The man had become a night creature – hiding, digging, scheming.
He was on the run. And he could see, when the sun went down, those who could not see him.
Who was he, this dungeon-builder, predator, this sneaking conniver in the dark?
When did his obsession for revenge begin to contemplate murder?
And why did he choose her, the innocent one, for his sick and unnatural scheme?
It happened on a warm September day.
The place, you might never have heard of, save for what was waiting to occur in the rough bush just off an isolated country road.
Madeline Shoaf was at work. She was the first to sense something was wrong when she called home.
Madeline Shoaf: My son answered the phone and I asked, "Is your sister home yet?”
Elizabeth, 14, and Donnie, 12, were under strict orders to ride the bus from school and walk the 200 yards from the bus stop straight to their country home here at the edge of the wood.
Locking the door was the rule. Do homework until parents come home from work.
Madeline always called home to make sure all was well.
Which is why, when her son answered the phone, she felt that strange dread creep down her veins.
Madeline Shoaf: He said she wasn't home yet, so I asked him to run up to the top of the driveway to see if he had seen her. And he did not come back to the phone and so then I started getting worried.
Madeline is a pharmacy technician. She is practical, not easily rattled. Perhaps it was school bus trouble. Detention, possibly.
An unexpected detour, some childish forgetfulness? Well no.
Elizabeth had important plans at home she would not have have forgotten.
Madeline Shoaf: That day she knew when she got home from school her aunt was coming to cut her hair. We were supposed to celebrate her cousin’s birthday the next day so we had plans pretty much that whole weekend.
So Madeline called Elizabeth’s friends, the ones she rode with on the bus.
Amanda Lampert: She was really happy because her aunt was coming down.
Elizabeth’s friend Amanda Lampert said she talked to Elizabeth on the bus, saw her get off, and saw her walk up the road toward her house.
Her friend Scott saw her, too.
Scott Crosby: We walked about halfway up the road and a friend of mine's brother comes with his car and picks us up. She didn't want a ride so we left and went to a different neighborhood, and came back and she was gone.
It just didn't make any sense. How was it even possible that Elizabeth could simply vanish right here in her own driveway in the 200 feet or so between the road and her house?
By the time darkness was falling some serious panic set in.
Elizabeth's father Don Shoaf rushed home and, with Madeline, searched their daughter's room for clues.
Madeline Shoaf: She had her lunch money there for school all her favorite clothes were there. Her music, everything.Don Shoaf: Nothing missing out of the house.
By now night was coming on.
They called in their large extended family, they fanned out over the neighborhood.
Madeline Shoaf: Everybody came over, they picked their spot and they started searching. They were in the woods looking everywhere.Keith Morrison: At nighttime?Madeline Shoaf: Did not matter. We knocked on every door everywhere we could think of to go. We looked everywhere.Keith Morrison: And feeling what?Madeline Shoaf: Hopeless. My daughter was missing.Don Shoaf: It's one of the most hopeless feelings you ever get in your life, it is.
Kershaw County sent a deputy sheriff out the country road to the Shoafs' house.
Keith Morrison: What did the police first tell you?Madeline Shoaf: They thought that she was a runaway. They started placing bulletins around, I guess to different counties letting them know that she was missing. Keith Morrison: And but-- but as a runaway.Madeline Shoaf: Yes. As a r-- endanger runaway.Keith Morrison: What did you tell them when they said that?Madeline Shoaf: She's not a runaway.Keith Morrison: This is not a wild child.Madeline Shoaf: No, no.
Not Elizabeth. Not their shy, sweet, 14-year-old.
Madeline Shoaf: She just started ninth grade, first year in high school. She was excited about it.
Especially not now.
Not at the blushing beginnings of her very first tenuous relationship...with a boy.
Madeline Shoaf: She's never been out on a date. She's never been out on her own. Everywhere she goes she goes out with us or her sister or her family member.
But how many times had Sheriff Steve McCaskill discovered that some frantic parent was not so well aware of a child's secret activities or plans?
Sheriff Steve McCaskill: Keith, we may get a hundred a year in a year's time.Keith Morrison: It's a pretty common occurrence then.McCaskill: Well, you know, any time a young person is missing a lot of times they just run away. You know, they just get mad about something. But you know -- you've got to cover all bases.
So runaway or not, a search was launched.
That first night, "Kate," one of the sheriff's best tracking dogs, was hurried to the scene.
Around the house Kate sniffed, and up the driveway, along the road from the bus stop -- and found no scent to follow.
Deputies patrolled the neighborhood looking for a clue Elizabeth may have left behind but found nothing.
At morning light, there were more dogs and a helicopter.
Don Shoaf: That's really when hit me, when I saw the helicopter and they were looking around.Madeline Shoaf: He just fell to his knees.Don Shoaf: I dropped to my knees and that was it. I don't wish this on nobody.
Local TV stations picked up the story, broadcasting Elizabeth’s picture, and then people just materialized. Friends, strangers, all were ready to help find Elizabeth.
Don Shoaf: I mean these are people I didn't even know. I mean they just come up we got people bringing us coolers and stuff and food.Madeline Shoaf: I had a neighbor that made a flier and then my sisters would go and make copies of that and then I work with Wal-Mart, so they were ready to bring out 200 people in the first notice.
And now, it was day three. Dozens of trained searchers mounted horses to search places difficult to reach on foot.
They worked under a cloud of unspoken knowledge.
By now, if a runaway hadn't made contact, well, it might well be something much worse.
But there must have been something to make her want to run -- a dispute? A family squabble?
Maybe Madeline could remember some hint from the last moment she spent with her daughter?
Madeline Shoaf: We woke up late. She had forgotten to set the alarm clock from the night before. Everybody was rushing to get out of the house.
Elizabeth was upset, but only, Madeline told police, because of the rush that morning.
Madeline Shoaf: She said, "Mom, take me back up to the bus” and I said "No, your bus is going to be here and we do not have enough time.” And she's like "I don't have my makeup” and I said you will survive without your make-up for one day.
By now, as their minutes blurred through harrowing days, makeup was the last thing anyone cared about.
But of course her parents could not have imagined, even in their long slow terror, that their Elizabeth was in fact the centerpiece of a murder plot that was right on schedule.
By the fourth day of her disappearance, Elizabeth’s 14-year-old eyes sparkled from thousands of fliers pasted all over Lugoff, S.C., and as far away as volunteers could take them.
Sheriff's Deputy Kirk Corley was put in charge of special operations in the search for Elizabeth.
Kirk Corley: Well, we started in an area where she was last seen and we actually brought in our tracking dogs and started squaring the area to see if they could pick up a scent and try to track out if she had left on foot.
Elizabeth’s house bordered dense woods, hard to penetrate on foot, an easy place to get lost.
And a big chunk of the land nearby was owned by a mining company where the thicket was virtually impenetrable, and access, in any case, was prohibited.
Kirk Corley: We brought in air support the following day. And from there it also built onto our mounted patrol. And we just kind of cut it up into blocks and started grid searching from the house out.
The good -- and occasionally bad -- news was that hundreds of volunteers kept pouring in to help.
Kirk Corley: Our tracking unit and our mounted patrol picked up several different foot tracks. And once we would track those out and follow them out we were able to link those back to some volunteers that were searching … And the trail just kind of dies out from there. And you start back over again.
The media attention so welcomed by the Shoaf family spurred hundreds of tips. All had to be investigated. Every tip sent Elizabeth’s parents to the brink.
Madeline Shoaf: You hear of reports from people. You know, "oh, they found a body in this county. Or they found a body in that county.” And you're just praying, you know, that it's not her. I hated it for the person that actually passed away. But just thank God it wasn't her.Keith Morrison: So there goes that rollercoaster again. Madeline Shoaf: Every day. It was up and down every day.
Sheriff Steve McCaskill was going all out, he said.
Sheriff McCaskill: We sent out during this investigation everything we had in the sheriff's office. We had our school resource officers out there. We had everything we did, our bloodhounds, our mounted patrol. We used everybody we could get our hands on.
But not every resource.
