Days before Duluth native Mary Stauffer and her family were scheduled to leave for the Philippines on a four-year Baptist missionary trip, she took her 8-year-old daughter, Beth, to get a haircut in suburban St. Paul.
Upon leaving the salon, the mother and daughter were confronted by a man with a gun and an evil plan.
Ming Sen Shiue, a former student of Mary Stauffer’s from when she taught ninth-grade algebra at Alexander Ramsey High School in Roseville, Minn., turned a schoolboy crush into an obsession in the 15 years leading up to his brazen, midday kidnapping of the duo on May 16, 1980.
Over the next 53 days, before Mary and Beth escaped the house of horrors, Shiue killed a 6-year-old boy and lived out his demented fantasies by repeatedly raping his former teacher.
The Hermantown resident’s harrowing story of survival is scheduled to be told in the drama “Abducted: The Mary Stauffer Story” on the Lifetime cable TV network (7 p.m. Saturday).
In advance of that program’s airing, Mary and Irv Stauffer sat down with the News Tribune to recall their tale of terror 39 years ago.
Taken in broad daylight
That day, Friday, May 16, 1980, already had promised to be busy as Mary Stauffer hustled to handle last-minute preparations for their four-year stay abroad.
She brought her 6-year-old son, Steve, an afternoon kindergarten student, to get a haircut in the morning. In the late afternoon, it was Beth’s turn to go to Carmen’s Beauty Salon off Cleveland Avenue in Roseville.
As they left the salon and Mary was unlocking the passenger-side door of the 1973 Ford LTD supplied to them by their church, a man who appeared to be in his early 30s with thick glasses approached them outside the busy intersection.
“I thought maybe he just wanted directions,” said Mary, who was 36 at the time. “He had a gun in his waistband and he put it at Beth’s side and said, ‘I need a ride.’ I was ready to give him the keys to the car.”
Ming Sen Shiue had other plans, forcing them into the car and instructing Mary to drive north.
Devout in her faith, Mary attempted to appeal to him that God could help if he was in trouble.
“I said, ‘We are Christians and our God specializes in helping people in trouble,’ ” Mary said. “He said, ‘Shut up and drive,’ so I don’t think he was ready to hear the Gospel at that point.”
While they were driving, a police officer pulled up behind them at an intersection and Shiue threatened that if the car turned the same direction as them, he would shoot Beth.
The vehicles ended up heading in opposite directions.
They drove to a remote, wooded area in Anoka County, where Shiue bound mother and daughter together and covered their mouths with medical tape before forcing them face down in the cavernous trunk.
“I was scared, mainly because you just didn’t know what was happening,” Beth Stauffer said by phone from her home in the Twin Cities area. “There was nothing in my world that this made any sense. We didn’t know who he was or what he wanted.”
Shiue drove to an undeveloped area near Roseville and, in preparation for retrieving his van from a nearby parking lot, opened the trunk and put the vehicle’s massive spare tire on top of Mary and Beth.
At the same time, two neighborhood boys approached the car. One stayed at the front while the other, Jason Wilkman, went to the back to investigate.
“I think our abductor panicked and grabbed Jason and threw him in the trunk on top of us,” Mary recalled. “(The other boy) saw what happened to his friend and ran home. We didn’t know what had happened, and all of a sudden the trunk is slammed, the car is started and it peels out. It was a wild ride out of there.”
Mary tried communicating with the young boy, but he was too frightened to say much other than his name and age.
“He wouldn’t stop crying and said he needed to get home because he needed to visit his grandma that weekend,” Beth recalled. “I mentioned that I was supposed to visit mine as well.”
They returned to the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area, where Shiue took Jason out of the trunk and into the woods.
“We felt Ming grab (Jason) and take him out,” Beth said. “There was a crowbar next to me — I didn’t know if it was a crowbar, just a long metal stick — and he went off for a long, long time.”
Shiue didn’t open the trunk when he returned but instead just started the car and took off.
“And Jason was no longer with us,” Mary said.
After ditching Mary’s car and tying them up in his black, windowless van, Shiue eventually took them to the electronics store he owned, Sound Equipment Services, along University Avenue. He allowed them to use the bathroom and gave them juice before blindfolding them in the dark of night, putting them back in his van and driving to his family’s home in nearby Roseville — just six miles from Mary’s apartment.
