18 Year Nightmare: The Kidnapping of Jaycee Lee Dugard

Jaycee Dugard at age 11, months before she was abducted. | Courtesy of ABC News

Most kids at age eleven are busy playing with their friends and enjoying their life as a kid. Kids at this age should not have to worry about real problems, but that wasn’t the case for one Jaycee Lee Dugard. Jaycee’s family had just recently moved to a new neighborhood in South Lake Tahoe, California, because they believed it would be safer for their eleven-year-old daughter. Despite their best efforts, their daughter was kidnapped while walking to the bus stop just a few months later.1

Every morning before Jaycee went to school, her mom would come into her room and kiss her goodbye. However, on the morning of June 11, 1991, Jaycee waited and waited for her door to open and for her mom to come in, but her mother never did. She was a little upset, but quickly dismissed her mother’s absence, convinced that it was nothing serious. She got up and dressed herself up in her favorite all-pink outfit and headed out the door. Her stepfather, Carl Probyn, was already hard at work in the garage, and could clearly see Jaycee heading up the hill to the bus stop. As his stepdaughter climbed higher up the hill, Carl noticed a grey van slow down, make a U-turn, and go back up the hill after her. Jaycee saw the van pull up next to her and just assumed that the people inside were going to ask her for directions. Little did Jaycee know that she would spend the next eighteen years of her life in captivity.2

Phillip Garrido, a sex offender serving parole at the time, pulled up next to Jaycee as his wife Nancy shot her with a stun gun, rendering her completely numb and unable to run for help. They grabbed Jaycee and dragged her into the van.3 Back at the bottom of the hill, Carl could only watch in horror as the van began to speed away. Not wasting a second, he immediately jumped on his bike and tried to chase down the van. Carl was no Olympic biker, and, despite his best efforts, he ultimately failed to keep up with the van. While in the vehicle, Nancy held Jaycee down as she fell in and out of consciousness during the three-hour drive to Antioch, California. After three long hours of driving, Jaycee ultimately arrived at her new home. A blanket was thrown over her head as she was guided to the backyard, where she was promptly handcuffed and thrown into a freezing, soundproof shed. Phillip immediately followed her into the shed and raped her for the first time.4 Once it was over, Phillip told Jaycee that there were Doberman Pinschers stationed outside of the shed that were trained to attack if she tried to escape.5

The picture above shows the backyard where Jaycee was kept for 18 years. She hardly ever left this area | Courtesy of NSNews

For the first seven months of her captivity, Jaycee spoke to no one but Phillip. She began to depend on him for everything. Jaycee would later explain that, “I craved human contact so much by then that I actually looked forward to him coming to see me; it felt like he was bestowing a gift to me… his presence.”6 What Jaycee didn’t know is that she was starting to show signs of Stockholm Syndrome, a term used to describe a relationship in which a captive begins to fall in love with their captor.7

Throughout it all, Jaycee remained convinced that Phillip was mentally disturbed. He would tell her that the “demon angels” let him take her and that she would aid with his sexual problems. Most of the time he was high on meth and would force Dugard to listen to the imaginary voices that he claimed to hear within the walls.8

As time passed, Jaycee found herself stuck in an endless cycle of watching television, taking naps, and waiting for dinnertime. On Easter Sunday, 1994, Phillip came into the room and told Jaycee that he believed she was pregnant.9 Phillip forced Jaycee to watch television shows about babies to prepare her for the inevitable day when she would have to give birth. One fateful night, Jaycee found herself in pain like she had never experienced before. Luckily, Nancy decided to check on her that night, and, after assessing the situation, she decided to fetch Phillip. After a few minutes, the couple marched down the stairs of the shed armed with a variety of towels and a large bowl of hot water. Jaycee’s water broke only a few hours later, and she quickly began the birthing process. At 4:35 a.m., her first daughter came into the world. Shortly thereafter, Phillip and Nancy agreed that the child should be known only as “A,” simply because they wanted to dehumanize her.10

