The Girl in the Box: The Torturous Story of Colleen Stan

Colleen J. Stan was born on December 31, 1956 and was kind of a free spirit. She considered herself an alert and experienced hitchhiker. One unfortunate day, Colleen Stan turned down two potentially dangerous rides and finally felt safe getting into a blue van with a young couple and their baby in the back seat.

Colleen Stan / Cameron Hooker / Colleen Stan.
Source: YouTube

For the next seven years, Colleen Stan was subject to torture and abuse at the hands of the seemingly kind couple who offered her a ride. Not only was she held captive, but she was confined to a coffin-shaped box under the couple’s bed for 23 hours a day. Colleen finally managed to escape the horrific ordeal with the help of the wife, it was not without severe physical and psychological trauma.

Just Hitching a Ride

On May 19, 1977, Colleen Stan decided to hitchhike from Eugene, OR, to Northern California to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The 20-year-old wasn’t a stranger to hitching rides, and on this particular day, she accepted rides from several strangers in order to get to her destination.

An outdoors photo of Colleen before her kidnap.
Source: Pinterest

She was cautious, however. After turning down a ride from a group of men in a car, she was picked up by a young couple: 23-year-old Cameron Hooker and his 19-year-old wife, Janice. She thought it would be safe to get into their blue van because they had their 8-month-old baby in the car.

An Unexpected Turn

Although hitchhiking can be dangerous, Colleen felt like she was fine. She was excited to attend her friend’s birthday and was thankful she found a nice family to give her a ride… or so she thought…

A photo of the headbox.
Source: Channel 5

About 30 minutes into the trip, a car stopped in a secluded dirt road, and Cameron held a knife to the young girl’s throat. After tying her up and gagging her, he put a box over Colleen’s head and stuffed her into the back of the van. This was not the journey she expected.

The “Headbox”

This “headbox” was a 20-pound contraption that was lined with soundproof materials. He forced her to wear it, telling her it was designed to isolate her from the rest of the world. She quickly realized she wasn’t safe, and things were about to get worse.

A mugshot of Cameron.
Source: YouTube

Once they arrived at their Red Bluff, California home, Cameron proceeded to take off Colleen’s clothes and took her down the couple’s basement by her wrists, naked. This marked the beginning of a torturous life.

Her First Night

That night, Colleen was whipped and forced to watch the couple have sex in front of her – while she was chained to the ceiling. Cameron forced her to sleep in a wooden box that he constructed to keep the young girl from escaping. The box was built like a crate, and Colleen wasn’t even able to lie down in there. She slept sitting up.

A photo of the coffin-shaped box where Colleen was held captive.
Source: KXTV / News 10

Colleen described her first night at the Red Bluff torture house in a 2008 interview with Closer: “I was terrified. Janice watched as Cameron tortured me, and then they had sex in front of me. I was convinced they were going to kill me. I was tied up and put into a wooden box measuring 3 ft. x 6 ft. for the rest of the night.”

Living in a Box

When the couple moved out of the house into a mobile home, they didn’t have a basement to keep their victim in. That’s when Cameron constructed another box – this one was about the same size as a coffin. This new box allowed Stan to lie down underneath their waterbed. Despite the air holes, the box reached over 100 degrees in the summers.

A portrait of Colleen.
Source: YouTube

In a strange move, Cameron forced Colleen to sign a master-slave contract (we’ll get to that). She had no idea that she would spend the next seven years locked in a small wooden box that the couple kept under the Hookers’ bed.

The Kids Had No Idea

For the first few years of captivity, Cameron and Janice only allowed Colleen to spend an hour or two a day outside of the box. Usually, it was to clean the house or babysit their children. The pair had two daughters, but neither of them realized that their parents were holding Colleen against her will.

A picture of Cameron sitting in court.
Steve Ringman/San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

In fact, the kids didn’t even know that Colleen lived in their home, much less in a wooden box underneath their parents’ bed. Janice apparently told them that Colleen went home every night. I don’t know how they missed that, but the girls were really young.

Assaulted and Abused

The 20-year-old’s extended confinement, combined with the physical pain and suffering her captor inflicted, left her with severe health problems, including chronic back and shoulder damage. But that wasn’t the full extent of it.

A photo of the tools Cameron used with Colleen.
Source: YouTube

If she wasn’t doing housework, she was allowed out of the coffin to be beaten or raped. According to The Sun, Colleen Stan was regularly abused, tortured in medieval ways, and even electrocuted at times. They even stretched her on a rack. Colleen was also deprived of food and involved in ritualistic rape.

The Slave Contract

After holding Colleen captive for a few months, Cameron coerced the girl into signing a slave contract. It basically forced Colleen to give up her freedom and allow the couple to treat her as their personal property.

