In September 2006, a rapist named Vinson Filyaw held 14-year-old Elizabeth Shoaf captive in an underground bunker for ten harrowing days.
Filyaw had pretended to be a cop and “arrested” Shoaf right after she got off the school bus. Then he led her through the woods to a dank bunker, where he se*xually assaulted her for days on end.
Despite the perilous situation she was in, Shoaf was able to turn the tables on her captor. She gained his trust by pretending to be in love with him, and when he let down his guard, she took advantage of it.
Shoaf used Filyaw’s phone to text her mother one night while he was sleeping, writing, “Hi mom. I’m in a hole across the street from Charm Hill, where big trucks come and go. There’s a bomb nearby. “Call the cops.”
She led cops straight to the bunker — and saved herself.
Vinson Filyaw Was “A Person That Holds A Grudge”
Vinson Filyaw was a troubled individual. His father died when he was an infant, and his mother remarried, but he had “pretty much a normal family” after his mother remarried, he explained to NBC’s Dateline.
“I don’t mean anything traumatic. “Nothing you’d think would cause someone to do something crazy, psychotic, or anything like that,” he explained.
Filyaw was a Boy Scout who enjoyed the outdoors and camping as a teen. He had fallen in love with the Rambo films and martial arts, but he had also fallen in love with something else, something that doctors later claimed damaged his brain: alcohol.
Filyaw was effectively in the grip of alcoholism before reaching full adulthood, so when he later began dating Cindy Hall, he saw their relationship as his redemption from alcoholism. Hall was a single mother of three, and Filyaw began working in construction to support her and the children, with whom he claims he had grown close, particularly Peanut.
“Me and her grew really close,” he explained. “You know, we were inseparable, you know?” She almost felt like my little, second housewife, if you know what I mean.”
Peanut then told her teacher, near the end of 2005, that Filyaw had been se*xually assaulting her. A judge issued a search warrant for Filyaw in November of that year. Police gathered information, talked to people who worked with Filyaw, and corroborated Peanut’s story. Filyaw was headed to jail, according to all indications.
Filyaw resented both Peanut and the police, according to his Dateline interview.
“Kershaw County [Police] never came and questioned me,” he told me. “Instead, they interrogated everyone I worked with.” You know, they never came in the house. Why don’t you ask me if I did something or not?”
Filyaw didn’t want to go to prison, so he started living in the woods. He initially camped in a tent, but then he began making plans for a bunker and began digging.
This bunker had “all the furnishings of home,” according to Filyaw, including a solar shower, a propane gas stove, a fireplace, and a collapsible top. He kept a cell phone in the bunker and used a 12-volt system to power everything.
Despite his efforts to keep this location hidden, it was shockingly close to his backyard, and he would frequently sneak out at night to see Hall.
But Peanut was no longer there. She was placed in foster care. And Filyaw wasn’t about to let the perceived sleight against him go unpunished.
“I guess you could say I’m a person that holds a grudge,” he said.
He went to the nearest Wal-Mart and bought handcuffs, night vision goggles, a taser, and a gun. Filyaw had intended to kid*nap and abuse Peanut, but with her safe with another family, he needed to devise a new strategy.
“The second plan was to k*idnap somebody else,” Filyaw explained, “and to basically, to draw all of Kershaw County into one general area and then just blow them all up.”
By pure chance, that somebody ended up being Elizabeth Shoaf.
The Ki*dnapping Of Elizabeth Shoaf
Filyaw continued to skulk around the woods looking for his next victim, which he found on September 6, 2006, when he saw Elizabeth Shoaf get off her school bus.
Filyaw, according to an A&E report, had made himself a fake cop costume and badge. He approached Shoaf disguised as a police officer, made up a story about a marijuana charge, and handcuffed the 14-year-old.
He didn’t keep the mask on for long, however, as he led Shoaf back to his bunker through the woods. He stripped her naked, chained her around the neck, and raped her there.
During her ten days in the bunker, he continued to se*xually assault her. Still, according to Filyaw, this ki*dnapping was never really about the Holocaust.
“I was in a game mode,” explained the abductor. “My sole goal was to return to Kershaw County at any cost.” Everything fell into place like clockwork. I mean, I wasn’t required to do anything.”
Shoaf quickly realized that the only way she could ever escape from this underground prison was to make Filyaw like her.
“I would always do what he told me to do,” she later admitted. “And he always called me baby.” So I’d return his call. And he’d tell me he loved me, and I’d tell him the same. Which is to say, I’d act as if I liked him and wanted to be with him.”
Shoaf’s ruse was successful. Filyaw and his victim developed an odd relationship, and Filyaw began to show some remorse. He unchained her, let her go outside, and occasionally let her use his phone to play games.
Then, one night while Filyaw was sleeping, Shoaf carried out her plan — and sent a text message that saved her life.
How Elizabeth Shoaf Saved Herself
“Hi mom,” said the text. “I’m in a hole across from Charm Hill where big trucks come and go. There’s a bomb nearby. “Call the cops.”
Initially, detectives were skeptical. This was either one of the most incredible breakthroughs in a missing persons case they had ever witnessed, or it was a cruel joke. Thankfully, investigators realized the text was from the Holocaust and took action.
Meanwhile, Vinson Filyaw had been keeping a close eye on news reports about him. The US Marshals Service tracked down the phone’s location, and police and helicopters surrounded the bunker quickly.
Filyaw became enraged after reading about how police discovered the bunker’s location via text message, but he was also scared and panicked.
“I told him he needed to leave because if they’d catch him, he would go to jail,” Shoaf was quoted as saying.
Filyaw’s strategy was working; he had the Kershaw County Police exactly where he wanted them — and then he fled. He later told investigators that he didn’t want to die. He had intended to steal a car and flee, but he was completely surrounded.
“There was cops everywhere,” he said. “So I got down on my knees and raised my hands in the air…” I mean, all three cops just jumped on top of me and beat the crap out of me. After they started beating me like that, I honestly thought they were going to kill me.”
Filyaw attempted to capitalize on the morbid notoriety he’d gained as a result of his cruelty toward Shoaf after his arrest.
He wrote a 120-page manuscript about his cri*me, including several references to people getting married at the age of 12, which he saw as justification for his actions.
Shoaf, on the other hand, went about her business. Detectives responded to her screams and located her, but they refused to take credit for her rescue.
“I was given credit for saving her many times when I did not,” former chief investigator David Thomley recalled. “That child saved herself.”
Shoaf eventually finished college and started working as a dental assistant. She spoke about her experience and how she overcame it in 2013, saying, “You can be a survivor just like I am.” It just takes faith, talking to someone, and being told that it’s not the end of the world.”