned culture is in a state of rapture over shock value and so-called “reality.” Gone are the days of Ward and the Beav; today sitting down to prime time means watching our brethren willingly subject themselves to physical torment and bloodthirsty backstabbing on “Survivor,” or eagerly wolfing down a bucket of rotting fish guts and flinging themselves off a building on “Fear Factor” — all in the name of good old-fashioned entertainment.
Thrills, chills and spills are the obsession du jour; it has to be bigger, badder and scarier than ever before — or we’re just not interested. And thus the sculptors of in-yo’-face pop culture have unwittingly paved the way for the next generation of not-so-cheap thrills: extreme kidnapping.
Thick, the mastermind behind www.extremekidnapping.com, is a curious cross between an impish prankster and a shrewd businessman. He wears many hats: owner of the Goldfinger Records label, scheming entrepreneur, and rapper with an octopus on his head.
For his rapping alter ego, “Mr. Scrillion,” Thick’s trademark is a dead octopus draped atop his skull, the tentacles creeping down his face like slimy dreadlocks.
“I almost kind of wish I hadn’t done it now,” Thick says of the trademark. “That thing is nasty.”
Without the offending sea creature, 29-year-old Thick, a former student of psychology, is slight of build, intelligent, sharp-witted and mild-mannered. He’s a longtime fan of extreme sports, but not a participant, due to back problems and physical limitations.
“I’m not a tough guy, but I am a smart guy, and when I compete I plan to win, not through violence or some dumb shit, but through superior strategy,” he says.
Intrigued by the thrill-seeking aspects of extreme sports, Thick began contemplating a way to up the ante — and add an interactive element. Inspiration struck like a lightening bolt when he saw the Michael Douglas film The Game.
“When I first mentioned the kidnapping thing to someone, they said it would never fly,” says Thick. “I thought, you don’t understand, it will!”
Thick was prompted to turn his musings into a business venture when he caught wind of a kidnapping service in New York City, created by 26-year-old artist Brock Enright. Enright made global headlines when news broke of his service, which kidnaps paying clients who are tortured and interrogated for hours, sometimes days, on end. Enright’s scenarios often involved S&M, sexual fetishes, and — occasionally — brutal violence.
Thick, however, opted to draw some clear boundaries.
“Initially I was trying to aim this at the extreme sports enthusiasts,” he says. However, preliminary inquiries from potential clients were laden with fetish-heavy requests.
“There were probably 30 to 40 jobs I turned down last year, because they wanted us to do weird stuff, stuff I wasn’t willing to do. Nine times out of 10 it was something sexual. I wanted to keep my business aboveboard and maintain a level of integrity.”
Thick refuses to inflict violence on clients — even if they desperately want it.
“(Enright) crosses a lot of lines in New York,” he says. “I’m not willing to go that far with it, because once you cross that line, why not cross a few more? It’s a slippery slope. There’s just certain stuff I’m not willing to do, just for money. I don’t want to hurt anybody, even if they want to pay me to do it.”
“But I don’t have a problem with scaring the shit out of someone,” he adds with a smile.
When he officially launched his business in September 2002, Thick assembled a kidnapping crew of friends and fellow rappers and christened them “the Hentchmen.” An outfit of “thugs,” they executed more than a dozen kidnappings, using psychological tactics to interrogate, verbally humiliate and terrify clients. However, the Hentchmen have been phased out, replaced by Thick’s newest creation: the Elite All-Girls Kidnapping Team, a sort of “kindler, gentler” female version.
“It’s hard to be mean to people, like really, really mean to people, and treat them like dirt and make them feel like they’re not going to leave alive,” Thick explains. “After a while, it starts to wear on you. That’s why I tried to distance myself from them (the Hentchmen) and move it into the girls’ team. They still do a realistic kidnapping, but it’s … fluffier.”
All of Thick’s clients have been male. Although he’s received a handful of inquiries from women, none have followed through.