A picture of the slave contract.
Source: Channel 5

Cameron also declared that her name was no longer Colleen and would be called “Kay” from now on. He also commanded she refer to him as “Master” and Janice as “Ma’am.” This was just another tactic that helped dehumanize the poor girl. After signing the contract, “Kay” earned the privilege to go upstairs.

The Company

In order to keep her in line, Cameron convinced Colleen that he was a member of an organized crime family called “The Company.” Reportedly, Cameron continuously threatened Colleen with the imaginary Mafia organization he made up.

A photo of Cameron’s arrest.
Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

He told her that if she ever tried to escape or make contact with the outside world, she would be nailed to a cross. He was so manipulative that he even told Colleen her family would be at risk with the Company’s overreaching authority. Colleen was absolutely terrified.

Manipulated and Threatened

According to Colleen, Cameron said to her: “If you don’t do as I say, I’ll have people go hurt your family.” The abuse only got worse. At one point, the couple made Colleen dig a shallow hole, and then they forced her to stay in there.

A photo of the box where Colleen was held captive.
Source: YouTube

After about a week, the hole was filled with water, so Janice reluctantly moved Colleen back out of the hole and locked her back up in the box under their bed. Yeah, Janice wasn’t an innocent bystander or a victim. She was an accomplice.

Janice Was Involved

In fact, Janice Hooker participated in the psychological warfare against Colleen Stan, who just wanted to attend a birthday party. She was just as twisted as her husband and was missing that nurturing, motherly instinct and empathy that most women have.

A photo of Colleen during Janice’s trial.
Source: YouTube

Colleen explained that Janice frequently threatened her too: “His wife told me if you step outside the door without permission from us, you might as well put a shotgun to your head and pull the trigger.” I can’t even imagine how scared she must have been.

A Living Hell

Colleen spent the next seven years of her life held captive and being tortured. Even if she had the opportunity to escape, she was too scared to because of “The Company.” She was locked in a box for 23 hours a day and was only allowed out to be tortured. Colleen explained the terrifying details to Closer.

A still of Colleen during an interview telling her story.
Source: YouTube

“I was stretched on racks, electrocuted, whipped until I bled and tied up by my wrists and left to hang for hours on end.” When she was given food once a day, she ate either a sandwich or potatoes. She didn’t have access to a bathroom either.

From the Box in the Basement to the Box Under the Bed

As we mentioned, Colleen was initially shackled up in the Hookers’ basement. It was an ideal situation for the disturbed couple. They had a space dedicated to torture. In between her beating sessions, Cameron locked her up in the coffin-like box he assembled.

A dated portrait of Colleen at home.
Source: Pinterest

When they moved to the mobile home with no basement in 1978, Cameron didn’t have a torture room at his disposal. From that point on, Colleen no longer lived in the basement but under Cameron and Janice’s bed – still in that coffin.

She Visited Her Parents

After being in captivity for over three years, Cameron gave Colleen a little taste of freedom in March 1981. He took Colleen to visit her parents in Oregon. She was so terrified of “The Company” that she didn’t even tell her parents that she’d been kidnapped and forced to sign a slave contract.

A picture of Colleen embracing Cameron.
Source: YouTube

Instead, Colleen introduced Cameron Hooker as her fiancé. Her family had no idea that he was holding her against her will. Her parents even took a picture of the “happy couple” and were thrilled to be reunited with their daughter and to meet the man she was going to marry.

They Didn’t Suspect a Thing

I know what you are wondering: where were her parents this whole time? Didn’t they report her missing? Well, it turns out that they were concerned for their daughter but mainly because they thought she had joined a cult. They were unaware of the years of abuse and suffering.

A photo of Colleen Stan.
Source: Pinterest

Colleen was so controlled by Cameron and scared to upset him. She seemed to be suffering from Stockholm syndrome, which is a very real condition caused by psychological torture, abuse, and manipulation.

Earning Freedom

According to Find Law, Cameron slowly started to allow Colleen to leave the torture box to make dinner by 1979. By June 1980, after three years of obedience, she earned the freedom to sleep in the back bathroom of the house – shackled to the toilet.

An outdoors picture of Colleen.
Source: YouTube

Then, by 1983 Colleen was allowed to work. Cameron had manipulated her so much by this point that he was confident she wouldn’t run away. In May of that year, Colleen worked at the local motel as a maid. Then Cameron let Colleen know that he planned on making her his second wife.

They Had a Deal

This announcement was the final straw for Janice Hooker, who had been assisting her husband in his vicious crimes. They had a deal: she only allowed Cameron to have a slave to torture, as long as he didn’t have sex with the slave and only slept with her.