Jaycee felt like her only escape from the shed was the act of taking care of her daughter. Nancy and Phillip granted extra privileges to their prisoner to accommodate the new baby, and Jaycee genuinely appreciated it. As she watched her daughter grow from a baby to a toddler, her feelings for the child only grew in stronger. Not long after her child celebrated her second birthday, Jaycee learned that she was pregnant again. Nancy and Phillip started to redecorate the shed that Jaycee and A were staying in, and the couple even built a fence around their property, so that they could start having “family barbecues” with their prisoners. Jaycee enjoyed the freedom, but she later explained that, “I stand and stare at this door that once was my prison. I am in another kind of prison now. Free to roam the backyard but still prisoner nonetheless. I feel I am bound to these people—my captors—by invisible bonds instead of constant handcuffs.”11

On November 12, 1997, Jaycee knew her baby was coming. She went to wake Phillip and Nancy, fearing their anger at her interruption. Much to her surprise, the couple simply gathered the supplies once again and gave Jaycee codeine to help with the pain. It wasn’t a long delivery, and Jaycee soon found herself with a second daughter. She was still breastfeeding A, who was now three years old, and found it very difficult to breastfeed two children at the same time. As a result, Nancy quit her job within the CAP (Client Assistance Program) so that she could stay home and help Jaycee take care of the girls.12 Nancy and Phillip began to display a great amount of emotion towards Jaycee, which was a big difference from the way that they used to treat her. The problems nevertheless persisted, as Phillip was quick to warn Jaycee that Nancy was having a very hard time accepting the fact that the girls called Jaycee “Mommy,” because she felt like she was their mom. Phillip wanted the girls to start referring to Jaycee as their sister in order to make Nancy feel better about herself. Accordingly, he ordered Jaycee to pick another name that she would like to be called. After some internal debate, Jaycee eventually decided to change her name to Allissa.

Jaycee was not allowed to leave the backyard until her oldest daughter was two years old. One day, Phillip decided that he wanted to take his family to the beach. Originally, Jaycee was terrified of the idea because she had not been out of the backyard in a very long time. Despite her initial concerns, the group thoroughly enjoyed the experience. As the trip came to an end, Jaycee began to appreciate the efforts Phillip and Nancy were making towards the family. After the first beach trip, Phillip and Nancy began taking the girls on more vacations. At one point, Nancy even convinced Phillip to let her take the girls to go get their nails done because she believed that it would be a good bonding experience. As time went by, they started to do more and more things as a family. On Halloween in 1999, they all went to a local farm and dressed up. During the trip, Phillip’s guard was totally removed. The idea of getting caught no longer worried him, because he deeply trusted Jaycee and knew that she would never say anything to get him in trouble.13

The police had many missed opportunities to find Jaycee Dugard. For one, Phillip had many surprise visits from his parole officer, who observed two little girls running around in the backyard and thought nothing of it. For another, Phillip began to get careless during his numerous visits, even going so far as to talk about the children directly to the officer. Later, he would cite his hatred of “the law” as the primary source of his carelessness.14 On August 24, 2009, Phillip brought the girls with him to the FBI office, because he believed that people would be more likely to listen to him if he had children.15 As they all returned home, Phillip began to inform Jaycee about an encounter with two police officers on the campus of the University of Berkeley who were interested in him. The very next day, Jaycee was in the backyard on the family computer when Nancy rushed to tell her that Phillip had been arrested. Jaycee was immediately struck with disbelief. No one in the family knew the reason behind Phillip’s arrest, and they all decided to sit and wait for Phillip’s call. A couple of hours later, Phillip and his parole officer walked in. Nancy ran in excitement to embrace him. The parole officer uncuffed him and instructed Phillip to return to the parole office in the morning.