Not, for example, an Amber Alert.
Oh, the Shoaf family asked for an Amber Alert, they begged the sheriff to call one, as did many people in their town.
And why not? Amber Alerts are been very successful at finding missing children.
But the sheriff said he simply could not call an Amber Alert and refused to do so, no matter how anguished the family's requests..
Madeline Shoaf: It's very very sad because you look at an Amber Alert now and you're just like my God you know they weren't there to help my child and she went missing.
In fact, a lot of people were puzzled by the sheriff's decision.
(Local news report)"Sheriff McCaskill if this was his daughter what would he do? I mean there'd be national TV coverage five hours after she had left..."
But there was a reason, said McCaskill. He didn't want to say no.
Steve McCaskill: Well the criteria didn't fit it, number one. There was no vehicle, which is required by the Amber Alert. We did not know who she may have been with. There was really nothing to put out there.
Besides, as day five ended, then day six, Sheriff McCaskill's instinct was telling him it was too late for any Amber Alert. It was much worse now.
Sheriff Steve McCaskill: Especially as the days, you know, when on and on. You just get that policeman's feeling, that gut feeling, that you know this really looks like it's going to turn out bad.
He did not tell Elizabeth’s parents about that feeling, though it's unlikely they would have listened to him anyway.
Don Shoaf: I don't know how many miles I put on that 4-wheel. I mean I stayed gone until I couldn't see any more, so I mean, you know and then we would connect here and there in the evenings and cry and do whatever.Keith Morrison: Where were you looking?Madeline Shoaf: Within a good five mile radius of our house.Don Shoaf: Through the woods, every road.Madeline Shoaf: Every ditch.Don Shoaf: Every highway.Madeline Shoaf: Every empty house you could go to.Keith Morrison: You must have been afraid of what you'd find.Don Shoaf: Oh yeah. Opened every door.Keith Morrison: Were you doing to find your daughter or were you going to find a body?Don Shoaf: You know, you wanted something there but you didn't want something there.
And every night, long after darkness had settled in and stopped the search, Elizabeth’s mother wandered outside, pulled, she could feel, by some inexplicable force out on the road. Up to the rise that looks across at the deepest part of the wood.
Madeline Shoaf: In the middle of the night, I would just get up and walk out of my driveway and would just walk across the street to this empty lot and just stand there. You know, I could only go so far and I couldn't go no further. And I’d just stand there and just stood in the dark. And just prayed. Prayed that, you know, she would come back.
It was so odd, what happened then.
Some in the family, and some friends, had organized a vigil at the state capitol, Columbia.
Of course Elizabeth’s mother Madeline would go.
Madeline Shoaf: As I left, went by and picked up my cell phone and grabbed my keys. And I was heading out the door and I happened to look at my cell phone...
And there was a message from an unfamiliar number. It’ wasn’t a voice message. A text.
Keith Morrison: What'd it say?Madeline Shoaf: Said "Hey mom, it's Lizzie." You know, "I’m in a hole."
Here's the phone, Madeline’s phone with the message on it.
Lizzie? It was her! It had to be. That's what her mother called her.
But how did the message get here? And what was that about a hole?
Keith Morrison: I’m in a hole?Madeline Shoaf: Yeah, "I’m in a hole down by the road-- or by Charm Hill. The road where the big trucks go in and out."
Charm Hill -- the very place to which Madeline had been drawn night after night.
It was private property owned by a chalk mining company, an area officers had not yet been able to search.
Madeline Shoaf: I just knew it was her. I mean, I knew it was her, just the mannerism of the text. You just sit there and you know how your child talks to you … I was like "my God.” You know, I said, "Don, this is her.”
But there was more the message said.
Madeline Shoaf: And there's a bomb. Yeah.Keith Morrison: And there's a bomb.Madeline Shoaf: Yeah, there's a bomb. Get the police. Because there's a bomb.Don Shoaf: She was kind of half-hysterical. And I said, well the first thing is call the police. Madeline Shoaf: I was hysterical, yeah. I was in shock, too. Because I was just, like, "oh my God, here's what we've been waiting for.” This is what we've been praying for, for all these days. Just to get one answer to where she was. And this was our answer.
Deputies who had barely slept in a week rushed to the site hoping for a big break, but fearing another wild goose chase.
Sheriff McCaskill: When I first heard it, I said I hope nobody's playing a joke on this dear lady to do something like this.
U.S. Marshals started a trace on the phone number that appeared in the message but investigators didn't wait around for those results. In the pitch-black darkness, they searched the area for hours.
Keith Morrison: So they looked all night?Madeline Shoaf: They looked and they still couldn't find her.Keith Morrison: They looked there and the next day, also?Madeline Shoaf: The next day. Over there by that road and searching.Don Shoaf: But, you know, I remember thinking it could've been some fruitcake somewhere doing something. You know how kids like doing, do jokes and stuff. I mean, that was in my mind.
In seven days, the text message was the only real lead.
And now, apparently, it was a bust.
But Madeline Shoaf couldn't know, of course – and nor could the sheriff -- that the man was watching carefully, waiting for the deputies to solve his little puzzle.
And he knew they would -- just as he planned.
Madeline Shoaf: And we waited. And we waited. That was another long, sleepless night.
At Elizabeth’s house on the edge of the wood, the surge of excitement prompted by that text message sank in the bitter recognition of another dead end.
They had searched the place the message said she was and found nothing.
So who really sent the message anyway?
Was it Elizabeth?
There might be a way to find out.
The sheriff made a call, put some technical people to work on the electronic footprint the phone left behind when that message bounced off some local cell towers.
Sheriff McCaskill: And we were able to come together with the marshal service and triangulate between the three cell towers in the area and get the number. And when the number came back that's when the big break came.
A "big" break indeed.
The phone, it turned out, belonged to someone well known at the sheriff's office.
In fact, he was a wanted man; they'd been looking for him for almost a year.
His name was Vinson Filyaw, 36.
He lived right in Elizabeth’s neighborhood with his girlfriend Cindy Hall – or at least that's where his single-wide trailer home was. Whenever the law turned up, he wasn't there.
But he must have Elizabeth.
So now, armed with a search warrant, deputies rushed right over. And what they found there? Well, it wasn't Elizabeth. But it wasn't good.
Sheriff McCaskill: I guess that's the sickest I was -- I ever got. But we looked around, and put everything together: the facts that, you know, he abused alcohol and drugs, the fact that there was so much pornography in the house, the fact that this young lady was missing. You put them all three together and you think about what you've got. And it really -- it really scared you.
Vinson Filyaw wasn't home, but Captain David Thomley discovered the reason -- one of the reasons -- he'd been able to escape detection for so long.
Capt. David Thomley: In the trailer, in the back bedroom that he shared with Miss Hall, the first thing that caught my attention was the fact that there was a mattress on the floor without the railing. And after we removed the mattress, we could see that there had been a hole cut in the floor of the mobile home ... And we kept looking and we found that under the trailer, you could tell where there had been some activity under there, where somebody had actually been dropping through the floor. And making footprints –Keith Morrison: And then, if you guys came to the trailer, he could just drop down in there.David Thomley: Right.
Then the captain had a look around Vinson’s back yard. Today it looks like nothing more than a trash pit, but back then Thomley discovered somebody had been digging underground hiding places -- bunkers.
David Thomley: This is actually the first bunker that we located behind Cindy Hall and Vincent Filyaw's residence. When we found it had a door, it was constructed with a roof. You could see it but I don't think most people would have realized that's what was actually there until you opened the door and entered.Keith Morrison: What else did you find?David Thomley: We located a, what we described as a fairly fresh bunker located also behind the trailer.Keith Morrison: In that house over there?David Thomley: In that little shed there. We found a fresh mound of dirt that was covered by a carpet, a piece of carpeting. And we actually entered that bunker. It was around six or seven feet deep at that point.
Bunkers? Underground hiding places? Escape hatches?
Perhaps Vinson dug those places because of the other thing detectives found.
It was an outstanding arrest warrant, based on what Vinson allegedly did to a young girl named Amber, or as Vinson used to call her, Peanut.