He assembled the girls’ team by placing a “help wanted” ad for female kidnappers in Metro Times. The cast of abductresses consists of five young women from various parts of metro Detroit, dressed in black vinyl cat suits — the official female kidnapping uniform.
“I was trying to get some kind of balance between attractive girls, cool girls, responsible girls and girls who could handle the physical aspect of it,” says Thick. “If you’re really worried you’re going to smear your makeup or break a nail, you’re not going to be able to kidnap someone off the street.”
Potential clients must first contact Thick for a consultation, which he considers a screening process. The clients can then custom-design their own kidnapping scenario — provided their requests fall within Thick’s boundaries.
A kidnapping cannot be set up for an unwitting third party; only a consenting client can arrange his own kidnapping.
Once approved, the client signs a three-page liability waiver and sets a window of time for the kidnapping, providing a list of his whereabouts. The team stakes out the locations, usually parking lots, and the kidnapping occurs sometime during the window — in short, the target knows it’s coming, but never exactly when.
After the client is nabbed, he can be taken back to Thick’s secret hideout in Warren, a rented space decked out in dungeon gear and freakish horror props, where he can be “tickle tortured” or “interrogated.” Or the female kidnappers can escort the client to a restaurant, strip club or nightclub, and party the night away.
The econo-kidnapping (“Everyone laughs at that,” Thick protests) costs $500 and lasts up to four hours. The basic kidnapping is $1,000, and lasts up to 12 hours. For those with a limitless imagination and deep pockets, there is the deluxe kidnapping package — price not marked — for the truly elaborate custom kidnapping.
After paying his employees (the girls earn $15 an hour) and deducting expenses like gas, rent for the hideout, and advertising and promotion, Thick profits about $200 from an econo-kidnapping.
Ever the entrepreneur, the ambitious Thick is thinking on the grand scale.
“I’m trying to go commercial with this,” he says. “There’s endless opportunities for the girls’ team … merchandising … if I play my cards right, I won’t even have to kidnap people anymore.”
Thick tried (unsuccessfully) to convince the producers of “The Bachelor” to have the eligible chap in question kidnapped by his girls’ team for one episode. He’s even looked into franchising in the future. When talk turns to possible spin-offs of extreme kidnapping, Thick’s wry sense of humor emerges.
“It started out as a joke; on 97.1 [WKRK-FM]. I was talking about extreme home invasion. We would send a team of chicks to storm your house and just take everything over.”
What about extreme housecleaning? Most bachelors are slobs.
“I guess that could be cool,” he says, unconvinced. Suddenly, a light bulb seems to pop on over his head.
“Oh, my god … extreme car washes! Now that has possibilities.”
Local authorities are not amused.
Although Thick’s service is legal because it is a consensual, contracted agreement, the risks lie in the problem of potential witnesses. Kidnappings occur in public view, but Thick tries to avoid crowded locations. During an abduction, each side of his vehicle is plastered with a large magnetic sign that proclaims “Extreme Kidnapping” in bold black letters, to signal bystanders that the event is staged.
It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s conceivable a witness could miss the sign and report the kidnapping.
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard ventures a serious outcome might occur if an on- or off-duty police officer were to witness the event. “He would be duty-bound to become involved in that situation,” says Bouchard.
If a witness didn’t recognize the kidnapping as a staged event and were to phone in a report, Bouchard says there would be a “full-scale response, meaning a full investigation, a BOL (be on lookout) broadcast to every police agency in the area to look out for this car, and possibly an aviation unit.”
Bouchard says the faux kidnappers could face criminal charges, like causing a public disturbance. But his major concern: It could sap police attention away from real crimes.
“Imagine the amount of resources and energy that would be devoted from the law enforcement involved in this game — a very costly game to the community.”
But … why?
The glaringly obvious question: Why would someone pay to be kidnapped?
