Rescued

08.13.13

Hannah Anderson Captor a ‘Trusted Friend,’ Cat Lover

In the wake of kidnapped teen Hannah Anderson’s rescue, cops tell Christine Pelisek how they tracked her into Idaho backcountry. Plus, her captor’s odd obsession with a cat named Princess.

Hannah Anderson, the 16-year-old teen who was abducted by a family friend, setting off a search that stretched from the Mexican border to the backcountry of Idaho, didn’t know that her mother and brother had been killed until she was rescued by the FBI this weekend.

“She is a victim in every sense of the word,” said San Diego County Sheriff William D. Gore at a press conference on Monday afternoon. “She was in extreme duress from the time she was taken to the time she was rescued.”

Anderson’s nearly weeklong ordeal ended with the death of her captor, 40-year-old James Lee DiMaggio, in an Idaho preserve on Saturday by a member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team.

Gore said the California high school student was just recently told by an FBI agent in Idaho that her 44-year-old mother, Christina Anderson, and her 8-year-old brother, Ethan, died shortly before she was abducted. Hannah’s mother reportedly died from blunt-force trauma, possibly after being hit with a crowbar.

Gore said that they believe DiMaggio, who was employed with Scripps Research Institute and worked in telecommunications, planned the abduction down to the letter. “We don’t think this was a spur-of-the-moment thing,” Gore told The Daily Beast. “It was not spontaneous. She was clearly the target. She was the victim of the kidnap.”

Authorities believe that Hannah and her family were lured to DiMaggio’s house in Boulevard, east of San Diego and near the Mexican border, for a “get-together.”

“He initiated it,” said Gore.

The San Diego Union Tribune reported that Christina told her father before the visit that DiMaggio wanted to see them because he planned to move back to Texas as his house was in foreclosure.

What exactly happened inside the house is still unclear.

The horrific saga began August 4 when police were called to a fire at DiMaggio’s log-style cabin that he shared with a number of cats, including a gray cat named Princess. The investigation soon turned into a crime scene when firefighters and police discovered the charred remains of Christina and Ethan in the rubble. Gore said that Christina was found dead inside the garage and Ethan was found in the main part of the house.

Officials immediately put out an Amber Alert—which was activated in California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada—for DiMaggio, Hannah, and DiMaggio’s four-door, blue Nissan Versa. They had nothing to go on; Gore said that neither Hannah nor her captor was carrying a cellphone that could be tracked by law enforcement.

Ultimately, the pair was spotted in Idaho backcountry near Morehead Lake by a group of horseback riders, who then contacted the police.

Hannah was soaking her feet in water and DiMaggio was petting his cat Princess.

Mark John, a former Idaho county sheriff, said at a Sunday press conference in Boise that he spotted the pair while he was horseback riding with friends and he immediately realized something was amiss. The pair, he said, looked out of place in the wilderness, “like a square peg going into a round hole.”

Neither was carrying rain jackets or hiking boots, and they were only sporting light packs. It also looked like Hannah was wearing pajamas or track pants and tennis sneakers.

“They weren’t prepared for the wilderness,” said Gore. Gore said that DiMaggio was familiar with the area “but why he specifically went there we don’t know.”

Hours later, around 5 p.m., the group of horseback riders encountered the unprepared hikers again. This time, Hannah was soaking her feet in water and DiMaggio was petting his cat, Princess.

The following day, the police were called after one of the riders spotted Hannah on television. The big break enabled law enforcement to focus their giant manhunt on the southwest corner of the 3,600-square-mile roadless preserve known as the Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness. “The report from the hikers was the key event,” said Gore.

Video screenshot

Rider who spotted Anderson speaks of their encounter.

Things began to unravel quickly. On Friday, police found DiMaggio's car, hidden under brush. The next day, after a search plane was able to pinpoint the location of the campsite, two highly specialized FBI hostage teams carrying up to 100 pounds of tactical gear, traversed rocky terrain and brush, and found the campsite. FBI Assistant Special Agent Robert Howe told The Daily Beast that it took the team two hours to identify the spot. “There was no question that was their location,” he said.

DiMaggio was killed in a shootout at the campsite. During an interview after her abduction, Hannah told an FBI agent that DiMaggio had a rifle and fired at least one round at the team before getting shot himself. “She was in close proximity of DiMaggio when he was shot and killed,” said Gore. “As far as we know, DiMaggio fired his weapon first.”

At the press conference in San Diego on Monday, Gore said he would not discuss a motive for the abduction of Hannah and the double slayings of the Andersons. “We have a long way to go,” he said. “We might never know some of the answers. Sometimes you can’t come up with a rationale.”

Although police aren’t willing to speculate about DiMaggio’s mindset, DiMaggio’s friend, Andrew Spanswick, believes that DiMaggio was suicidal and his behavior may have been triggered by the anniversary of his father’s death. “I am convinced he had suicidal intent,” he said. “The day he died was the date his father committed suicide. It was 18 years to the day. He was very clearly reenacting the actions of his father. I predicted he was going to do something that day.”

Spanswick said DiMaggio’s father, James Everet DiMaggio, a meth addict with a violent criminal history, committed suicide by taking a large dose of meth and walking out into the desert. “The coroner said he died of dehydration,” he said.

Although the younger DiMaggio was “struggling,” Spanswick, who said he occasionally went camping with DiMaggio and DiMaggio’s brother-in-law, said he would never have predicted this.

Spanswick said that DiMaggio was a good guy. “He enjoyed going out,” he said. “He enjoyed family events. He was a pleasant, normal guy. He wasn’t verbose or quiet or withdrawn. He was a typical, normal guy. He was in the middle of the pack.”

He even saved Princess, the gray cat found with him in the wilderness, after she was run over outside his house last year. “He took her in and spent the last of his paycheck saving that cat,” said Spanswick.

Asked why DiMaggio may have brought the cat with him, Spanswick replied: “When someone is going to commit suicide often they take items meaningful to them with them. They will kill the animal first. It is pretty creepy.”

Why he went after the Anderson brood is especially puzzling.

“He knew the Andersons before Hannah was born,” said Spanswick. “He was a trusted friend.”

After Christina and Brett Anderson separated and Brett moved to Tennessee, DiMaggio agreed to help out and watch the children in his absence, according to The San Diego Tribune. He took Hannah to gymnastics practice and Ethan to football tryouts, wrote the paper. 

According to Spanswick, Brett as early as last week asked DiMaggio to teach his son how to shoot a rifle. “He trusted Jim implicitly,” he said. “I think a lot of people are feeling mixed emotions and guilt.”

However, there also were reports that DiMaggio acted inappropriately around Hannah. According to Hannah’s close friend Marissa Chavez, she was in the car with the two when DiMaggio allegedly said, “If you were my age I would want to date you.”

"After that,” Chavez told a San Diego television station, “she didn't want to be alone with him.”