Amber: I was 11 when it first started. My mom just decided he was good enough to move in with, so, in the fifth grade we moved over here. Keith Morrison: And lived with Vinson?Amber: Yeah.
If Vinson had taken Elizabeth as she walked home through the woods that day, no one could have a better idea than Amber of how she might be suffering. Amber is 15 now, but the appalling memory is fresh.
Amber: It was an October night and he was drunk. And then he had came home and he had told me that he wanted to play a game.Keith Morrison: What did he do to you? Amber: He used his fingers. The farthest I can say he went was one night he was doing that and then it's like I black out and he's on top of me. And that's all I can remember.
That went on for months, Amber says, because Vinson later claimed she was given Benadryl by her mom so she would sleep thru the abuse.
Amber: I just know that I’d wake up and my jeans would be off and it scared the living hell out of me.
But there was more. Amber noticed Vinson digging what he called a storm cellar in the back yard. That, of course, is the one Captain Thomley discovered when he searched the place much later.
Amber: He had always told us that it'd just be for storms but there's times where he'd put me in that hole and lock it from the outside and so I’d be struck in there until he'd let me out.
Vinson had warned her, she said: never breathe a word. But finally, one terror overcoming another, she told a trusted teacher.
And that's why Vinson became a wanted man and why, in the search for Elizabeth, the small bubble of suspicion that she was a runaway now burst.
The cops knew instinctively that Filyaw would be following the sexual criminal's pattern of escalating behaviors.
It would be worse for Elizabeth than it was for Amber.
Vinson's talent for hiding in plain sight would have improved.
Sheriff Steve McCaskill: Just what we were all afraid of, that we had someone who was out of control, someone who had already committed criminal sexual conduct and who had another victim somewhere doing the same thing.Keith Morrison: There's a progression in these things.Sheriff Steve McCaskill: We felt he was progressing to become a serial killer. I had absolutely no idea we would find this young lady alive, not with what I felt like was going on.
Back here at their house, Elizabeth’s parents once again let their hopes rise. At least there was a suspect, someone to look for. A name.
But they were told some things about the man -- not everything.
And so they did not fully realize as they talked together here at home that their horrible situation had just gotten worse.
Madeline Shoaf: You're just sitting there praying that the worst hasn't happen to her, you know. That he doesn't harm her, you know.
But they did not, could not, expect what happened next.
They were at home, watching the news on TV.
And there it was: the text message, the details, a picture of Vinson.
What were the police thinking? Filyaw could be watching. Why would they tip him off?
If he saw that report, and realized that Elizabeth had somehow managed to sneak out that text message, he'd surely kill her.
Madeline Shoaf: I was furious. They did put her life at risk.Sheriff McCaskill: Well, we presented it to the media because we wanted him to know that we knew.Keith Morrison: Wasn't that dangerous in some way?Sheriff McCaskill: I mean let's face it, he could have killed her at any time. I was thinking it was a risk. But I was thinking it was a risk worth taking.
The risk was Elizabeth’s life -- if she was alive. She hadn't been seen for nine days.
Still, if they didn't flush him out now, then when?
Keith Morrison: Were you alone at this point, right around here, or?
It was the next morning, just after sunrise.
Captain David Thomley and a few others worked their way into the thickest part of the wooded tangle, an area too difficult for easy movement.
David Thomley: We had started a what we call a "line search,” where we spread out our officers ten, fifteen yards so we can see and communicate with each other. And we just start walking the woods. I was, I guess, second from the end of that particular line. We'd been in the search maybe 30 minutes.
That's when he heard it: a sound that is for him unforgettable.
From the air, the 265 acres of the Hanson brick mine look benign. If Elizabeth Shoaf had been taken here, alive or dead, there was not a sign of it from up here.
The same place on the ground was an overgrown mass, all but impenetrable..
David Thomley: It's just so thick,, we had horseback, we had people on foot. We had ATVs. Two of the three won't make it in here. So our manpower to use on foot would have taken days or weeks.
But Captain David Thomley knew they didn't have days to look. They might not have hours to find Elizabeth alive now that they knew that text message had been linked to a man police feared could be morphing into a serial killer.
Capt. David Thomley: At that point, we were feeling more and more like Vinson was the person we were looking for. Just terrified.
It was at first light. David Thomley walked toward the thickest part of the wood, and that's when he heard it: a voice crying out for help.
Capt. David Thomley: I knew it was her, I could feel it was her. I would have walked thru hell on a Sunday to get to her.
And there she was, through the trees.
Thomley: I've been asked many times what it felt like to come out of the wood line and see her standing there. And...Keith Morrison: Make you kind of emotional.
Now, just remembering the moment, he is overcome. Because the fact is, he'd been looking for a dead girl. A body.
Keith Morrison: So what'd you do when you saw her?Thomley: I don't know if you could call it a run in my shape. I ran as fast as I could. I went up to her and put my arm around her and told her I’ve been looking for her everywhere.
Then, there was a frantic rush.
An ambulance arrived.
The sirens wailed her off to the nearest hospital.
And Captain Thomley got himself quick as he could up the road to Elizabeth’s house to see her mother Madeline.
Madeline Shoaf: All of a sudden I seen something coming up the road. I said, is that one of the police officers?
Madeline and Don had been out all night, searching. And she saw the captain and she knew.
Madeline Shoaf: When he said that he had her, it was my whole life started again, it was like, my heart just started beating again.
Don was asleep, exhausted.
Don Shoaf: I feel like I shut my eyes and she come flying in the room, "They found her!"Madeline Shoaf: We couldn't make it to the hospital fast enough. Go! Dude, pass the light, pass these people…Keith Morrison: He's a cop, right, isn't he supposed to be able to speed?Madeline Shoaf: Yeah, put your light on, do something, get us there. That's all I could think of: just getting there.
She was in the emergency room. They put her in a private area.
Madeline Shoaf: And of course, I saw her, I couldn't stop it. I just jumped on her. You know? I just had to give her a hug and kiss her.
Yes, and what's more, she seemed OK. Or at least alive, with no obvious injuries -- like some latter day version of Little Red Riding Hood, snatched from the jaws of the wolf.
Where had she been? What had happened to her?
Gingerly, carefully, Elizabeth’s parents and the Kershaw County Sheriff's Department asked about the dreadful events of her abduction and listened to a story more horrific by far than anything imagined in a Grimm’s fairy tale.
She wanted to talk, the adults discovered. It was harder for them to ask than for her to answer -- as it was initially when we finally met Elizabeth.
Understated, shy, with a captivating smile, Elizabeth told us, hour by hour, about her long, terrible, journey.
Elizabeth Shoaf: It will come up and I think about it. I don't want to forget it though.
It was a Wednesday afternoon when she stepped off the school bus and watched her friends go off in a car. She walked on alone, up her own driveway, 50 yards from her house.
Keith Morrison: This is where he popped out of the woods.Elizabeth Shoaf: Yes.Keith Morrison: Right there?Elizabeth Shoaf: He came through here.
She didn't know his name was Vinson. She saw that he was wearing a sheriff's badge.
Elizabeth Shoaf: He just walked out in camouflage and told me he was the police and that he needed to talk to me. And then I walked over and he handcuffed me behind my back.Keith Morrison: Did he look like a policeman?Elizabeth Shoaf: Yeah, because he had like camouflage pants on and a green shirt. And then he had like a fake badge. But I thought it was real.
He told her it was something about marijuana, that her 12-year-old brother Donnie was already under arrest. And now she was, too.
Elizabeth Shoaf: Then he put like a fake bomb. I didn't know it was fake, because he told me it was real. But he put it around my neck. And then he--Keith Morrison: What did he say it was?Elizabeth Shoaf: A bomb.Keith Morrison: Were you terrified?Elizabeth Shoaf: I was confused. I was like, kind of angry, because he had told me he had my little brother with the other people. And then that angered me, because I’m just protective over my brother.
But instead of marching her back down the drive to a police car, Filyaw led her away from the road.
