A North Carolina girl vanished from her bedroom — and a ransom note was one of the only clues left behind, officials said.
But it was all part of a fake kidnapping plot involving a former Fort Bragg soldier, according to federal prosecutors.
James Murdoch Peele, 21, was stationed at the U.S. Army base in October 2018 when he was accused of bringing the 12-year-old to his barracks and taking her to meet his parents.
Now, he is going to prison on a charge of “transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity” in connection with the case, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina said Tuesday in a news release.
An attorney for Peele didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
When the girl disappeared in 2018, her grandmother and investigators found an open window and “mulch from a flower bed” inside her New Bern home, prosecutors said.
Investigators used Facebook to link the girl to Peele, and the FBI tracked the two of them to his Fort Bragg barracks the same day she was reported missing, according to federal officials.
On the day of the girl’s staged kidnapping, Peele drove her to South Carolina, where “he introduced the 12-year-old to his parents as his girlfriend,” prosecutors said. When the two got back to Fort Bragg, he is accused of asking “his roommate to turn up his music, which the roommate understood to mean that Peele planned to have sex with the girl behind a sheet that had been hung across the room for privacy.”
The former soldier later said he wrote a $20,000 ransom note as part of the girl’s bogus abduction, according to officials.
“Peele claimed that he believed the victim was 18 years old, but he admitted that he saw her at a sleepover with friends who looked very young, including one girl whose age he had seen to be 12 years old,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
A friend reportedly told investigators Peele had once asked for a ride to visit the girl and was told to park outside a vacant home.
“The friend also entered the room and became concerned about the girl’s age after noticing childlike décor, including middle school photographs and a hamster,” prosecutors said. “The friend explained to investigators that he had become disgusted and left the room when Peele and the minor began kissing.”
Peele pleaded guilty in June and was sentenced this week to more than 12 years in prison, a spokesperson told McClatchy News.