He placed them, shackled and chained together, in a back bedroom closet, measuring 4 feet long by 21 inches wide, removed the doorknob from the inside and locked the door.
“This closet obviously had been prepared for us because there were no clothes hanging on the rod, there were some blankets and plastic bags on the shelf, a light bulb with a pull chain, a scatter rug and two small throw pillows on the floor,” Mary said.
Eileen Bridgeman Biernat, author of the book “Stalking Mary,” described the scene in a 2010 ABC News documentary: "This was his moment of triumph. He had found the person he wanted all these years, and he had her in his control."
In the meantime, Irv and Steve were home waiting. Mary’s sister, Sandra, came over for a preplanned dinner, but still no word. Irv called the salon and the hair stylist confirmed mother and daughter had left around 4:30 p.m.
“I was concerned that Mary and Beth were not home,” Irv said. “I didn’t sleep that evening.”
He told fellow missionary colleagues who lived in the apartment about their disappearance and they spent the night calling local hospitals to see if they had been admitted.
Irv called police later that night. The police, however, were more concerned about Jason Wilkman’s disappearance. Jason’s friend, who reported the abduction, wasn’t able to see in the trunk and thus authorities had no clue about the first kidnapping.
“We were not a priority,” Irv said. “An hour or two hours later, an officer came by the apartment. I could sense he thought this was a domestic problem.”
It wasn’t until the following morning as investigators searched the park area where Jason was taken that the two cases began to merge into one. The license plate from the Stauffers’ car was found, torn off by the heavy brush during Shiue’s quick getaway.
Finally, police had a connection between the disappearances. As many as 300 officers and volunteers began searching.
Initially, Irv said he was a suspect. The police interviewed him and even administered a lie detector test, which he passed.
It didn’t help that in a newspaper article about the kidnappings, a sketch of the suspect was run along with a photo of Irv. There was a similarity between the two, especially their dark hair and dark glasses.
“People were calling and saying it’s the husband who did it,” Irv recounted.
Born in West Duluth, Mary and her family moved to Hermantown when she was 10. All three siblings graduated from Hermantown High School.
Mary attended Bethel College in St. Paul and graduated in 1965. She married Duluth Denfeld graduate Irv Stauffer, a Bethel College seminary student, and the couple went to the Philippines for the first time as missionaries in the 1967-68 school year.
Prior to that trip, Mary taught ninth-grade math for two years at Ramsey High School. Among her first students was Ming Sen Shiue, a Taiwanese-American, who showed promise academically and participated in football and wrestling.
While he caused no problems, other former students later told Mary that Shiue was obsessed with her while she taught there.
After Mary taught for a couple years in north Minneapolis, the couple moved to Polk, Neb., where Irv, now a Baptist minister, was asked to pastor a congregation. They committed for two years but stayed for five in Nebraska, where both of their children were born.
“You take a risk when you take a new seminary graduate who doesn’t know anything,” Mary said. “Neither of us knew anything about pastoring, but they took us in and were so kind and loving. It was marvelous.”
By 1975, they were back in the Philippines for a four-year stay, starting new churches in the central islands.
That same year, Shiue ramped up his stalking of Mary.
Confusing the younger Irv Stauffer with his father, also named Irv, he showed up at Mary’s in-laws’ house in Duluth on the Fourth of July and held Irv Sr. at gunpoint. He took him into the house and told him to call his wife to the room. When Mary’s mother-in-law entered, Shiue realized his mistake.
“He had the wrong Mrs. Stauffer,” Mary’s husband said. “He held them at gunpoint and tied them up. He threatened them that if they ever called the police he would come back and shoot them. Then he locked them in a bedroom downstairs, and they never did report it to the police.”
They didn’t tell Mary and Irv, either, until after they had returned from the Philippines in 1979.
Later, during the second day of her captivity, Shiue told Mary that he had been the perpetrator.
Once Shiue learned that the Stauffers, during a one-year furlough from the Philippines, had moved to Baptist missionary apartments in Arden Hills, Minn., he increased his surveillance.
