Top 10 Kidnappings That Shocked the U.S.

While many child abductions in the United States are committed by a family member, some are inexplicable and terrifying. The country comes together in fear and grief during these times to try to understand, and to find the victim. While all kidnappings are devastating, some are not entirely in vain: Adam Walsh's disappearance and death prompted the invention of the Code Adam missing child safety program and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. Amber Hagerman's kidnapping inspired the Amber Alert, and the day of Etan Patz' disappearance is commemorated as National Missing Children's Day. In this video, WatchMojo.com counts down 10 of the most shocking kidnappings to ever hold America hostage.
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Top 10 Kidnappings That Shocked America


These cases brought a nation together in grief and fear. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we'll be counting down ten infamous kidnappings that held America hostage.

#10 – Elizabeth Smart (Salt Lake City, Utah: 2002)

This is one of the few kidnapping stories with a happy ending. Smart was snatched from her home in an affluent neighborhood, as her sister pretended to sleep nearby. She gave police clues, and after nine months, Elizabeth was located alive and returned to her family. Her abductors were convicted of kidnapping, rape and burglary, and Smart later became an activist and contributor to ABC News.

#9 – Carlina White (New York City, New York: 1987)

19-day-old Carlina was taken from a hospital while she recovered from a high fever. Her abductor raised her under an assumed name, and for years Carlina never knew the truth. But when she began to suspect something was wrong, she contacted the authorities and soon realized she was not who she thought. In 2011, her identity was confirmed, and Carlina White was reunited with her biological parents.

#8 – Johnny Gosch (West Des Moines, Iowa: 1982)

After Johnny went missing while delivering newspapers, he became the poster boy for missing kids. Whisperings of underage sex rings surfaced, but remained unsubstantiated. In 1997, Johnny's mother claimed to have been visited by her son, but her reliability was questioned. The case made headlines again in 2006 when she received photographs allegedly showing him bound and gagged. Johnny's abduction served to bring similar cases into the national spotlight.

#7 – Amber Hagerman (Arlington, Texas: 1996)

While police were called within eight minutes of this nine-year-old's abduction as she biked near her grandparents' home, it was too late: four days later, the girl who came to be known as Arlington's child was found dead and her killer was never located. But she didn't die in vain: AMBER Alert was established in her name as a child abduction alert system that saved countless other children.

#6 – Jaycee Lee Dugard (South Lake Tahoe, California: 1991)

As this fifth-grader walked to the school bus, she was approached by a car, hit with a stun-gun, and grabbed. During her 18-year imprisonment, she bore two children by her captor, and abandoned the idea of escape. When police found her in 2009, she suffered from Stockholm syndrome and refused to reveal herself. However, she and her daughters finally reunited with her family, and the kidnappers went to jail.

#5 – Patty Hearst (Berkeley, California: 1974)

This case of Stockholm syndrome was even more famous. The 19-year-old granddaughter of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst was snatched by the Symbionese Liberation Army. The release of their jailed brethren or the distribution of food to the needy were the guerrilla group's demands, and while the Hearsts largely complied, Patty joined the SLA. A year-and-a-half after her abduction, she was arrested with the group and served 22 months in jail.

#4 – Natalee Holloway (Oranjestad, Aruba: 2005)

Dutch citizen Joran van der Sloot became the prime suspect after this teen went missing on her grad trip. He led authorities and Holloway's family on a wild goose chase by confessing and retracting statements. Though some labelled this a case of “missing white woman syndrome,” Natalee was never found and theories about her fate continued. In 2012, van der Sloot was jailed for the murder of another girl.

#3 – Charles Lindbergh, Jr. (East Amwell, New Jersey: 1932)

When famed aviator Charles Lindbergh’s 20-month-old son was snatched from their home, it became one of the century's most well-known crimes. The pricey ransom was paid, but the Lindbergh baby was found dead two months after he was taken. Bruno Hauptmann was captured, tried, convicted and executed for the crime, but proclaimed his innocence until the day he died.

#2 – Adam Walsh (Hollywood, Florida: 1981)

Leads quickly ran dry once six-year-old Adam's remains were discovered weeks after he was grabbed from a department store. His father, John Walsh, advocated for victims' rights and started hosting “America's Most Wanted” to catch predators nationally. The Code Adam missing child safety program was named in Walsh's memory, as was the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. The case was closed in 2008, with convicted killer Ottis Toole taking the blame.

#1 – Etan Patz (SoHo, New York: 1979)

This six-year-old was abducted the first time he walked the two blocks to his bus stop alone. The manhunt was fierce, and Etan became the first missing child on a milk carton. But, he was never found. Police reopened the case in 2010, and eventually arrested a suspect, but doubt was cast on his guilt. To commemorate the date of Etan's disappearance, May 25th was designated Missing Children’s Day.
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