Most would think that becoming a target of crime because of one’s wealth is the stuff that thriller TV shows are made of. However, 20-year-old Barbara Mackle learned it was possible to be wholly innocent and still the victim of a greedy and frightening ploy for money.
In the 1960s, the Mackle family was known as one of the richest in Deltona, Florida. Robert Mackle was a renowned land developer. The presence of his wife and an attractive daughter completes the stereotypical picture of a successful family. But this success came at a price, and unfortunately, his daughter, Barabara, would endure the terrifying brunt of it.
Barbara Mackle Is A Picture Perfect Target
The Mackle family at large were far from strangers to success. By the 1960s, the family’s three brothers had established a legacy of financial prowess, having made their name known by developing properties in Florida, Adam Solomons of the Daily Star reports. One of the brothers, Robert Mackle, bought a significant portion of the Gulf Coast before it became popular, giving him an unprecedented leg-up and a sure route to wealth. His lovely, 20-year-old daughter, Barbara, had nothing to do with his business dealings and seemed to complete the picture of perfection that was Robert Mackle’s life.
According to Barbara Stepko of The Vintage News, Barbara Jane Mackle was a “pretty and popular” young woman. She attended Emory University of Atlanta and, as most young women do, had a boyfriend. With her family’s name being known due to the thriving Deltona Corporation owned by her father and the family’s connection to influential figures like President Richard Nixon, it would appear that Mackle’s picturesque life had every chance of continuing in its usual bliss.
In December of 1968, the prosperous family prepared for Christmas. About a week before the holiday, Mackle caught the flu. Upon learning that the infirmary at the University was full-up, her mother opted to bring her daughter to a motel where she could be nursed back to health. What was meant to be a time of recovery quickly morphed into a nightmare.
Barbara Mackle and her mother were all settled in for the night when a knock on their motel room door turned sick bay. From the other side of the door, a man claimed that Stewart Woodward, Barbara’s boyfriend, had been in an accident. The Daily Star states that the man said that he was a policeman. Preying on the women’s sympathetic emotions prompted them to open the door to a stranger. It quickly proved to be a grave mistake.
“I wasn’t scared exactly,” Mackle is recorded by Mandi Albright of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. To have said.“You know how sometimes you are so astonished that you are completely calm? That’s how I felt.” They forced her into a blue car and drove off, Vintage News states.
Unreal Underground Accommodations For Barbara Mackle
Poor, ill Barbara Mackle was driven for 20 miles before finally being introduced to her intended fate: a fiberglass box in the ground. By kidnapping standards, it was luxurious but a frightening form of imprisonment nonetheless.
Mackle’s male abductor showed her around as if he were introducing her to a new apartment rather than an underground cell. The place was outfitted with enough essentials to last a week if rationed: food, water, light, a fan, and a blanket. “It was all coming at me so fast,” Mackle told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I couldn’t conceive of any room underground where I could walk around… In Atlanta, Georgia? This was absurd. The man is crazy. And yet I was listening intently.” Vintage New says that Barbara Mackle was far from comforted by the meager accommodations and had started to panic.
The man responded with a heartless “Don’t be such a baby” before he went on his way, leaving a petrified Mackle to wonder if she’d just seen the sky for the last time. “There are no words to describe it,” she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The first shovelfuls were very loud. After a while, they became muffled. I was hysterical. ‘Oh, God! You can’t leave me here!’ I’d talk, be silent, wait for an answer, then talk. There was nothing. Then I’d talk some more, begging, begging. And there was nothing. Only silence. That’s when I knew they were gone.”
An Expensive Motive For Kidnapping Revealed
The morning after the frightening incident, the Mackle family got a call from their daughter’s kidnapper, Vintage News records.
He would let their beloved daughter suffocate if the wealthy family didn’t cough up the dough. Robert Mackle would need to come along and place an ad in the paper that read “LOVED ONE. Please come home. We will pay all expenses and meet you anywhere at any time.”