For former client Rob Jones, the service provided a secure way to indulge in thrill and fantasy. (Names in italics are pseudonyms, at the subjects’ request.)
“I like psychodrama and role-play fantasies,” says Jones, a 38-year-old professional from Oakland County who’s previously dabbled with domination and bondage play. “But primarily I wanted to be safe.”
Jones was kidnapped by girls under an espionage scenario. The girls played the role of foreign spies (in high heels and miniskirts, natch) and “tickle tortured” Jones for information.
“I don’t date much, if at all, and it was a way of being around beautiful women,” says Jones. “These ladies were gorgeous, they were really enthusiastic and stayed in the role the whole time. It was fantastic. There was nothing [overtly] sexual in this, but to me it was still very erotic.”
Jones was thrilled by the anticipation of the kidnapping. “The biggest thing is the fear of the unknown,” he says. “I don’t think I slept the night before. When they grabbed me, I was more surprised than I thought I would be.”
He hasn’t told his friends about his not-so-cheap thrills.
“Nobody knows about this interest,” he says. “I don’t think they would understand it. I don’t think a lot of people understand role-play.”
“If you don’t have the same interests as I have, that doesn’t mean my interests are wrong — it just means we’re different.”
A thoroughly satisfied customer, Jones is considering being kidnapped again, gives the experience a 10 out of 10, and says it was “worth every penny.”
Another repeat customer, 22-year-old Dan Cuvelier, is the target from the Great Lakes Crossing parking lot. A fan of snowboarding and paintball, he’s hooked on the adrenaline rush he gets from a kidnapping.
“I was basically in it just for the kidnapping itself,” says Cuvelier. “It’s fake and you know it’s coming, but you’re never exactly sure when, and you get this huge rush.
“Extreme kidnapping is like extreme entertainment, sort of like wrestling. It’s real and fake at the same time.”
Paul Critelli has a doctorate in psychology, and is the director of a private psychology clinic in Grand Rapids. He wasn’t aware of the faux kidnapping phenomenon, but wasn’t terribly shocked, given “the general trend of things in America.”
“It’s a part of this vicarious nation that many Americans seem to be fascinated with, reality TV shows and the like,” says Critelli.
“I think the gamut would run pretty wide as to who would use this service,” he says. “I don’t think you could say someone who would do this has a pathological need to be scared out of their wits. There is an element of control here. The person knows it’s going to turn out OK. It’s a real 21st century scary movie, I suppose.
“It gets into the male fantasy of being abducted by beautiful women. It probably does serve a purpose for some people,” Critelli concedes, “but I think you’re pushing the envelope here. There are a number of downsides. For people who have actually been kidnapped, to say their experience is something we can make entertainment of — it’s diminishing the tragedy of it, and the genuine fear for their lives they experienced.
“I can’t imagine anyone who’s been in a genuinely life-threatening situation would want to do this, to ‘relive the good ol’ days,’ so to speak.”
Sybelle Brady, Amy Sargent and Jessica Kane are in their PJs, huddled around a bowl of popcorn and a slew of fruity drinks with umbrellas. Giggling and gossiping, they discuss the staple topics of a girls-only party: boys, diets, clothing, boys. A typical girly summit — they just happen to kidnappers.
Sargent, 32, is the mischievous one, a stay-at-home mom and a blossoming artist; Brady, 33, is a tall and svelte aspiring writer; Kane, 20, blonde and wholesome, is a student and musician.
Fueled by cocktails, the girls are in stitches as they recount their best kidnapping bloopers; Kane recalls her first job, when she stepped into an enormous snow bank and nearly fell on top of the client.
Each girl must undergo a training session, about four hours in length, with a fake target to master the art of grabbing and tossing the client into a vehicle without hurting him. Brady and Kane trained together.
“We grabbed (the target) and threw him in the van upside-down,” Brady snickers. She then demonstrates by crawling on a futon and inverting herself on her head. “Adam takes off, Jessica goes rolling back like a bowling ball, the guy is upside-down, and Adam looks back and says, ‘Everyone OK?’”