He spied on them from the woods outside the apartments. Mary hypothesized that he saw packing crates in the home, knowing they would be leaving soon. Shortly before the abduction, he attempted to break in through the patio doors by using a blowtorch and also, via a storage area, cut holes in the floor underneath their bed, leaving sawdust that Irv later swept up.
He even knew where the couple kept the spare key to their apartment.
“He said, ‘You are lucky that I got you when I did with a minimum of your family exposed because I would have done anything to take you,’ ” Mary said.
Revealing his identity
On Day 2 of the kidnapping, Shiue brought Mary out of the closet, spread out a blanket on the living room floor, blindfolded her and tied her to a piece of furniture.
What ensued was a three-hour videotaped “interview” where he slowly revealed who he was.
“He said, ‘Do you remember a student who developed a formula for an algebra problem?’ ” Mary said. “When he said it, I remembered him. But he hadn’t given me any problems in class.”
During the question-and-answer session, Shiue said the B-grade Mary gave him as a freshman was a blemish on his otherwise spotless record and because of that he was unable to receive an academic scholarship. Since his father had died, Shiue said he couldn’t afford to attend college without a scholarship and instead was drafted into the Vietnam War and ended up in a POW camp. He blamed all his failures in life on Mary.
Those were all lies.
Actually Shiue finished No. 1 in his high school class and likely could have earned a scholarship to virtually any college. He was voted most likely to succeed by his peers, reportedly attended the University of Minnesota, never served in the U.S. military and instead started a business in the Twin Cities.
“He knew he hadn’t failed; he knew he was No. 1 in his class; he knew that he had attended college; he knew he had never been in the military,” Mary said. “But it had to be a plausible story that I would feel some regret for how badly I had treated him in class.”
Shiue had written fantasy short stories of actresses and other women he would rape and who would then beg for his sexual favors. Among the women on Shiue's fantasy list was his compassionate ninth-grade math teacher.
He revealed to Mary a three-step plan to avenge the wrongs his obsessed mind believed she had caused him.
“I said, ‘What are you going to do for revenge?’ ” she said. “He began to remove my slacks and underpants and pull my shirt over my head and said, ‘I think you can guess. I don’t want your scars to be physical, I want them to be emotional. I want you to feel dirty, debased and degraded.’ ”
At which point, he videotaped at least six hours of rape sessions until he was forced to return the video camera he had on loan. The rapes continued daily thereafter.
“She said, ‘This was happening to my physical body, not my soul,’” Tom Bang, her brother, reasoned. “That was such an amazing way to look at it. I don’t think there are many people who could separate the two.”
Eventually, Mary worried Shiue would turn his attention to her daughter.
“It’s one thing for a married lady to be raped, but it’s quite another horrible thing for a child to be raped,” she said. “He said, ‘Whatever else I am, I am not a child molester.’ And he did not rape Beth or make her watch the rapes, but he did threaten to do so.”
Shiue wasn’t averse to playing mind games, however.
Since Mary wasn’t showing him the affection that she had in his twisted fantasies, he upped the ante, insisting Mary be more loving toward him.
“I said, ‘I’m sorry I can’t do that. I love my husband and I promised to be true to him until death, and what you ask I cannot do,’ ” she recalled. “So he got this big, clear plastic bag and said, ‘Have you ever watched someone die by suffocation? You’re going to watch your daughter die by suffocation.’
“He put this (plastic) bag over her whole body as she sat in the closet. He tucked it underneath her and said, ‘It’ll take four to five minutes. She’ll gradually breathe up all the oxygen in the bag and then she’ll die.’
“Beth said, ‘Mom, what does he want you to do?’ I said, ‘He wants me to sin.’ ‘Oh, Mom, don’t sin. But please can I come out from under this bag because it’s so hot in here?’
“I could see the perspiration running down her face and the bag was contracting around her face. It was horrible, I don’t have the words to describe it.”
Not wanting to watch her family die — Shiue also told her he would kill her husband and son as well if she didn’t comply — Mary gave her abductor a peck on the cheek.
“ ‘That’s not enough,’ ” Mary recalled Shiue saying, “so I gave him a peck on the lips and that was enough to get him to take the bag off Beth.
“What followed was the most horrible of rape sessions, but at least Beth was safe.”