Elizabeth Shoaf: He was taking me around the house and around the pond.Keith Morrison: And through the woods.Elizabeth Shoaf: Yeah. He was asking me just like the oddest questions. If I had a phone and if I was a virgin and--Keith Morrison: If you're a virgin?Elizabeth Shoaf: Yeah. Of all things for a police to ask me, that's when I kind of was wondering what was going on. And then he said that I was a smart girl and I should have figured it out. And then that kind of got me scared. That's when my heart started pounding because I knew something was wrong.
Of course, it was about to get much worse.
Vinson led a shackled Elizabeth through woods and trails for an hour, doubling back, circling around, throwing off her sense of direction.
And then he stopped her, and bent down and picked up a piece of ground.
Then she realized it was a trap door. There was a bunker down there.
Keith Morrison: What did he say to you then?Elizabeth Shoaf: He told me to go down a ladder and get into the bunker. He had like a rifle and a belt that had guns and I saw a Taser in it. So I knew he was really equipped to do anything, if I acted stupid or whatever.
Inside, he closed the door and turned on a battery powered light. Now Elizabeth understood why he asked if she was a virgin.
Elizabeth Shoaf: He pretty much just raped me.Keith Morrison: Right away?Elizabeth Shoaf: Pretty much.Keith Morrison: Force you to take off your clothes?Elizabeth Shoaf: Yes.Keith Morrison: How often did he rape you?Elizabeth Shoaf: More than two times every day. Between two and five times a day … All I remember is that it hurt, of course. And I had looked off to the side to one of the shelves that was there. And I was looking' at it like-- there was, like, a propane tank and dishes and stuff on it.Keith Morrison: You just stared at that?Elizabeth Shoaf: Yes. Stared at it and cried.Keith Morrison: Do you think you'll ever forget that shelf?Elizabeth Shoaf: No.Keith Morrison: Kept in that bunker, underground. Naked.Elizabeth Shoaf: Chained.Keith Morrison: Chained? Chained where? How?Elizabeth Shoaf: There was a chain that was like a long, a big chain or whatever that was hooked to like the roof part of the bunker. And he just had it down. And then wrapped it around my neck and locked it.Keith Morrison: What did you assume at that point?Elizabeth Shoaf: That I was kidnapped. And that I was probably going to die.
But killing her quickly didn't seem to be her kidnapper's plan.
He'd outfitted the bunker to keep them going for weeks.
Elizabeth Shoaf: It was, like, dirt walls and then over the walls he had some kind of sheet of some kind of fabric. And then he just had, like, his own little homemade bed and homemade shelves and a retarded toilet.Keith Morrison: A retarded toilet?Elizabeth Shoaf: Yes. Keith Morrison: What do you mean, a retarded toilet?Elizabeth Shoaf: It was a broken plastic chair over a bucket.
Elizabeth could see a stove, food, and heard Vinson talk about his water supply -- a stagnant pond near the bunker. There was even a battery-operated TV.
Vinson watched the news coverage of the abduction.
He told Elizabeth: You'll never be found.
Elizabeth Shoaf: I watched my mom and my sister and my aunt, and all the other people I saw on the news. And just watched like them talk about how I was missing. And they wouldn't put an Amber Alert out for me.Keith Morrison: How did that feel?Elizabeth Shoaf: It made me angry, because they thought I was a runaway.
The next day it seemed to Elizabeth that deputies had figured out she'd been abducted and she was about to be rescued.
She could hear helicopters flying above the trees and footsteps trampling above.
Elizabeth Shoaf: I could actually see their shadows walking across the door above me. And I’m just sitting there while they're right above me. And it's--Keith Morrison: You could see their shadows on the door of the bunker?Elizabeth Shoaf: Yes … I didn't say anything, but he just came up to me and told me that I needed to be quiet and if I said anything, all he had to do is Taser me and it'd knock me out.
And soon the helicopter thumped far away, and footfalls vanished from the ground overhead.
Those searchers had seen nothing. In fact, the footsteps belonged to volunteers not trained deputies, who might have noticed something amiss.
Vinson told her: If someone got close enough to find the bunker, his booby traps would get them.
Keith Morrison: Tell me about those booby-traps.Elizabeth Shoaf: They were all pretty much on the way towards the water hole. And he showed me that one thing he had in the ground. It was between these two trees and it was shocking bullets that were, like, pointed upwards. And if you step on it, it will shoot you in your feet.
He kept her there in his bunker and day three became four then five. The perpetual darkness left Elizabeth disoriented until she lost track of the time of day or night.
Elizabeth Shoaf: It smelled muggy. Really, really muggy. In the afternoons, and then at nighttime it'd be really cold. I would sit there for like hours. Just thinking.Keith Morrison: Thinking what?Elizabeth Shoaf: About my boyfriend and my family. And friends. And just cry. Because that was all I could do.
In the deafening silence of the dank smelly bunker, Elizabeth realized Vinson was right: the bunker was so well hidden, the search, obviously a failure.
She would not be found. She would die there, unless...
Gradually the idea took form and became solid.
No matter what people would say about him later, there was no dispute about one thing: Vinson Filyaw had a finely honed talent for disappearing.
In a 48-square-foot, 6-foot-deep hideout, Vinson tormented 14-year-old Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Shoaf: I guess I pretty much just shut my brain down. And I-- it was painful, but I would just think about other things.Keith Morrison: Like what things?Elizabeth Shoaf: My family. My friends. And how to get out.
But if she did escape, Vinson warned her, her life would not be worth living anyway.
Elizabeth Shoaf: He told me that I needed to calm down, and if I ever tried to escape and I got away, that he didn't have to get me to hurt me. And he knew how much I loved my brother.Keith Morrison: That's the way he put it?Elizabeth Shoaf: Yes. That's exactly how he said it.
He fed them with instant noodles cooked on his propane stove.
They watched TV news coverage on his battery-powered TV.
They took turns sleeping, she at night and Vinson during the day, while she sat, chained to the rafters, watching him.
Elizabeth Shoaf: And then I had the thought of trying to kill him.Keith Morrison: While he slept?Elizabeth Shoaf: Yes. Keith Morrison: Tell me about that.Elizabeth Shoaf: He had a pellet pistol. And while he was sleeping, I grabbed it. And I pulled the trigger to his head but it got jammed. And I couldn't-- I didn't want to un-jam it, because then he'd hear it. So I just put it away and cried.
And then, in her desperation, she began to play with an insane idea. A sort of reverse psychology.
What if she pretended she was falling for him?
Keith Morrison: How did you go about doing that?Elizabeth Shoaf: I always would do what he told me to do. And like he'd always call me baby. So I’d call him that back. And he'd tell me he loved me, and I told him I love him. Which is-- I’d act like I really liked him and I wanted to be with him.Keith Morrison: That takes some doing.Elizabeth Shoaf: Yeah. I didn't like it. But I did it anyways.
And before long, he began to act like he was sweet on her. A little. He un-chained her. Once in a while, he'd take her out of the bunker for a minute or two. And she began to behave like a child in some dark fairy tale.
Elizabeth Shoaf: Whenever we would walk through the woods, like to the water hole or back to the bunker, I’d just pull out a few strands of my hair and leave, it like on the ground or on the tree branches, thinking that maybe a dog or some -- like a police dog would sniff it.Keith Morrison: Boy that's desperate.Elizabeth Shoaf: Yes.
Back in the bunker, Elizabeth tried to get Vinson to talk.
Keith Morrison: Did he tell you about having been accused of sexually abusing his--Elizabeth Shoaf: Yes.Keith Morrison: --stepdaughter?Elizabeth Shoaf: Yeah. He just said he didn't do it.Keith Morrison: Kind of hard to believe him in the situation you're in.Elizabeth Shoaf: Yeah. I just agreed with him.
And then one night, as she followed Vinson outside the bunker to get water, Elizabeth saw an opportunity.
Elizabeth Shoaf: He'd sit there and text message his wife or girlfriend and that kind of gave me the idea of text messaging my mom.
Risky? Of course.
She waited for him to fall asleep and then grabbed his cell phone.