The kidnapping gig lets the girls inject a little excitement into their daily routine, while earning a few bucks on the side.
“It’s all about the thrill!” yells Sargent.
“It gives me scenarios for my writing,” says Brady, “because these people want things I would have never dreamt people wanted, so it opened up avenues for my writing.”
“I just thought it would be the coolest thing,” says Kane. “Like, ‘Hey, guys, I’m going to go kidnap someone tonight, see ya.’”
Brady calls Thick “a brother figure. It’s not just ‘Be here at this time to do this job.’ He really gives a damn. He makes sure we’re comfortable with everything.”
And what do their mothers think?
“They disapprove,” Sargent smiles sweetly.
“My mom wanted to do it!” exclaims Kane. “I told her about it, and she said, ‘Can they have a mom-and-daughter team?’”
“My mom too!” says Brady, and the girls crack up. “She said to me just the other day, ‘Is he sure he doesn’t need some older kidnappers? ’Cause I think there’s a whole other generation he’s missing out on.’”
Is this real?
After tearing out of the Great Lakes Crossing lot, Thick is cruising down I-75, en route to the Warren hideout. Cuvelier is still bound, sandwiched between Kane and Brady; Sargent follows in her car. The ride is silent, aside from the beats of Eminem’s latest album, which trickle from a boom box in the front seat.
When they arrive at the hideout, the girls lead Cuvelier into a room that’s drenched in red and green lights that flicker off torture chairs, mutilated dolls, a wall of bondage implements and a rather remarkable 5-foot sculpture of a vagina.
Someone flips on a CD. The blindfolded Cuvelier is strapped to an old medical gurney and left alone for several minutes. The girls emerge, one by one, and get to work.
They mummify Cuvelier in plastic wrap, then wrap him to a chair, tipping him over backward. He is forced to eat “worms” (cooked spaghetti), unwrapped and relentlessly tickled, gagged with an apple, given a wedgie, loaded into a wheelchair and spun in circles in the brisk cold outside, ordered to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” (with feeling) and recite the alphabet backward. When he flubs the alphabet, they punish him by pressing an ice pack to his bare stomach.
Sargent brandishes a riding crop and gently smacks her victim as he flinches; Brady produces a can of whipped cream, shakes it vigorously with a devilish smile and coats Cuvelier’s face and hair. Kane, the shyest of the bunch, is relishing her role as a dominatrix; she whispers commands in a sex-kitten growl, sliding into the persona as easily as her vinyl uniform.
The whole thing seems ridiculously silly — and the giggling kidnappettes are having a grand old time, occasionally snapping photos as they pose with cheesy grins next to their hostage.
Somewhere along hour two of the “torture,” a man in a red hooded sweatshirt appears in the door. He stands there a minute, unnoticed by the girls, until he announces his presence by booming, “What the fuck is this shit?”
Sargent looks up, nonchalantly quips, “Adam is in the back room” and returns to tickling Cuvelier.
“Who the fuck is Adam?” the man asks. “What is this, some kind of weird freaky sex party?”
“Who the fuck are you?” Sargent asks, now annoyed.
“Who the fuck am I? I’m Evil E,” he says, posturing like a rapper.
The girls ask why he’s here, what he wants. “Evil E” says he saw “some females come up in here” and thought there was “a party going on.” His voice continues to rise, apparently wholly distraught by the sight of the blindfolded and trussed Cuvelier, surrounded by three women dressed as dommes.
Thick appears, takes a seat, and calmly explains the kidnapping concept to the interloper.
Twitchy and agitated, the intruder suddenly whips out a gun and orders everyone into the corner, roughly shoving Sargent. He demands everyone cough up their cash.
