News Anchor WCCO Television
CBS Affiliate - Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota
In the spring of 1980, I was two years into a thirty-two year career as an investigative reporter and anchor for WCCO-TV in Minneapolis and St. Paul. I had cut my teeth as a crime reporter. In the previous fifteen years, I had worked in Washington DC, Charleston, South Carolina and Houston, Texas. I had seen my share of crime, much of it up very close, and always very personal.
When I first moved from Texas to Minnesota, I was sent to cover what was being billed as “Minnesota’s Most Bizarre Murder Case.” It involved the murder of wealthy Duluth heiress Elisabeth Congdon, whose adopted daughter Marjorie Congdon was accused of inducing her husband Roger Caldwell to commit the murder to accelerate Marjorie’s large inheritance. The sole motive was money. There was nothing bizarre about the crime, but for Minnesota, it was highly irregular.
Then on May 16, 1980 came a police radio dispatch that a child was missing from a playground. WCCO sent reporters to cover the disappearance as we had covered so many other missing children. This one was different. Police sources told me that the missing child had been thrown into the trunk of a car. That kind of criminal behavior doesn't happen very often, and the sense in the newsroom and the cop shop was not very sanguine. This was probably going to turn out ugly.
Within days of the abduction, we learned that a missionary and her daughter were also missing. At first, no one connected the two crimes. But, when it became clear the two were, in fact, connected, the word "bizarre" began to creep into our private conversations.
I was the "Cop Guy." It fell to me to follow the investigations. Six-year-old Jason Wilkman was gone. Elizabeth and Mary Stauffer were gone. Police investigated every angle, but a month passed with no word at all about the whereabouts of any of them. The press worked overtime. A story about the kidnappings ran every day for the next month as the search continued. I reported many of them. I had, with permission, appropriated a desk and phone in the office of the Ramsey County Sheriff's office. I went there every day. I came to know the men and women investigating the case and went easy in reporting their growing desperation. They were all good officers, but you could have put Sherlock Holmes on this case, and he wouldn't have found a clue that would lead to a suspect. That's because this crime had actually started a very long time before the abductions.
When I read Eileen Biernat's account of the search for Mary Stauffer, her daughter Elizabeth, and six-year-old Jason Wilkman, I was drawn back to that time nearly thirty years ago. As I read the book, I felt my stomach knot in the same way it had as police chased leads that led nowhere. Eileen's account of the anguish of the Wilkman family and that of the Stauffers clawed back into the memories that news reporters are certain they've disposed of forever. This book opened the compartments I hoped I'd sealed away permanently.
The abduction drama lasted 52 days. Through solid work by Ramsey County Sheriff's investigators and, eventually, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, plus Mary Stauffer's incredible will to live, her faith and ceaseless sense of motherhood in caring for her own child while undergoing the worst treatment imaginable, the culprit was arrested, and Mary and Elizabeth were restored to their families. Jason's story had a different ending
Who was the man who abducted these innocent people? His name was Ming Sen Shiue, a brilliant and tortured former student of Mary Stauffer. At the heart of this book is the revelation of what it was, exactly, that tortured the man, and how long that torture had worked its evil inside of him.
Eileen Biernat's account of this disturbing story is laced with a clear understanding of the role of mother in all its guises. Jason's mother's anguish, Mary's fierce protection of her daughter, and Ming's own mother's steadfast support of her son could not have been told as clearly by a mere cop reporter.
This cop reporter has been waiting for this story to be told for a very long time. Take it from me as one who lived this story from the first abduction to the final sentencing, this is Minnesota's most bizarre crime, and Eileen Biernat's gentle handling of the brutal facts of this case will wrench back memories for those who lived through it, read about it every day, or watched it unfold on television.
For those too young to remember the events of that spring, when you read this book, you will be glad you missed living the agony.