A portrait of Cameron.
Source: Pinterest

Cameron initially agreed. But as time went on, Cameron began to progressively sexually assault Colleen more and more. In his mind, he was getting ready to make her his second wife. Janice wasn’t about to let that happen.

Is Janice a Victim?

According to Janice, she herself was a victim. She claimed that shortly after meeting Cameron, he hurt her routinely. Janice said she only agreed to let her husband kidnap a woman and keep her as a sex slave living under their bed because she was brainwashed.

A dated photo of Colleen by the road.
Source: YouTube

Janice maintains that she only let her husband capture and physically harm Colleen because that’s the only way he would stop beating her. Thankfully, I’ve never experienced such severe trauma or Stockholm syndrome, so I can’t judge Janice. However, I don’t view her as an innocent victim like Colleen Stan – we’ll get into why.

How Did Colleen Stan Escape?

After seven years of captivity, Colleen Stan was finally ready to escape the Hookers’ home. That’s when Janice stepped in to help… in part. As soon as Janice realized her husband was probably going to leave her for Colleen, she wanted her out.

Colleen speaks during an interview.
Source: YouTube

That’s when she told Colleen that “The Company” wasn’t even a real organization and that Cameron made it all up. If she were to escape, no one was going to go after her family. Now, does that sound like an innocent, brainwashed woman? Or a jealous wife?

A Promising First Date

As a little girl, Janice Hooker was a shy kid struggling with epilepsy. In 1972, she met Cameron Hooker. Despite her strict parents, who never let their daughter go on a date before, Cameron convinced them to let him take Janice out, just to give you an idea of how manipulative he was.

An image of a forest.
Photo by Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

On their first date, Cameron somehow persuaded Janice to let him take off her clothes and tie her to a tree. Obviously, this should have been a bright red flag for Janice.

How Romantic

After that, the abuse started. Cameron began whipping her. The naïve Janice was then staked to the ground as the whipping continued. It was obvious that Cameron Hooker was a sexual sadist, but Janice appreciated the attention he gave her. He effectively brought Janice’s sexuality toward his deviant tendencies.

A newspaper clipping on Colleen’s kidnap.
Source: Pinterest

The pair walked down the aisle in 1975. Once Janice and Cameron were married, he began treating Janice like a sex slave. After a few years, Janice finally convinced Cameron to let her have a baby. Then, he directed his anger toward someone the couple would kidnap. That’s when Colleen entered the picture.

“The Company” Doesn’t Exist

But as soon as Colleen found out the “The Company” wasn’t going to hunt her and her family down if she left, she did so. The young woman got out of there with Janice’s encouragement and her help. Again, this doesn’t sound like an act of compassion to me.

A dated picture of Colleen.
Source: YouTube

In 1984, Janice dropped Colleen off at a bus station. After being kept as a slave for seven long years, she called her dad, who bought her ticket to come home to Oregon. Colleen also called Cameron, telling him she had run away and reportedly crying when she told him she had left.

She Didn’t Tell a Soul

As you can imagine, Colleen Stan didn’t go back to normal once she returned to her family in Oregon. Her parents didn’t even know what had happened to her. As a matter of fact, Colleen didn’t tell anyone about the horror she endured, not even the police.

A picture of Colleen on the beach.
Source: Pinterest

Before she escaped, she made Janice promise that she wouldn’t go to authorities about her terrifying experience because she thought her husband might be able to fix himself through prayer and counseling. Spoiler Alert: he wasn’t able to.

Janice Confessed

Janice finally came to her senses and understood that Cameron wasa deeply disturbed person unable to give up his cruel and sadistic ways. At her wit’s end, Janise confessed what had happened to a pastor. He turned out to be the hero of the story.

Colleen speaks during an interview.
Source: YouTube

He encouraged Janice to go to law enforcement. Although she was reluctant at first, the pastor managed to convince her. On November 18, 1984, a few months after Colleen had escaped from captivity, police arrested Cameron Hooker.

Janice Wasn’t Charged With Any Crimes

Even though Janice assisted her husband in the kidnapping, capture, and abuse of Colleen Stan while keeping her prisoner for seven years, Janice was never charged with a crime. I mean, she technically did the right thing at the end, but her motives don’t sit well with me. I don’t think she freed Colleen out of the goodness in her heart.

Colleen speaks during a news broadcast.
Source: YouTube

Cameron was tried and convicted of several counts of kidnapping and sexual assault. Janice was totally off the hook: she was granted full immunity as long as she testified against him.

Janice Was Brainwashed

Prosecutors believe that Cameron mentally and physically abused Janice. The psychological torture and manipulation made it almost impossible for Janice to defy her husband and stop the horror and torture they made Colleen endure.