On another occasion to show his control, Shiue went to work and left Beth in a box in his van four hours on a hot summer day, amazingly not killing her.
“People have asked me many times, ‘Why didn’t you run away when he left you in the van?’ ” Beth said. “The one thing that he made extraordinarily clear was that if Mom ran away, he’d kill me and if I ran away, he’d kill her. There was no way I was leaving if she would die.”
Family’s faith tested
Life was going well for Tom Bang, the younger brother of Mary Stauffer.
In the spring of 1980, Bang was in his third year as a teacher and softball coach at Hermantown High School, was a newlywed and had built a new house.
Then he heard about the kidnapping from his parents.
“I have to admit my hope wasn’t that great,” said Bang, who retired a year ago after coaching the Hawks for 40-plus seasons and winning three state championships. “It was really surreal that sort of thing had happened to someone in my family.”
Like other family members, Bang went through the day-to-day ritual of life, not allowing the gravity of the moment to hit him until his softball team was eliminated from the playoffs in late May.
“I remember getting on that bus and going back to school, and just breaking down and crying,” he said.
Irv also admits his faith in spirituality was tested during that time.
“During the 7 1/2 weeks, there were so many fears and concerns,” he said. “We didn’t know if we would ever see them again. That was the difficult part.
“Faith is all I had to hang onto. I hung onto my faith in the Lord that he would look after them and keep them in his care.”
At one point during the ordeal, FBI agent Gary Samuel called Irv and told him that an unidentified woman’s body had been found in southern Minnesota and was being transported to the Twin Cities.
“We don’t know who it is, but we just want you to know before you hear it on the radio,” Irv recalled the agent telling him.
The agent retrieved Mary’s dental records from St. Cloud, eliminating her as the possible victim.
“That was a relief and encouragement,” Irv said.
Life went on
Shiue eventually relaxed his strict house rules.
Though still bound together, Mary and Beth were allowed to eat in the upstairs kitchen. By the 10th day, they showered.
Shiue provided Beth with a TV and bought her board games like Uno, often playing them while eating dinner together and calling her “Bethie.”
“He was weirdly affectionate in a sick, parental way,” Beth acknowledged. “It was icky then and it’s creepy now.”
Mary was forced to write two letters to Irv, first to try and convince the police that she wasn’t missing but had just gone away, and the second to strongly suggest the police stop their involvement or Mary would never be seen again.
Meanwhile, Shiue returned to work at his electronics store.
"He ran a business," the author Biernat said in the ABC News documentary. "He paid payroll. He went to the supermarket. He got his oil changed. ... Life went on as normal.
"And yet, there was this secret life going on."
Midway through the ordeal, Shiue took the pair on a road trip in a rented Winnebago motor home to a job fair in Chicago.
“The way he presented that to me was, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to go on vacation in a motor home?’ ” Beth said. “I had been stuck in a closet for four-and-a-half weeks so the thought of being in a motor home sounded interesting to me.”
Still wearing the same clothes as the day they were kidnapped, Shiue brought Mary to a shopping mall in Madison, Wis., so they could change their outfits and he could take them out under the pretense of being a family.
He kept Beth close to him to prevent Mary from telling anyone about the abduction.
“As long as he had Beth, he had control of Mary,” Irv said.
Still, Mary tried to find ways to alert the authorities. She used a traveler’s check from her purse while shopping, hoping the bank would be notified of the transaction. Even though Irv had alerted the FBI to the existence of the check, the FBI apparently was not notified when the check cleared.
Left alone in the Winnebago, Beth tried yelling to a group of teenage boys outside the window.
“It was a moment when I had some bravery and I called out and said, ‘Hey, can you get some help, I’ve been kidnapped.’ They basically laughed at me and told me to stop making up stories and went on their way.”
During the trip, Mary took a Gideon Bible from a motel room and read to Beth on a daily basis. They kept up prayer vigils, even praying for their captor.
“At one point she told me, ‘Mom, we have to pretend to like him,’ ” Mary said. “That’s a powerful statement because the Bible says to love your enemies.”
Near the end of their captivity, Shiue even took Mary and Beth to Como Park on the Fourth of July, to a Hardee’s Restaurant and to the University of Minnesota agricultural campus in St. Paul to see the fireworks.