It’s all a little too convenient, a little too implausible — we’re in the middle of a deserted commercial strip; Evil E’s posturing too similar to Thick’s former crew of rapping Hentchmen. This must be part of the setup … right?
Still, when the robber waves his gun under my nose and demands my camera, my heart skips a beat.
I glance to Thick for a cue, but he’s intently focused on the thug. Sargent is muffling giggles; Brady is nowhere to be found; Kane sits in the corner with her face in her hands. “What the fuck are you laughing at?” the robber bellows at her.
Kane, pale as a sheet, lifts her trembling hands from her face and squeaks, “I’m not laughing, man, I’m freaked out.” She looks genuinely terrified.
The intruder grows increasingly agitated, and shoves his weapon under Cuvelier’s chin.
“I’m about to give your boy a face-lift!” he shouts.
Suddenly Thick produces a gun from his jacket and aims for the robber; but when Thick pulls the trigger, only a faint click emits, like a toy cap gun with no caps. Thick’s eyes bulge, he looks genuinely stunned and stammers, “Oh, shit!”
Flustered and red-faced, Thick flails and stutters, “I’m sorry man, it was a fake gun, don’t freak out!” The thief looks equally bewildered.
Now I’m convinced it’s all a setup, but it appears something has gone awry.
More yelling and confusion ensues; the robber quickly sweeps up the money and my camera and flees. Thick follows.
I assume the girls were all in on it, but Kane still appears thoroughly rattled. Brady finally emerges from the backroom, and a shaky Kane runs into her arms.
Sargent, who giggled through the whole thing, ventures outside and returns a moment later, bearing my camera and a contrived look of distress. “We need some towels,” she says. “Someone’s been hurt.” She then unties Cuvelier, commenting, “I guess this isn’t very fun anymore.”
I peek outside, and Evil E is splayed against the building, his body artfully framed by the headlights of Sargent’s truck. Blood is smeared across his chest, pooling on the ground. The gun lies perfectly poised in his lap.
“I shot him!” Thick announces victoriously, and leads everyone outside to view the body.
“You can go take his picture,” Thick whispers to me after everyone returns inside, “and tell him he can get up now. He’s freezing his ass off.”
The postgame play-by-play reveals the fatal flaw in the staged heist. Thick had hired a special-effects man to produce an exploding blood pack, which was taped to Evil E’s chest. When Thick pulled the trigger on his fake gun, loaded with blanks, Evil E would detonate the pack. But when the trigger malfunctioned, the duo had to improvise.
Thick didn’t tell the girls about the staged robbery, because he wanted a realistic reaction. Sargent figured it out immediately, but Kane and Brady were taken in. Brady bolted the moment the gun was revealed, and dashed in the back to call 911. She was stopped by the special-effects guy.
Cuvelier was highly impressed; he didn’t catch on until the gun malfunctioned.
“I was thinking to myself, this has got to be a setup, but you still wonder, because you don’t really know,” he says. “I kept going back and forth, is this real or isn’t it? My heart was racing.
“It was a pretty intense experience. If everything had went the way it was supposed to, then I probably would have thought it was real. Exploding blood capsules? That’s a pretty extravagant show.”
“I was pretty scared, I thought it was real the whole time,” says Kane, “but after I caught my breath I was pretty impressed. I wouldn’t expect anything less from Adam. I just think of it as a really good April Fools’ joke played on me”
Brady, however, did not laugh it off at first.
“It took me a few sleepless nights to deal with it, to be able to retell the story without getting flashbacks,” says Brady, who was severely shaken by the incident because she’d previously been a victim of an armed robbery.
Thick called her a week later to apologize.
“I told Adam I was going to kick his ass,” Brady says with a tense laugh, “but I’m not mad at him, I’m not mad at him at all because I understood why he did it, but,” she trails off. “I was very disturbed by it.”
“I’ve been involved in a shooting before. It wasn’t fun then, and it wasn’t fun thinking I was about to go through it again.”
Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail her at email@example.com.