TO TERRIFYING DEGREE, JAMES DIMAGGIO WAS NOT WHAT HE SEEMED

Georgie Anne Geyer

WASHINGTON -- When devious kidnapper James Lee DiMaggio's luck ran out last weekend, he must have really felt the evil eye working over him and his beautiful victim.

First, the two of them head way the devil out into an Idaho wilderness called the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. Just the very name would set me to sending up prayers and smoke signals to get me out of that place!

Then they were facing this wilderness -- a vast emptiness inhabited only by scrub, steep cliffs and an occasional freezing-cold lake -- with a new tent, tennis shoes and light clothing. Anybody coming upon two obvious "dudes" like that would just naturally wonder what their game was.

Third, when the 40-year-old DiMaggio and his captive, 16-year-old Hannah Anderson, did suddenly meet two couples on horseback, one man of them turned out to be an ex-sheriff. All four were Idaho ranchers and well-armed. No Mother Teresas up there.

Fourth, the four riders were smart about the ways of the mountains -- and just about everything else. To the ex-sheriff, Mark John, the man and woman just didn't look right. "He might have been an outdoorsman in California," he said afterward on television, shaking his head, "but he was not an outdoorsman in Idaho."

Finally, the women on horseback were perspicacious and intuitive. Mary John overheard Hannah Anderson turn away and say, "Looks like we're all in trouble now." Such odd words, almost indicating that she could have been complicit in the abduction, even though at home she considered DiMaggio's attentions "creepy."

But the drama did not end there. Based on the horseback riders' tip, an FBI hostage rescue team flew over the area and spotted the two. But because of the steep mountains, the helicopters could drop off the team only a two-hours walk away.

It ended, as they would say in the movie version, in the only way it could have ended. The FBI men closed in, caught DiMaggio and shot him dead. Hannah was flown out on a helicopter and reunited with her father on Sunday.

But one still cannot feel that this case is anywhere near ended. For of all the murders, kidnappings, runaways and street shootings that we see emblazoned in our press this summer, this case is one of the most complex.

We know that it began when DiMaggio, considered a close friend of the family of Brett and Christina Anderson, and even a kind of "uncle" to Hannah and her 8-year-old brother Ethan, burned down his own house in San Diego with Christina and Ethan inside it and abducted Hannah. As for Brett, separated from Christina and living in Tennessee, he said afterward in his mourning that he had never seen any signs of problems with DiMaggio.

And yet, it now comes out that DiMaggio's father actually set the pattern for his son. His father also kidnapped a 16-year-old girl, the daughter of a friend, went to jail briefly and then committed suicide 15 years ago on the very date that his son was shot by the FBI on Saturday.

Such a strange case. Not only blood and murder but the very fires of hell. Not only abduction but unanswered questions about the attractions involved. Not only the fruits of friendship but the burdens of betrayal.

If we are to learn any lessons, they may come later, or perhaps they may come not at all. But one has to be impressed with the FBI and with the local lawmen. As in the Boston massacre, the FBI work has been utterly remarkable. One feels the bureau has truly begun mastering the modern age of crime.

Also interesting was the difference between what men saw and what women saw. The men on horseback saw palpable things. The women saw the looks on Hannah's and DiMaggio's faces and, indeed, everything about them as people. This is woman's intuition, if I have ever seen it -- and, remember, intuition comes before action.

Finally, perhaps we should be more careful about taking people at their word. We are no longer a small, cozy citizenry. We are a great, but now dispersed, country where people do not know one another and where they keep their secrets. Until they don't.


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