“And there were at least three Ramsey County sheriff’s vehicles that went by, but I couldn’t do a thing about it because he always had his gun and he always had Beth,” Mary said.
Rescued at last
By Monday morning, July 7, hope was fading. Shiue, realizing he couldn’t stay in the family home forever, had decided to buy a camper for the three to live in.
“We were losing heart,” Mary said. “We knew that he was so careful that there was no way anybody would know where to look for us.”
Though their faith had been tested, it hadn’t evaporated.
“I said, ‘Lord, if you make a way for us to escape, please let it be easy, something that I can do,” Mary said.
Shiue went to work that morning but before doing so he attached the cable connecting Mary and Beth through the top hinge of the closet door and looped it through, allowing them to move the length of the cable and more freely around the bedroom.
Remembering how her father used to take hinge pins out of doors at home but minus a hammer, Mary tried to force the pin up.
“I was determined to give it my best try, and (the hinge) lifted out like it was greased,” she said.
Now untethered to the door, Beth panicked, worrying that Shiue would find them and kill them.
To allay her daughter’s fears, Mary put the cable back through the opening and the hinge back in the door, sat Beth down and told her this was a sign from God.
“I remember being completely terrified that he was in the house and would figure out we were escaping,” Beth said. “I did panic, she did smack me, she put that door back together and said to listen if he is here.”
“Finally, Beth said, ‘OK, Mom,’ ” Mary said. “I went back to the door and I was shaking like a leaf. This was so exciting and so scary and so risky. I pulled the hinge pin out and got our cable free, grabbed her hand and said, ‘Let’s go.’ ”
From the upstairs telephone, Mary called the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office and was put on hold twice before Sergeant Mike Fowler came on the line.
Mary, who had found a dry cleaning tag in the closet with an address of 1960 North Hamline Avenue, knew where police could find them.
“I said, ‘This is Mary Stauffer, the Arden Hills kidnap victim and I would like someone to come get us.’ I’ll never forget his words. He said, ‘Is Jason with you?’ That’s when I knew that Jason had never made it home and was most likely dead.
“That was worse than the rapes or the initial kidnapping. I had a 6-year son, friendly just like Jason. I could picture it happening to him and I thought about Jason’s parents, and prayed. It was devastating for me.”
At Beth’s prodding and fearful of Shiue’s return, they hid behind an old car Shiue had wrapped in plastic. Within minutes — though Mary and Beth both said it seemed like an eternity — the police arrived and they were whisked away to freedom.
“They were so glad to see us,” Mary said. “I had the feeling that they wanted to hug both of us, but I wasn’t really in the mood to hug anybody at that point.”
At the same moment, Irv was in contact with Samuel, the FBI agent, in regard to a third letter Mary had written and been received that morning by her parents in Hermantown. Samuel informed them that something was transpiring but didn’t provide any details. A sheriff’s deputy soon arrived at the apartment and brought Irv and Steve to the sheriff’s office.
That’s when Irv finally learned of their escape, and they showed up at the police station still chained together with cables and bicycle locks.
“It was so exciting to know they were safe,” he said.
The FBI raided Shiue’s workplace and arrested him without incident.
Within days, Mary was back up north visiting family.
“The thing I remember the most is that (shortly after she was rescued) I was outside working on my new house, and I walked around the corner from the backyard and there she was,” Bang recalled. “It was amazing.
“She was exactly the same person. She seemed unaffected. It was because of her faith that she relied on to pull her through.”
Chaos in the courtroom
Just days after his imprisonment, Shiue contracted his original cellmate, Richard Green, who was being released from jail, to kill Mary and Beth in order to prevent them from testifying and to help him escape.
Shiue mailed the ex-inmate a $1,000 check — with the promise of another $50,000 after the deeds were done. According to the formal district court report, Green admitted to the contract but not until after a second FBI interview and after the FBI had monitored Shiue’s finances and knew about the payment.
Charged with transporting kidnapping victims across state lines, Shiue was tried in federal court in downtown St. Paul in front of Judge Edward Devitt.
Before the trial, prosecutors had Mary watch the nine hours of videos on two occasions, first to try and put the rapes in sequential order and another time to interpret the transcript. Only the three-hour “interview” was shown in open court.