Elizabeth Shoaf: When he was like real, real deep in his snoring that I knew he was asleep, I would start text messaging.Keith Morrison: So you sent a text message often?Elizabeth Shoaf: For three days I did. I wrote so many that like some of them were long text messages and some of them were just short.Keith Morrison: Did you have any idea whether they were getting out or not?Elizabeth Shoaf: It always told me it didn't. Every time I’d send it it said it failed cause of the signal.Keith Morrison: How does that feel?Elizabeth Shoaf: Awful, because I just felt like I had nothing else to do.
Then what she feared might happen did. Vinson caught her with his phone.
Elizabeth Shoaf: He asked me what I was doing. And I just told him I was playing games, which sometimes I was because I was bored.
It worked -- but the phone inside the bunker did not.
One night, careful not to wake him, she crawled silent up the ladder to that heavy trap door and pushed.
Keith Morrison: How did you open the door and get the--Elizabeth Shoaf: I pretty much smashed my arm. I didn't exactly like lift it all the way. I just--Keith Morrison: You just managed to get it out a little bit--Elizabeth Shoaf: -- stick my arm -- yeah.Keith Morrison: And then did it tell you whether that message was getting through?Elizabeth Shoaf: It told me it didn't.
And that is when Elizabeth Shoaf gave up.
Elizabeth Shoaf: Because I knew that the text messages weren't going out. And I couldn't kill him, because it's just -- I can't hurt anything. I’d go insane if I hurt anything, even him.
And just about then -- it was day 9 in there -- she heard the whup whup whup of a helicopter.
Elizabeth Shoaf: All of a sudden helicopters just popped up and he was confused. I was like happy because I thought somebody knew where I was.Keith Morrison: Finally they were looking for you.Elizabeth Shoaf: Yeah and he was just scared and we just pretty much sat there.
Vinson turned on the TV -- and discovered they knew it was him.
They knew it was he who had taken Elizabeth.
And then he found out why they knew. Not only had her text message gone out. Now Vinson knew she had betrayed him.
Elizabeth Shoaf: Eleven o'clock news came on and then they said that I sent a text message out to my mom saying where I was.Keith Morrison: That was a problem.Elizabeth Shoaf: A big problem. Then I thought I was going to die cause he was angry, angry, and I just sat there and cried and told him it wasn't me.
But then through her terror she began to realize something.
He was afraid. He didn't know what to do.
Elizabeth Shoaf: He was just asking me like if he should pack stuff and he should start leaving or if he should stay and wait it off to see if they never find me.
He was now asking her advice? It was a last opportunity. She took it.
Fourteen years old, traumatized beyond comprehension, she offered instruction to the tormentor suddenly now in her power.
Elizabeth Shoaf: And I just told him that he needed to pack his stuff and leave while he could because the police were going to get him. And I didn't want him in jail. And I acted like I wanted him to be safe.
And up the ladder went Vinson, and out into the night.
As dawn arrived on day 10, Elizabeth pushed with all her might on the bunker's heavy door, forced herself up and into the morning sunlight and heard the sound of barking dogs.
Elizabeth Shoaf: I started yelling like "hello” and I yelled it like 10 times and then somebody finally yelled my name back. And then that's just like a big, big relief I just like fell down and started crying.
There was the captain, and she was finally safe.
Or was she? As she lay in her hospital bed later she told her parents she couldn't possibly go home, not while Vinson was free.
She warned her parents that Vinson had threatened her little brother.
She warned the police: he had a gun, possibly bombs, and he was out there somewhere, on the run.
Hindsight, as everybody knows, can torture a person. Even veteran investigator Kirk Corley, who used every resource he had to find Elizabeth has second thoughts.
Kirk Corley: If you could go back and play it all over again, that pit area, which is within a mile of the house, back deep in the woods -- if we could have put somebody directly on top of it.
All those officers who'd been chasing leads all over the state, over the whole country, some of them, remember, pegging her as a runaway.
And there she had been, 10 days of hell, barely a mile from home.
A 10 minute walk from her own front door.
Sheriff McCaskill: I know she was scared to death. But she stuck in there. She thought. She used her head. You know, I can't say enough good things about her. You know, let's face it, in my eyes she rescued herself.
But Sheriff McCaskill knew it was too soon for celebrating or Monday morning quarterbacking because the abductor, Vinson, was still out there somewhere. He was armed, and on the run and he had a six hour head start.
And remember: the first thing Elizabeth told those officers who found her was watch out for Vinson, he has a gun, and a Taser, and night goggles, and God knows what else.
Sheriff McCaskill: I was some kind of mad. Oh, I just wanted this guy. I mean, for what she had been through, and I know she had been through for all those days, now wh-- the anger really set in.Keith Morrison: So you had to get him.Sheriff McCaskill: Had to. We really got in a manhunt mode.
Maybe Vinson left clues that would give them a hint about where he'd gone, or what he might do, or where those bombs of his were.
The state's explosives expert Jeff Fuller scoured the bunker.
And sure enough...
Jeff Fuller: We noticed a couple of items secreted behind this wall in the dirt. They had electrical wires hooked to them. That's the kind of device that's used for booby traps or attaching to a victim where you just flick a switch or attach a battery and it blows up.
The explosives were not sophisticated, but they could have killed or maimed in the right circumstance.
But it wasn't the homemade bombs that bothered the man who found Elizabeth, Captain David Thomley.
It was the bunker itself. It was imagining what had gone on in there.
David Thomley: It's an eerie feeling to be there, and look at this thing-- something you've never seen before, when you think you've seen it all. When you're standing over it, looking in it, it looks like a black hole. It had a stench about it I’ll never forget.Keith Morrison: She must have thought she was walking into her grave.David Thomley: I mean, absolutely. I cannot imagine.
The investigators who went to the bunker looking for clues found none that would tell them where Vinson had gone.
They had no idea that though he was on foot he was already in the next county.
He'd been on the run seven hours.
He was desperate now. He knew the bloodhounds would be after him.
He knew his only chance was to get a car, and just outside a pizza place he found one.
He approached the driver, a woman named Jennifer Lynn, and her daughter.
(Local news interview with Jennifer Lynn)"He had a long knife hanging off his belt and a gun. That's pretty much all I saw is his face. I recognized him from the internet. So I knew right away who he was.”
Ms. Lynn apparently failed to appreciate the predicament she was in.
Vinson, remember, was armed, and dangerous.
And what did she do?
(Local news interview with Jennifer Lynn)"I was kind of cursing him out for doing this in front of my child for putting my child through this, he’s already hurt one little girl.”
(Local news interview with Jennifer Lynn)"He knew he wasn't getting my keys and he said, OK never mind and started running down the sidewalk."
Jennifer Lynn called the cops, who were on his trail within minutes. They tracked him down a few hours later.
He was face down in a ditch when they slipped on the handcuffs.
Sheriff McCaskill reported the arrest to local media.
(Local news report with Sheriff McCaskill)"He has no remorse for what he has done and he's really kind of got a kind of cocky attitude about what he has done."
Elizabeth was asleep at her grandmother's house when all that happened. As long as Vinson was free, she had told her parents, she was too frightened to go home.
Madeline Shoaf: About 4:30 that morning when they called and told us that they caught him she had woken up with the phone. And I answered and he said we caught him he's in custody and I told her about it and she was like "thank God” and her head just went right back down on the pillow and just went back to bed.
Finally, she was safe. And finished forever with Vinson Filyaw?
Well, actually, no.
Shy as she was, traumatized as she was, Elizabeth insisted that if it was just the same to all the grownups around her, she intended to watch her tormentor brought before a court of law.
Keith Morrison: A few days after you've won your freedom, you went to court.Elizabeth Shoaf: For a bond hearing.Keith Morrison: For a bond hearing. How did you manage that?Elizabeth Shoaf: I wanted to go.
And what she saw was a gaunt and shackled prisoner who, by order of the sheriff, had been fitted with a bullet proof vest.
Elizabeth sat right there in the front row and stared him down.
