Did A Couple Who Kept A Victim Captive For 7 Years Kill Missing Teen Marie Elizabeth Spannhake?
Janice Hooker said she and her husband, Cameron, kidnapped and tortured two women decades ago.
Questions remain about the fate of a missing teenager believed to have died at the hand of a man who, with his wife’s help, later kidnapped a woman and held her captive for years.
On Jan. 31, 1976, Marie Elizabeth “Marliz” Spannhake, 18, vanished in Chico, California, after she got into an argument with her boyfriend, John Baruth, at a local flea market. She decided to walk home and friends and family never saw or heard from her again. Baruth was eventually cleared as a person of interest, and the case went cold.
In November 1984, Janice Hooker went to police and turned in her husband, Cameron Hooker.
“Janice's reasoning to come forward was that she was afraid of Cameron and also Janice had a lot of guilt built up from what had occurred over the years at different times,” former Red Bluff Chief of Police, Al Shamblin, told Unsolved Mysteries.
According to Janice Hooker, on May 19, 1977 — over a year after Spannhake vanished — she and her spouse were driving with their baby when they stopped to offer 20-year-old Colleen Stan a ride, court documents show. Stan was hitchhiking from California to Oregon so she could attend a friend’s birthday party.
Janice Hooker, who divulged details about the case in exchange for immunity from prosecution, said her husband placed a homemade contraption he called a “head box” over Stan’s head. They then brought her to their home in Red Bluff, California, and kept her captive in a coffin-like box underneath their bed, often for as long as 23 hours per day. Stan was the victim of torture and sexual assault for the next seven years.
In August 1984, Janice Hooker helped Stan escape the house of horrors.
“I learned I could go anywhere in my mind,” Stan later told PEOPLE of surviving the ordeal for so long. “You just remove yourself from the real situation going on and you go somewhere else. You go somewhere pleasant, around people you love. Whatever makes you happy.”
Janice Hooker claimed to police Stan wasn’t the couple’s first victim. The year prior to Stan’s abduction, she said she and her husband picked up Spannhake following the flea market fight. Cameron Hooker then prevented the teenager from exiting the vehicle and, like he later did with Stan, he placed her in the “head box.”
Janice Hooker said the two drove Spannhake to the couple’s home, where Cameron Hooker suspended the woman from the basement rafters and tortured her. “It was like his toy, you know?” she told police.
She also recalled Spannhake wouldn’t stop screaming during the horrific ordeal, so Cameron Hooker attempted to cut out the victim’s vocal cords and later strangled her to death. They buried Spannhake’s body in a shallow grave in a state park, she claimed.
Spannhake’s body was never located and neither of the Hookers were prosecuted in connection with the case.
While police were unable to verify Janice Hooker’s story about Spannhake, Stan, now 65, once recalled the couple had in their home a photograph of who she believed was the missing teenager.
Cameron Hooker was sentenced in November 1985 to 104 years behind bars for Stan’s kidnapping, imprisonment, and sexual assault.
“Cameron Hooker was released from prison to parole on Sept. 27, 2021; however, he is not on parole supervision in the community,” a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson told Newsweek, noting, “Hooker is now in the custody of the California Department of State Hospitals undergoing Sexual Violent Predator proceedings pursuant to state law."
Janice reportedly continues to live in California.