Vi Ripken's kidnapping a rare case

Security camera image of man police believe abducted Violet Ripken July 24. Handout photo
Security camera image of man police believe abducted Violet Ripken July 24. Handout photo (Handout)

A photo of the suspect in the Violet R. Ripken abduction has led to "numerous" tips aiding in the investigation, according to Aberdeen police, who released no other new details Friday.

A man abducted Ripken at gunpoint Tuesday and drove her around in her Lincoln Town Car for 24 hours, demanding no ransom before returning her home, according to authorities. The 74-year-old mother of Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. wasn't harmed.


While no motive has emerged in the case, criminal experts say adult kidnappings are rare and typically involve robberies.

Police haven't said whether the suspect, believed to be a man in his mid-30s to mid-40s, stole money or used Ripken's credit cards. The manhunt is focused on central Maryland, Aberdeen Police Department Lt. Fred Budnick said.


Ripken's family has declined to comment other than providing a statement earlier this week to say they were relieved she was home "safe and healthy."

The circumstances of the case have perplexed even veteran law enforcement officers, and Baltimore FBI spokesman Richard Wolf said Ripken's abduction appears to be unusual even for the uncommon crime.

"The prototypical kidnapping of a stranger is not a common occurrence; a lot of the kidnappings we see are parental kidnappings," Wolf said. "As rare as these kidnappings are, the kidnapping of a well-known figure is even more rare."

Just how rare isn't clear because the data aren't uniformly tracked across the country, and statistics for Maryland don't exist.

Still, cases similar in some ways to Ripken's abduction have made news from Atlantic City to Washington, D.C., to Louisiana. But because they tend to fall into broader classifications such as robbery, it's hard to get a grip on how prevalent they are.

"My general sense is that these things are not unheard of, but they happen maybe once or twice a year in a given jurisdiction," said Michael Scott, director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing in Madison, Wis. "It's a pretty rare kind of crime."

Scott has written about the prevalence of robberies at ATMs and said it has been difficult to find specific statistics for such crimes. "They're buried in other data," he said.

Anecdotal evidence points to money as a leading motive in adult abductions. Often, victims are driven to one or more ATMs and forced to withdraw money.

In December, for example, Henry L. Sanders, a 50-year-old Landover man with a history of robbery charges, was charged with kidnapping and robbing four people over 10 days in the Washington suburbs.

In one instance, police said, he approached a 77-year-old man outside a Macy's in Wheaton and, wielding a box cutter, forced the man into the man's car. Sanders drove the man to three ATMs and forced him to withdraw $1,800, police said, threatening several times to kill him. Police said he wiped the steering wheel of prints and fled.

In a 2010 case similar to Ripken's, a 54-year-old woman from Denton County, Texas, was missing for almost 24 hours after three men kidnapped her, forced her to withdraw $900 from an ATM and drove her nearly 600 miles from home. Dallas police said robbery was the motive but struggled to explain why the men held the victim for so long or why they allowed her to drive away in her car after the ordeal.

The Baltimore area has seen several similar cases. In 2006, 71-year-old Shirley Sutton was attacked outside her Pikesville townhouse and forced into the back of her Jaguar by two assailants. They drove her around for several minutes until she gave them her $25,000 Cartier watch.


In a 2002 case, a figure in a skeleton mask forced 38-year-old Elizabeth Leik into the trunk of her car after a botched robbery at an ATM in Roland Park. The Goucher College professor spent about two hours in the trunk as her attacker led police on a chase and then stashed the car in Govans. Police finally found her unharmed, though she told The Baltimore Sun she was "petrified."


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