Keith Morrison: What was it like in that courtroom?Elizabeth Shoaf: It was weird to look at Vinson, because he was pretty much captured. And I don't know, it's hard to explain.Keith Morrison: How did it feel to see him held captive like that, unable to go anywhere?Elizabeth Shoaf: I kind of felt happy, just because I knew that he was locked up and I’m sitting there in the courtroom while he's in jail.
True. No way he could get her from behind bars.
But Vinson was not finished with Elizabeth Shoaf. Not yet.
He was in jail, yes, and facing very serious charges -- kidnapping, rape, bomb making -- but he was not an idle man in his little room in lockup.
A surprise was in store. Vinson Flaw’s schemes were still in play.
Long before he captured Elizabeth, Vinson Filyaw was a hunted man.
He roamed at night. He stared out at the world from his hidden lair, a man driven by an insatiable hunger for revenge against the authority he had come to hate.
And so now, now that he had the girl, it was a thrill to watch from complete safety, the chaos he, Vinson, had created.
The crying mother begging for her daughter.
Deputies scurrying around without the faintest clue where to look.
Or so we assumed it must have seemed for the man, or -- was he a monster? -- who did this thing.
Vinson himself has agreed to submit to an interview, and we are to take a unsettling tour through the mind of a very disturbed man.
Vinson Filyaw: I mean, it was like-- she was on TV. Every time and -- the police were saying she was a runaway, and her mama was saying that she wasn't, and her sister was saying that she wasn't. It was-- it was exciting.
Better yet, it was all according to plan, Vinson’s scheme for revenge.
And oh, he was angry.
After all, he didn't voluntarily take up living like this, hiding in a bunker and living his life as a hunted man.
No, Vinson was happier remembering way back to the time he went to Christian schools, an all American boy.
Vinson Filyaw: My real dad died when I was one and my mother remarried and we had pretty much a normal family. I mean, nothing traumatic. Nothing you would think would make a person go out and do something crazy or psychotic or anything like that.
Vinson was a Boy Scout, loved the outdoors. Loved camping. A lot.
Vinson Filyaw: It was in the late ‘80s, Rambo movies were big and between martial arts and the Rambo movies we pretty much every weekend we did some different mission. You know, like steal the flag from somewhere. We were like the teenage commandos.
Anyway, by then he'd fallen head over heels in love -- for booze.
So, years later when he hooked up with Cindy Hall, Vinson found something like redemption from his alcoholism. He found occasional work in construction. He could be a dad to her three kids.
Oh, and he loved those kids. Especially the one he called Peanut.
Vinson Filyaw: Me and her grew real close. I mean, we were inseparable you know? She pretty much felt like she was my little, second housewife if you know what I mean.
But then Peanut had to go and tell on him -- some crazy stories she told her teacher. How could she betray him that way?
Because then the police started snooping around.
Vinson Filyaw: Kershaw County never came and questioned me. Instead they questioned everyone I worked with. You know, they never came in the house. Why not ask me whether I did something or not?
Oh, he knew they believed Peanut. The girl's story would put him in jail, and that's why he started hiding out in the woods.
Vinson Filyaw: I wasn’t going to jail. And I didn't care if I had to live in the woods for the rest of my life, you know?
He had a tent out there for a while but that was temporary, while he did what he had to do every day for weeks, and then months. Planning. Digging.
For his idea he was going to need a bunker, something elaborate, underground.
Vinson Filyaw: Well, it had all the furnishings of home. I had a solar shower for hot water. I had propane gas stove. I had a fireplace in there for cooking without using the propane. It had a collapsible top, so that when it was shut you wouldn't see it. I mean, I was very careful not to get caught. I had a cell phone -- had a 12 volt system for everything. I had 12 volt lighting, had 12 volt TV. I mean, it had all the necessities of home.
And here was what was so delicious: his new underground home, so well hidden in the dense wood, was practically in his own backyard.
Sometimes at night he would sneak out to see his Cindy and she brought food and supplies to a drop spot nearby.
From his bunker in the dark Vinson could see his neighbors’ lights twinkling in the distance. He heard their dogs yelp at each other.
He skulked around the woods and schemed revenge.
And that's how he spent nearly a year, thinking about that little girl, Peanut, and what she had done. Brooding about those deputies and how they believed her, and who did they think they were?
Vinson Filyaw: I guess you could say I’m a person that holds a grudge...
Of course, he wasn't just sitting there getting bitter.
Vinson slipped out to Wal-Mart and bought handcuffs, and night vision goggles, and a Taser, and a gun.
Those were Vinson’s tools, so he could kidnap Peanut, abuse her horribly -- just like they accused him of already doing -- and then he would:
Vinson Filyaw: I don't know. Kill her or something, I don't know.
And then those meddling authorities took her out of state, ruined his plan, even as it possibly saved her life.
Vinson Filyaw: Yeah, I’m sure it did.
And so, out there in the woods, in his bunker, Vinson dreamed of another plan. It was a big dream.
Vinson Filyaw: The second plan was to kidnap somebody else, and to basically, to draw all of Kershaw County into one general area and then just blow them all up.
What an idea! Mass murder, his own suicide, and an under-aged girl as bait.
Vinson booby trapped his bunker with explosives.
He created a shirt that made him look like he was one of those Kershaw County deputies he hated so much, and he started stalking the school bus in his own neighborhood right there at the edge of the woods.
And one day he found the perfect girl, just right for a man of Vinson’s appetites: a virgin. A 14-year-old. Elizabeth.
Vinson Filyaw: She wasn't Elizabeth. She was, you know, collateral damage.
Yes, and now he looked at her, sitting there in his bunker, crying and trembling.
He watched the search on TV, heard the helicopters above him, knew they couldn't see him. He was shielded by his $1.99 shiny thermal blanket, even when he walked outside.
Vinson Filyaw: I literally walked around while the helicopter was flying, and they never saw me. Because the aluminum foil in the polyurethane blocks the thermal imagery.
Any day now, his plan would have its climax. The deputies were on their way. Soon it would all be over.
He would have his revenge.
Vinson Filyaw: I was in a game mode. My one and only purpose was to get back at Kershaw County, at all cost. It all fell together like clockwork. I mean, I didn't have to do anything.
And then, down there in the bunker, something quite unexpected began worming its way into Vinson’s twisted brain.
Elizabeth, recall, realized that to survive and escape, she'd have to make him believe she liked him. And it worked.
Keith Morrison: You became fond of her.Vinson Filyaw: Yeah.Keith Morrison: How did that happen?Vinson Filyaw: Well, she is a smart, intelligent young lady.
Now, looking back, he's decided that he "allowed” Elizabeth to steal his phone, to send that text message and thus save herself. It was pPart of his plan to blow everybody up, he claims.
Keith Morrison: You mean, you intended that she should call?Vinson Filyaw: Well, if they never came, I could a never done anything.
But then he knew they were on to him; the jig was up; he got scared, and he ran.
Keith Morrison: Then why did you leave?Vinson Filyaw: I don't know. Like I said, it was more or less a game.Keith Morrison: You didn't really want to die at all.Vinson Filyaw: No, I didn't.
The carjacking idea as a way to get away? Disastrous of course, as much of his life had been.
Vinson Filyaw: There was cops everywhere. So I got down on my knees and put my hands up in the air.
His arrest, should you choose to believe his version of things, was -- shall we say -- 'robust.'
Vinson Filyaw: I mean, all three of them just jumped on me and beat the crap out of me. Honestly, I thought they were going to kill me after they started beating me like that.
And then Vinson was outfitted in a prison ensemble and settled into much brighter and cleaner accommodations than his bunker had afforded and awaited legal developments.
But did he still have a bombshell up his sleeve? Oh yes, he did. And now, on the eve of his trial, he decided to let us in on his big secret.
Vinson Filyaw: It became two things for me. It became, one, an answer to my problems, and also, another answer to make money.
Vinson Filyaw, sitting for months in a South Carolina prison, with its clean sheets and its three squares a day, got it into his head that his experiences were the perfect material for a book or movie. And so he set out to write one.