In the morning, Phillip descended into the shed to wake up Jaycee. He demanded that she dress herself and her daughters, informing her that the entire family was going to the parole meeting with him. “He said he was tired of this harassment from the authorities and wanted them to see that everything was okay, so he could continue with his project/mission.”16 Prior to the meeting, Phillip instructed Jaycee to tell the officers that she was the mother of the two girls, and that she was well aware that he was a sex offender. When they arrived at the office, Phillip’s parole officer immediately separated Phillip from the girls, as minors were not permitted in the waiting room. The parole officer led the girls into a private room and began questioning them right away. Among other things, he asked them to explain their reason for staying with the Garrido’s. After just twenty minutes, the officer released them and told them to wait in the car. The girls were waiting for Phillip to walk down the steps, but instead, two parole officers came out to the car. They took Jaycee back into the station for questioning, this time with a female officer. After some resistance from Jaycee, the officer informed her that she would be fingerprinted if she failed to tell the truth. The female officer, unsatisfied with Jaycee’s answers, eventually left to speak to Phillip. After hours of questioning, she returned to Jaycee and told her that Phillip had confessed to kidnapping her several years ago. After uncovering her original name, the police quickly reunited Jaycee with her daughters and contacted her mother. As soon as her mother got the call, Jaycee remembers a voice screaming through the phone, “My daughter has been found!”17 The very next day, Jaycee would finally get to be reunited with her mother and sister, who hadn’t seen her since she was a young child.

Phillip and Nancy Garrido’s mugshots after being arrested for the kidnapping of Jaycee Lee Dugard | Courtesy of CNN

When morning came, Jaycee was excited yet terrified at the same time. She worried that her mother might refuse to accept her children, and that her mother would be mad at her for not making an attempt at escape. When she saw her mom for the first time, however, tears immediately filled both of their eyes. They embraced each other with a huge hug and stood there crying on each other’s shoulders. After a few moments, her mom quietly said to her, “I knew I would see you again. Do you remember when we used to sit outside on the porch swing and talk about the moon as it rose high in the sky? Well, when you were taken from me, I used the moon to talk to you. I’ve been talking to you for so long now.”18

Jaycee Dugard and her mother, Terry Probyn reunited at last | Courtesy of ABC News

Jaycee is now free and is currently enjoying her life with her mother, sister, and her two daughters. Adapting to modern life hasn’t been particularly easy for her, but she takes comfort in the endless love and support that she receives from her family. Today, she fights to make sure that her daughters have the childhood that she never had the chance to experience. Jaycee Dugard is now thirty-eight years old, and is doing her best to not allow her eighteen years of captivity to get in the way of doing things that she never had the liberty to do. Just one year after she was reunited with her mother, she visited Nancy in prison because she wanted closure. Upon meeting her, Jaycee could barely control herself as she told Nancy that what she and Phillip did to her was not okay in any way. She could tell that Nancy felt sorry for her, but Nancy’s pity only confused her. After all, if she really felt sorry for her, why did Nancy keep quiet all of those years? Jaycee couldn’t forgive her, telling her that, “You do not follow someone blindly as they lead you over a cliff.”19 She informed Nancy that she needed to start thinking about her future, because Phillip would be stuck in a jail cell for the rest of his life. With that, and a simple goodbye, Jaycee would officially turn her back from her dark past.20 Jaycee is now trying to get those eighteen years back by living her best life possible.

  1. Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 3.
  2. Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 20-21.
  3. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018, s.v. “Kidnapping.”
  4. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018, s.v. “Rape,” by Anne Barstow.
  5. Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 43-68.
  6. Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 55.
  7. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018, s.v. “Stockholm Syndrome,” by Laura Lambert.
  8. Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 62.
  9. Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 75.
  10. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017, s.v. “Pregnancy.”
  11. Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 130.
  12. Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 135.
  13. Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 155-157.
  14. Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011),162 .
  15. Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 170.
  16. Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 204.
  17. Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 211.
  18. Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 214.
  19. Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen  Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 245.
  20. Heather Hillsburg, “Urban Captivity Narratives: Captivity and Confession in Women’s Writing,” Canadian Review of American Studies 47 (2017): 289.

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This Post Has 79 Comments

  1. Sabrina Doyon

    Jesus Christ this story was dark and heavy. The saddest part to me I think is that the family originally moved there for safety. What a sick and twisted twist to the story. This article goes in-depth about the confusion towards being pregnant and also the scary truth of Stockholm syndrome. I am so happy that she and her daughters are free now and they are healing and regaining their lives from the terrible upbringings they were forced to have.