A still of Cameron in court.
Source: YouTube

However, Janice had much more freedom and control than Colleen Stan, who was living in a box. If she really felt compassion for the girl, she would have let her out sooner. In my opinion, the only reason for Janice’s newfound “empathy” was that she was beginning to feel jealous and territorial.

She May Not Have Been Cameron’s First Sex Slave

The reason why this story sounds so crazy is that it doesn’t seem real. It’s insane to think that a couple with two kids kidnapped this girl and kept her locked in a coffin under their bed for seven years, allowing her out for her daily beatings and rapes.

A portrait of another young victim.
Source: YouTube

It literally sounds like an episode of Criminal Minds and not something that could happen in real life. That’s why it’s even more shocking to find out that Colleen Stan might not have been Cameron Hooker’s first victim.

Janice Turned on Her Husband

During Cameron’s 1985 trial for capturing and abusing Colleen Stan, Janice finally turned on her husband (not that she really had a choice). Janice admitted that on January 31, 1976, her husband kidnapped another young woman: 19-year-old Marie Elizabeth Spannhake.

A photo of an iron chain.
Source: Flickr

A year before they offered to give Colleen a ride, the pair picked up Marie when she was hitchhiking to Chico, CA. Janice said they took the woman to their Red Bluff home, where Cameron physically harmed the girl before murdering her. Marie Elizabeth’s body was never found, and police didn’t have enough evidence to connect Cameron to her death.

Cameron Will Be up for Parole in 2030

In 1985, Cameron Hooker was convicted of multiple counts of kidnapping and assault and rightfully sentenced to more than 100 years behind bars for his vicious crimes. In 2015, he was given a parole hearing.

A photo of Cameron Hooker.
Source: Pinterest

The state of California has a parole program for elderly inmates, which basically permits prisoners over the age of 60 to request parole after serving 25 years of their sentences. Thankfully, the parole board denied his request. He will not be eligible for another hearing until 2030. He will be 76 years old.

Where is Colleen Stan Today?

Colleen Stan, who is currently living under a new name, was thrilled to find out her captor of seven years will stay in the slammer. As you could imagine, Colleen needed intensive therapy to deal with the trauma she endured once she finally escaped from Cameron and Janice’s captivity.

Colleen Stan speaks during an interview.
Source: YouTube

Colleen has really made progress. She eventually went on to earn a degree in accounting, got married, and became a mother and grandmother. She is appreciative of life and offers help and support to other women who have been victims of abuse.

How Did Colleen Stan Recover?

As we mentioned, Colleen Stan seemed to have the classic symptoms of Stockholm syndrome. The condition basically means that victims develop love or empathy for their captors as a survival instinct, and according to the public eye, that’s what was going on with Colleen.

A dated picture of Colleen.
Source: YouTube

When it came to Colleen’s case, she believed Cameron’s lies. He used her and coerced her into slavery during her extended imprisonment. The trauma prevented Colleen from going against Cameron and that’s why it took her so long to finally tell authorities about what happened to her.

The Dangers of Stockholm Syndrome

Once she gained more and more freedom, Colleen technically would have been able to escape. However, she was too scared and brainwashed. When discussing her resilience during those traumatic years in captivity, Colleen Stan had this to say: “I learned I could go anywhere in my mind.”

A picture of Colleen Stan.
Source: 9 News

Like Janice’s apparent defence mechanisms, Colleen explained that “you just remove yourself from the real situation going on, and you go somewhere else.” Like Colleen, Janice Hooker is also living under a new name. Both women live in California but do not keep in touch.

Fueled Pop Culture Stories

Since Colleen Stan’s case was so unbelievable, it inspired countless movies and television shows. People have been intrigued by this case since Colleen escaped in 1984. Her story became the main plot of The Poughkeepsie Tapes.

A promotional photo of the television series Criminal Minds.
Source: Copyright: CBS

A few episodes of Criminal Minds were also based on Colleen’s case. In the Season Five episode, Cradle to Grave, the Reimanns were both abductors. The husband was a sexual sadist, and the submissive wife with a history of abuse tolerated his behavior to spare herself from his abuse.

Crime Show Inspiration

In another Criminal Minds episode, A Thousand Words, Robert Burke and Juliet Monroe were both kidnappers and held captives, whom they raped and tortured repeatedly. Sound familiar? Although the story isn’t exactly the same, it’s clear the idea for the storyline came from Colleen Stan’s case.

Stills from the episode of Robert Burke and Juliet Monroe.
Source: YouTube

Another show that famously takes newsworthy stories to create interesting episodes is Law &Order. A 2000 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, entitled Slaves, was also based on Colleen’s awful ordeal.