And it was more in the way of a self-proclaimed author that Vinson sat with us and answered our questions.
Keith Morrison: And we do have your manuscript, as you know.Vinson Filyaw: And it got your attention, didn't it?
It is 120 cramped, misspelled pages of profoundly awful confessions, a moment-by-moment memoir of his rage, his crime, his imprisonment. What he had decided to say about Elizabeth had a long and disturbing prologue.
Keith Morrison: One of the paragraphs was how you … like to say that people used to marry at the age of 12. So there was nothing really wrong with what you were doing.Vinson Filyaw: I still believe that.
He recounts the origin of his fury at the system, when his 12-year-old step daughter told authorities he had repeatedly confined and abused her.
In Vinson’s version, the girl welcomed his attentions, which he has -- shall we say -- sanitized.
Vinson Filyaw: She came to me every time.She would get up, make coffee, like I said, playing the little housewife role. Bring me coffee and then…Keith Morrison: Crawl into bed with you?Vinson Filyaw: Yeah.Keith Morrison: How close did it come, if it didn't go all the way?Vinson Filyaw: Well, I’m a man. I mean, I’d be lying if I said I didn't think about it.
Vinson's take on reality -- that all he did was 'think about it' -- did not square with Amber, or the authorities who investigated her accusations.
Keith Morrison: It’s a point on which your credibility may be a little weak, if you know what I mean.Vinson Filyaw: OK. Now, in defense of what I just said, you are already accepting what she said as true. OK? Nobody ever questioned me. Nobody ever asked me anything.
Though of course there was a reason for that, which Vinson somehow avoided mentioning. Several reasons, actually: the hiding hold in the floor of his trailer home, his various bunkers in the back yard, in the woods.
No one talked to Vinson because they couldn't find him.
Vinson Filyaw: And who's going to believe me over a 12-year-old girl? I mean, you got an alcoholic high school dropout.Keith Morrison: And you couldn't deny you have a pretty close relationship with that little girl.Vinson Filyaw: Exactly.Keith Morrison: That she actually did share your bed on frequent occasions.Vinson Filyaw: Exactly, I mean…Keith Morrison: Kind of hard to get out of that one, isn't it?Vinson Filyaw: Yeah, how am I going to lie about that?
So Vinson ran, found his hiding place in the thickest part of the woods.
Vinson Filyaw: It was right in the middle of the neighborhood.
In fact, it was just a few hundred yards from his own single-wide trailer home.
At night sometimes, he'd sneak back to his house to see his girlfriend or prowl around the neighborhood.
Vinson Filyaw: I had night vision binoculars. I bought them at Wal-Mart. I actually got them on sale for $159. They had the zoom lens, just like binoculars. You could zoom right up on somebody's house, you could see them just like in the daytime.
So much time alone there with his pornography, his plan to kidnap, and maybe kill, Amber. A plan now ruined by the authorities of Kershaw County.
Keith Morrison: They took the kids away.Vinson Filyaw: Yes, sir. They put them in different foster homes.
And so that second plan, to find another girl to kidnap and abuse as a lure to attract the whole police force to his booby trapped bunker.
Vinson Filyaw: In my mind, everything I did was justified at the time.Keith Morrison: Including the sexual assault?Vinson Filyaw: Like I said, at the time, I thought everything was justified.
To Vinson’s way of thinking, what he did to Elizabeth actually had the ring of true logic.
Vinson Filyaw: Since I had been accused of sexually assaulting a young girl in Kershaw County…Keith Morrison: Then you were going to go out and sexually assault a young girl in Kershaw County?Vinson Filyaw: Exactly.Keith Morrison: So the linkage is, "They've got me labeled as a child predator, so I’ll prove I’m a child predator?”Vinson Filyaw: Well, I didn't say it was genius. I mean, I'm in jail.
Around and around danced Vinson, sometimes even trying to claim some sort of moral high ground.
Vinson Filyaw: The motivations were the anger that I felt because of what had happened, you know. I mean, I basically lost everything.Keith Morrison: Did you feel then that you were in a position where you could indulge this sexual fantasy?Vinson Filyaw: No. It was never a time when this really had anything to do with sex.
Nothing to do with sex?
Keith Morrison: If you were so angry at them, and wanted to blow them all up, why didn't you just blow them all up? Why draw a young girl into what could be the worst experience any young girl ever has in her whole life?Vinson Filyaw: Publicity.Keith Morrison: For you?Vinson Filyaw: Yeah, I guess.
Publicity? Well, yes -- for what Vinson considers his "book,” apparently.
We opened that scrawled manuscript.
Keith Morrison: If I may read?Vinson Filyaw: YeahKeith Morrison: "She was so scared and crying to go home. Finally, after she wouldn't stop crying, I told her that the more she cried the more I would rape her. Eventually she became withdrawn and quiet. She just lay there, starting at the ceiling." I mean, how does that help you get back at Kershaw County?Vinson Filyaw: I don't know. It just seemed logical at the time.
Logical? Was any of this logical?
Suddenly, the bizarre conversation with Vinson dropped through something like a rabbit hole.
Vinson Filyaw: Well, it’s all going to come out in court anyway. Elizabeth, she's, I don't know how to say it. She's pretty much a wild person.
Vinson Filyaw, facing some of the most serious charges in law, and perhaps a long, long sentence in prison, looked up as sincere as can be and said:
Vinson Filyaw: Yeah. She could have went home anytime she wanted to. But it was like a vacation for her. I mean, we were having a good time. I mean, no more school for her, you know. It was just hanging out. Keith Morrison: Are you saying that she was a willing participant the whole time?Vinson Filyaw: Well, yeah.Keith Morrison: Well, what about the plan to blow up all the policemen when they came?Vinson Filyaw: That came from the media stories.Keith Morrison: So what you're saying is you had no plan to blow anybody up?Vinson Filyaw: No.
In fact, said Vinson, his real plan, and Elizabeth’s too, was to write a book together, and make scads of money.
Only he did write something and she didn't.
Vinson Filyaw: Me and Elizabeth discussed making a book … it was mostly to piss off Kershaw County.Keith Morrison: So what you're saying is that Elizabeth and you planned this together and what, you went and had a ball in the country and had some fun.Vinson Filyaw: Not exactly like that but basically.Keith Morrison: Listen, do you think you really know what the story is, the real story?Vinson Filyaw: Yeah. I know exactly what it is.Keith Morrison: You got a good grip on reality?Vinson Filyaw: I've seen five psychiatrists since I’ve been arrested and they are all saying I’m perfectly sane. Maybe a little eccentric.Keith Morrison: I'm scratching my head here, Vinson. Why in heaven's name would you tell a story that portrays you as a monster if it isn't true?
Here, the night before his appearance in court, he seemed to be weighing the chance that anyone would believe his latest version.
Keith Morrison: Do you think she'll say that in court?Vinson Filyaw: I don't know.Keith Morrison: What will you say in court is the real story?Vinson Filyaw: I don't know.
Make no mistake -- every scrap of evidence screamed that what Vinson had just told us was a vicious and self-serving lie.
Would he dare try out those stories of his in court in the morning?
There's a well-polished veneer of southern gentility that graces the fine old mansions of Beaufort, South Carolina, although the courthouse where a jury was selected to pass judgment on Vinson Filyaw is incongruously modern.
It was also a long drive from Lugoff, S.C., where defense lawyers had argued Vinson could not have had a fair trial.
No matter. Elizabeth Shoaf would go anywhere to face Vinson again. She was determined, she said, to tell the jury every gruesome detail of every miserable day in that bunker.
It was her duty, she decided, to make certain Vinson could never terrorize anyone again.
She never got the chance -- Filyaw’s own words would do the job.
Remember that manuscript he'd written? The one in which he boasted about his plot and his assaults on Elizabeth?
The crowd gathered in the courtroom sat in stunned silence as the district attorney read it aloud.
(District Attorney Barney Geise reading in court)"Knowing that when or if I got caught, I would spend the rest of my life in prison, I decided to make the most of my victim. I repeatedly raped her in between newscasts and coffee breaks … she was doomed. I was overjoyed and basking in the success of my mission. I began to think that I could keep her for as long as I wanted and nobody-- nobody could stop me."