When Mary was called to testify, she had to walk between the prosecution and defense tables en route to the witness stand. As federal prosecutor Tom Berg began his questioning, Shiue rose from his chair and lunged at Mary. Berg blocked his path and federal marshals wrestled Shiue to the ground.
“I just kind of sensed that something was going on behind me,” Berg told A&E’s “Real Crime.” “I turned, and the defendant, Ming Shiue, had gotten out of his chair on the other side of counsel table and was coming up, going after Mrs. Stauffer, the witness. So I just kind of instinctively grabbed him.”
After a 10-day federal trial, the jury found Shiue guilty of kidnapping. Prior to the trial, Shiue had told one of the psychiatrists that he knew the location of Jason Wilkman's body but would not reveal it.
Sentencing was withheld until a deal could be made with Shiue to locate Jason. The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office agreed to not charge Shiue with first-degree murder, and in late October he led authorities to Carlos Avery, where they found Jason had been killed by blunt trauma to the back of the head, perhaps by the car’s missing tire iron or by the handle of Shiue’s gun.
He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 30 years.
During the trial for killing Jason, this time in Anoka County District Court, Mary needed to testify again.
“(FBI agent Samuel) told me, ���Mary, this will be your last time on the stand. Ming tried something in federal court. He hasn’t tried anything in state court, but if he’s going to try anything it will be now,’ ” Mary related.
Upon being cross-examined by Shiue’s attorney, Ron Meshbesher, Shiue attacked Mary, using a knife he had smuggled into the courtroom.
“As I am answering questions, all of a sudden, Ming jumps up from his chair, runs behind me, grabs me by my neck and holds a knife in front of me and says, ‘Get back or I’ll kill her,’ ” Mary remembered.
A lieutenant who had been outside the courtroom waiting to testify, rushed in and grabbed Mary off the stand and brought her back to the judge’s chambers.
“Somewhere in the scuffle I had gotten cut,” Mary said of the slice that went across her chin and the corner of her mouth. “Maybe the idea was, ‘If I can’t have her, nobody can have her.’ ”
Mary received 62 stitches, and the second trial was delayed.
After the trial resumed, Shiue was found guilty of kidnapping and second-degree murder and was sentenced to 40 years to be served concurrently with the other sentence.
Shiue parole denied
Shiue’s case was in the spotlight again in 2010 when a judge ruled that even if he was paroled, he would be committed to the state’s sex offender program in Moose Lake.
Judge Jenny Walker Jasper ruled that Shiue met the legal criteria for indefinite commitment.
The judge relied upon a report by psychologist Paul Reitman, who spent many hours evaluating Shiue and deemed him a continuing threat to the community.
"He's a very tormented man, because he is delusional," Reitman said in his report. "He goes from one aspect, of being delusional, being nice, 'Let's go on a family trip.' ... It just represents the moral chaos. ... His psychological life is hell."
Reitman stated he would be concerned if Shiue was released.
"He might feel that he spent 30 years in prison because she lied. We don't know that,” he said. “And that's why he has to be scrutinized in intensive psychological treatment, as well as sex offender treatment."
Mary Stauffer was relieved at the time to hear the judge’s decision since Shiue had told her during her confinement that he would take revenge on the family if he was ever caught and released.
“He said, ‘Don’t think that even if I get caught and put in prison for 25 years, don’t think I will forget about you,” she said in 2010. “When I get out I will go after you, and if you’re dead, I will go after your kids.”
Shiue is currently housed in the medium-security federal penitentiary in Marion, Ill.
The Stauffers, who had returned to the Philippines in 1981, came back to the United States for good upon retirement more than a decade ago. They now live in the same Hermantown house Mary grew up in.
They turned down a chance at filing a civil suit even though Shiue’s business was worth a reported quarter of a million dollars.
“I thought at that time that he hurt Mary and Beth, he hurt us as a family. This is a way we could get back at him and hurt him,” Irv said. “But Mary said, ‘No, vengeance belongs to the Lord.’ I had to respect her at that point and realized she was right.”
Despite all the trauma the family went through, Mary says Shiue remains in their prayers.
“We continue to pray for him because God is so merciful,” she said. “I have not felt the need to reach out to him. I just felt that would be unwise to make any sort of contact with him.”