  2. Stephanie Cerda

    The amount of times she could have escaped are many, but I think it was harder for her because she was under the Stockhold Syndrome. Especially since she was kidnapped at a young age, she was more predisposed to be manipulated the way she was. Eighteen years is a long time, and to think she was a prisoner along with her daughters for such a long time is frightening. It’s also concerning that the parole officers didn’t do anything when they saw two young girls running around in the backyard. Phillip was a sex offender and they didn’t find a little weird or tried to check up on them?

  3. Avatar

    I didn’t know that Stockholm Syndrome existed. The thought of someone falling in love with their captor is absolutely insane and shows how brainwashed this child became over the 18 years she was held captive. I am very glad that she is now in the safe arms of her mom and living a happy life after many years of psychological and physical abuse.

  4. Avatar

    This article was super interesting to read. I find it odd that she never tried to escape though. How can you almost fall in love with the man who kidnapped and raped you? It just doesn’t make sense to me. However, I find Jaycee to be extremely brave. The way she managed to be a parent to two girls while going through all of that shows how strong women are. The fact that no parole officers had no actions towards the little girls is horrible. It makes me worried that they are not doing their jobs correctly. Imagine if every parole officer let all things slide like that, how many crimes are being made?

  5. Avatar

    This article was incredibly interesting and informative. I can’t believe how Jaycee simply became accustomed to her new life as the prisoner of these mad people. I wonder if she ever spoke to Phillip after being home for some time, or if she only spoke to Nancy. I can’t imagine the mental strength Jaycee must have acquired through this awful experience, and I feel terrible that she had to spend half her life cooped up in a stranger’s house with nothing to look forward to besides seeing the stranger.

  6. Isabella Torres

    It is so difficult to imagine what it must have been like to be forced to live your childhood the way that Jaycee did. Being kidnapped is a fear of many people at certain points in life, and Jaycee was strong enough to make it through such a traumatic and life altering experience, especially with her two daughters. I still wonder why she didn’t make any attempts to escape, but I know that she definitely had her reasons. I also can’t even begin to imagine her family’s joy as they got the call that their daughter was still alive 18 years after being taken; things like that just don’t usually happen. I am so glad that Jaycee and her daughters are now living a normal and happy life that they deserve to live.

  7. Avatar

    Jaycees experience is one i wont want to wish on anybody. Kidnapping is a parents’s worse fear, and to be held captive for 18 years, is for sure life changing and stomach turning. I would like to know what were Nancy’s motives during this time and what made her feel obligated to do everything Phillip told her to do. I am happy that she eventually was freed, but I am also disappointed that she never attempted to escape.

  8. Avatar

    This article was very informative and described the setting(s) very well. I was shocked that Phillip, Nancy, Jaycee, and her two daughters would do things as a family such as going to the beach and dressing up for Halloween together, considering that Phillip raped Jaycee and Nancy let it happen. I guess since Jaycee was being held captive for so long, they were the closest things to a family that she had at the time, which is heartbreaking. I do enjoy the happy ending where Jaycee is returned to her real family and is trying to build a future for herself and her daughters.

  9. Avatar

    It’s sad to know that there were several chances in which she could have been found, freed, and reunited with her family sooner. Jaycee was so young when she was kidnapped and ended up having to rely on her kidnappers for so long. I’m really glad that Jaycee was finally able to be reunited with her family. She is really strong by doing her best to not let the terrible things that happened to her take control of her life. Instead she is doing her best to live the rest of her life in the best way possible.

  10. Avatar

    To this day walking around the streets terrifies me, the idea of this happening to someone else terrifies me. This story really just is so eye opening to how it can happen to just anyone, with anyone watching. You never know who it will be next. It truly is a blessing that she was reunited with her family and that makes me so happy. I never knew of this story, after also reading a few comments it makes me happy that she is continuing her life and prospering with her girls.

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