The defense offered an explanation of sorts.
After years of alcoholism and untreated depression, said his defense lawyers, Vinson’s life had spun out of control and maybe, said his lawyer, maybe his book was not entirely factual.
(Defense attorney Jack Duncan in court)I mean, it is just -- fantasy and reality were so intertwined that the fantasy took over. The manuscript is just that. It's that of a novel and entertainment.
Vinson sat in his court clothes, surrounded by the deputies he'd vowed to kill, the young girls he was charged with abusing and by his own ugly words.
Elizabeth's father strained to hold himself in check.
Don Shoaf: If I could have found him before the cops did, we wouldn't have had a trial. I’d be the one in jail. Some people forgive. I don't. Not something like that.Madeline Shoaf: No.Don Shoaf: I’ll never forgive him. Never.
But now, Vinson had a decision to make. Were his written words the truth or not?
The defense asked for a recess.
What would Vinson do? Admit he was guilty of everything or tell the jury the story he'd tried out on us -- his claim that Elizabeth was in on it?
Then, back in session, the judge had an announcement: the jury would be needed no longer.
(In court)Judge Cooper: In your opinion counsel, does the defendant Mr. Filyaw understand the charge, the punishment and his rights?Duncan: He does your honor.Cooper: How does your client wish to plead to these charges?Duncan: He wishes to plead guilty.
The story, the abuse of Amber, the kidnapping and repeated rape of Elizabeth, the bizarre plot to kill his would-be captors -- it was all true. He admitted guilt to all 17 of the charges against him.
And yet Elizabeth, sitting on the front row, did not give up her guard just yet.
What would happen to Vinson? How long would he be locked up? Could he ever come after her again?
As sentencing got underway, prosecutors laid out the evidence and described every crime Vinson committed each day he held Elizabeth hostage down in his bunker.
(Campbell in court)"He took this chain and put it around her neck, wrapped it around her neck."
Amber, the other girl Vinson called Peanut, approached the judge with her story.
Amber: I lived with Vinson a year and a half. I can tell you, he is not the clean cut man you see here today. There is no excuse for the cruelty he put me through for at least a year of my life. Whereas he thought he was smart enough to hurt and take advantage of a 12-year-old child, he was not smart enough to realize that I would fight until I take my last breath.
Elizabeth's mother Madeline told the judge about the agony Vinson put them all through.
Madeline Shoaf: The torture she experienced horrified us all. She was a child when she was taken from us and placed into the adult world, which she should've been allowed to gradually enter.
And then when it was Elizabeth’s turn…
(Prosecutor Campbell)This is Elizabeth. Do you want me to read it?
Her great wall of bravery softened, just a bit, and she asked a prosecutor speak for her.
(Prosecutor Campbell)There are certain images, your honor, she told me she will never forget. She can still feel the chain around her neck and how much it hurt when he raped her, when that chain was around her neck. All she asks, your honor, is sentence him so that this can never happen to anyone else. That he can never get out of prison.
Vinson watched and listened intently.
And then he stood up, bravado gone entirely , the big bad wolf now just a callow nervous man, and apologized.
Vinson Filyaw: Unfortunately, my anger and hatred towards Kershaw County sheriff's department manifested itself in a plot of revenge. I used an innocent young lady as pawn. There are no words or statements that I could ever possibly give to undo the pain that I have caused her and her family. I can only hope that one day they will be able to forgive me because I cannot forgive myself. I think of nothing else every day.
Wasn't this the man who just hours before court began told us it was all a game?
What should happen to this strange, confused man... Who'd become, quite simply, by his own reckoning, a monster.
What was a judge to do?
Elizabeth sat and watched and waited as the judge contemplated Vinson’s sentence.
Vinson Flaw’s dreadful ambitions had finally exploded.
Out in the woods, his carefully constructed bunker was blown to bits, erased from the wooded landscape forever like a bad memory.
And here in court, Vinson faced the judge to take his punishment.
Judge Cooper: I can think of no crimes short of murder more repulsive than these 17 different indictments and charges that have been brought against you...
One by one, the judge prescribed the maximum.
Judge Cooper: All sentences to run consecutive. Good luck to you, sir.
Vinson received 421 years without no parole. Elizabeth will certainly live the rest of her life without fear of seeing Vinson Filyaw ever again, and she watched as they led him off to prison.
Madeline Shoaf: She is a hero. That's all she is. I mean, she is a hero. She's a hero to me.Don Shoaf: Remarkable.Madeline Shoaf: Isn't anybody, you know, nobody can take any credit for her being rescued but her. Took a 14-year-old girl to outwit a 36-year-old man who was outwitting the cops.
Some time has gone by now since those awful days underground, and Elizabeth is the first to admit she still has some recovering to do.
The images still haunt her sleep.
Elizabeth Shoaf: Horrible. Just horrible, because it's like, when I first came back I felt fine. And I felt like I didn't need to go to a counselor or anything. I just wanted to be myself.Keith Morrison: Go back to your life.Elizabeth Shoaf: Yeah. And eventually, like a few months later, I started to just, like, get dreams about it and--Keith Morrison: What kind of dreams?Elizabeth Shoaf: Not necessarily dreams of exactly what happened, but I would have dreams that he was, like, going to kidnap me again, or something of that nature. And I just started getting depressed. And I’d be, like, all the time, sad. Or I’d get angry at everybody and just wasn't happy.
It was certainly no surprise when counselors diagnosed post-traumatic stress and Elizabeth agreed to therapy.
Keith Morrison: Those who have gone through depression will understand totally what you're saying about that feeling of sadness.Elizabeth Shoaf: Loneliness. I felt lonely.Keith Morrison: Lonely.Elizabeth Shoaf: I mean, it was like I knew I wasn't, but it's just like that lost feeling inside you … he took my childhood away. Keith Morrison: He certainly took your innocence away, didn't he?Elizabeth Shoaf: Yes.Keith Morrison: Could you ever forgive a person -- could anybody ever forgive a person for doing a thing like that to you?Elizabeth Shoaf: I couldn't forgive, because he told me that he had used me to get back to Kershaw County for looking for him for supposedly raping his daughter or whatever. And he pretty much changed my life for something' stupid.
Still, there are signs that the old Elizabeth is coming back.
Her favorite music is cranked up again in bedroom she's decorated herself.
She is back in school, too, now a sophomore in high school with plans to become a teacher or a counselor perhaps -- like the ones who are still helping her rediscover whatever normal is.
As is, by the way, Nathan -- that boy she'd just started to date before it all happened. They are now almost inseparable, sharing a little extra freedom since Elizabeth became a newly minted driver.
Elizabeth Shoaf: It was my grandparent's old Mercedes and they gave it to me for a dollar.Keith Morrison: For a dollar? You bought it?Elizabeth Shoaf: My grandma's dollar … The gas is expensive, but I have to get premium.Keith Morrison: You're not even 16 yet, are you?Elizabeth Shoaf: Yeah, my birthday was yesterday. I'm 16 now.Keith Morrison: You're 16 years old. Well, happy birthday.
She surprises, sometimes, with her frankness. And why not?
When Elizabeth lived through that tale as grim as any ancient myth, no woodsman snatched her from the jaws of the big bad wolf.
Elizabeth Shoaf looked terror in the face and saved herself.
Keith Morrison: And as you come out of this, how do you feel as a person?Elizabeth Shoaf: I guess I feel normal.Elizabeth Shoaf: It's like, for some reason I like to think about it and people think I’m weird for wanting to think about it. But I just think of it because I don't want to forget it, because that's something I accomplished that a lot of people might not have. And--Keith Morrison: Very few, probably.Elizabeth Shoaf: --it makes me feel good to know that I got to get through something like that.Keith Morrison: You found out how strong you were.Elizabeth Shoaf: Yes.Keith Morrison: It's amazing what you could survive.Elizabeth Shoaf: Yes.Keith Morrison: There's that smile again.