Last Night’s TV – Captive for 18 Years: The Jaycee Lee Story

jaycee lee

I missed this Cutting Edge film when it was on Channel 4 on Thursday, so I caught up with it on More 4 last night, and it made for harrowing and frustrating viewing.

Throughout the film, we heard the story from both the viewpoint of Carl Probyn, Jaycee Lee’s then step-father, and the police who dealt with the case. What transpired was a tale of missed opportunities, shoddy police work and, most movingly, the destructive impact Jaycee Lee’s disappearance had on Carl and his ex-wife Terry.

We all know the story so I don’t need to recap that, but that said, part of last night’s film re-enacted Carl’s role in witnessing and reporting 11 year old Jaycee Lee’s abduction. He immediately mobilised himself and his neighbours to try to get a “lock down” on the area, but the police didn’t do likewise, and Phillip and Nancy Garrido fled over 100 miles to Antioch in California, despite the fact that Carl had given an extremely accurate description of the car and Nancy Garrido.

carl probyn

Carl’s anger at how he was treated by the police and how they dealt with the case is clearly still very raw. When asked near the end of the film if he’d ever considered suicide because of the suspicion on him, and the fact that Jaycee Lee hadn’t been found for those eighteen years, he replied movingly, “Probably weekly.”

And his anger was and is justified, not least because, despite the fact that several children also witnessed the abduction, the finger – that finger being short of other suspects to point at – was pointed at Carl, and ultimately, it tore his marriage apart.

The strain of losing Jaycee and of Carl being considered a suspect made it nigh on impossible for Jaycee’s mother Terry to move on from the horrendous events of that sunny day in 1991, and as Carl said, “We had a great marriage; it’s just that our hearts got ripped out.”

Carl’s barely controlled rage at the incompetence of the police in the following eighteen years was justified too. We heard in the film how a neighbour of Garrido’s, who knew of his paedophile past, became concerned when she heard children playing in his backyard. She called the police – who were equally aware of Garrido’s criminal history – who duly sent an officer to “investigate.”

That officer didn’t go into Garrido’s labyrinthine yard, much less ask to look around the multitude of tents and outbuildings. If he had, Jaycee Lee and her two daughters would’ve been discovered then, in 2006.

When it eventually transpired that Jaycee had been there all along, Antioch’s sheriff announced, “Organisationally, we should’ve been more inquisitive and turned over a rock, or two.”

That incredible understatement left Carl again wholly understandably furious…

“The guy [Garrido] is a sleazeball! I can’t believe the police and probation department never saw him with two kids!

“Every cop in that town should’ve known a paedophile lived there and his track record…

“They said his yard was so well camouflaged… but you can go on Google Earth and see the whole house in ten seconds. It’s unbelievable!”

And Carl showed the screen shot of Garrido’s yard on Google Earth and he was absolutely right. The warren of tents and outbuildings was clear to see.

Ultimately, Phillip and Nancy Garrido were brought to the attention of the police after two female officers heard Phillip Garrido speaking at a meeting on the subject of his newly found religion – which included getting messages from God via a cardboard box – and became suspicious when he was accompanied by two young girls.

Garrido used the meeting to openly admit to his past criminal history as a rapist and paedophile, so the fact that two meek, pale girls were with him aroused those officers’ suspicions and they began to investigate. It was their investigation that eventually led to Phillip Garrido realising it was only a matter of time before he was caught, and Jaycee walked into a police station and told the officers there who she really was.

Carl said of those officers, “They’re my heroes, they did everything right.” But sadly, despite the fact that Jaycee had been found alive, there are many things that will not change for Carl.

He explained in the film that he felt “hurt” by the fact that Jaycee could’ve, at some point, gone to the police or escaped and put him, her mother and her family out of their seemingly unending misery. However, he acquiesced that Jaycee most probably had suffered what’s known as Stockholm Syndrome in which captives come to have some empathy and sympathy, and often love, for their abductor.

“They were a family there. She had babies” Carl said sadly as he discussed the fact that Phillip Garrido had fathered Jaycee’s children.

“Those little girls thought Jaycee was their big sister” Carl explained as we heard that the purported reason for kidnapping Jaycee was to have her bear the children Nancy Garrido could not.

During the film, we also heard from Katy, a woman who Garrido had abducted and repeatedly raped many years before. She was only rescued when a passing policeman spotted a broken lock on the warehouse she was being held in. When recounting her story, Katy said, “I have no doubt that if I hadn’t been found then, the outcome would be a lot different.”

The police had told her at the time that Garrido had in his possession something which they believed he’d intended to use to kill Katy. When asked what that was, she replied, “I don’t know, and I don’t want to know.”

Garrido was sentenced to fifty years imprisonment for his attack on Katy yet he served just ten of those years. He also tracked her down to where she was working as a croupier and promised that he would “see” her again. Katy had not been told Garrido was free, and as we now know, he soon went on to kidnap Jaycee Lee.

Katy also said that the police and Garrido’s probation officer had told her that they fully expected Garrido to re-offend and said that they were “onto him.” Obviously that was a hollow promise for if they had been, he would never have abducted Jaycee in the first place.

Neither Jaycee nor her mother Terry appeared in this film, but I suspect that’s simply because they’re important witnesses in the Garridos’ trial, and therefore, until that trial – which is expected sometime next year – they are most likely unable to comment publically on anything that happened during those tortuous eighteen years.

But what this Cutting Edge film made hugely obvious was that, yet again, someone who should’ve been behind bars was freed early to commit another heinous crime. It happens here too, and far too often. For instance, Roy Whiting, the paedophile who killed Sarah Payne had been imprisoned for four years – though he deserved far more – for the abduction and rape of a nine year old girl. He served only two and half of those years, leaving him free to kill Sarah Payne.

We hear time and time again the same story of someone being freed early from a previous conviction to then go on to commit the same, or worse, crimes. I wonder what it’s going to take to stop that happening again and again?

If the justice system – both here and anywhere else that frees prisoners early – started meaning life when they said life, or ten years when they said ten years – not four or five – we’d all be safer. Sarah Payne would still be alive and Jaycee Lee Dugard would’ve had a normal childhood instead of being kept as the sex slave and child bearer to Phillip Garrido.

I hope Carl can now move on with his life, and I hope he gets a personal apology from the police forces who let him, Terry and Jaycee down so horrifically badly.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.