Robert Mackle agreed to pay the ransom without hesitation, Tony Holt of The Daytona Beach News-Journal says. He immediately pulled the FBI in on the plan as he secured the money in a suitcase as requested. He headed to the designated drop-off spot, a bridge in Miami. The fact that he got lost on the way only added to the tension of an already stressful situation. Nevertheless, the job got done, and the kidnapper quickly collected his loot. It wasn’t until he returned to his car that two police officers saw him toting the briefcase, shotgun, and scuba gear.
Abandoned Money And A Second Ransom Attempt
Vintage News reports that the police had been summoned by some folks living in a house nearby who heard the noise created during the chaotic ransom money exchange. Fearing something was amiss, they’d called the authorities. The Daytona Beach News-Journal says that the kidnapper started to run, prompting the police to fire their weapons. The man got away, paying a stiff price when he was forced to drop the suitcase he needed to become wealthy.
It would seem that the kidnapper would abandon the mission after this close shave, but he wasn’t ready to give up. He contacted Robert Mackle again, demanding a second chance to make the transfer. Take-Two was far more successful. With the money in his possession, the kidnapper fulfilled his promise and revealed Barbara Mackle’s location. This vital information set hundreds of FBI agents loose as the search for the young woman began.
A Light at the End of the Tunnel For Barbara Mackle
As the hours ticked by and turned into days, Barbara Mackle wondered if the world would ever discover her fiberglass prison. Instead of falling into despair, she dwelled on the upcoming holiday’s joys. She sang Christmas songs out loud and pondered happy thoughts about decorating the tree and ice skating with her boyfriend.
According to her interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution records, her faith in God also played a vital role in keeping her spirits up: “I just started talking, as if God were beside me. And I said, God, I’m not going to die here. I don’t know what kind of feelings people have when they are going to die. But I know You are not going to let me die. I said even if no one knows where I am, You know where I am.”
The Dayton Beach News-Journal records that many agents cried tears of relief as they pulled Mackle from the underground room and back into the world of the living. She was unhurt. According to Vintage News, the young woman was reported to be eternally grateful and have her sense of humor intact. “You are the handsomest man I’ve ever seen,” she told one of the agents who rescued her.
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Barbara Mackle would be spending Christmas with her family.
Gary Kirst: Rich Man for a Day
With Barbara Mackle safe and sound, everyone’s attention went to her kidnappers. The Daytona Beach News-Journal explains that the perpetrators were identified as Gary Kirst and Eisemann-Schier. Kirsh had been carefully searching for a way to make a tidy sum of money. He’d set about masquerading as a man researching prominent figures of Florida and the methods behind their success for a psychology dissertation. When he learned of Robert Mackle, he was scouring the social register for whomever he might prey on. And Barbara, of course.
He spent a blessedly short amount of time enjoying the happiness his ill-gotten money could buy when he purchased a boat and headed for the Okeechobee Waterway.
He didn’t seem to learn his lesson as he landed back in jail over his involvement with $1 million worth of cocaine.
Eisemann-Schier ran to Texas in her attempt to evade capture. She was the first woman to earn a spot on the FBI’s most-wanted list. She was sentenced to seven years behind bars and then deported back to Honduras.
Barbara Mackle would never forget the 83 terrifying hours she spent underground, wondering if she would ever be found. But found she was. She settled in South Florida and co-wrote a book about her harrowing experience entitled “83 Hours Till Dawn,” which was later brought to life on the screen. She didn’t offer any interviews about those three days after the book was out. Yet, who could forget her bravery in such paralyzing fear? “I’m being left here to die. This is it, I thought…” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution records her to have said. “Then I said to myself, Barbara, you know better than that. You’ll make it.” And make it she did. Kirsh’s scheming to use the Mackle’s daughter for his gain had failed. It hadn’t made a dent in the renowned developing company family’s good name or success.