‘Girl in bunker’ kidnapper and rapist found dead in prison cell

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Gustaf Kilander
·4 min read
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Vinson Filyaw was found dead in his cell in a South Carolina prison while serving his 421-year sentence.  (McCormick Correctional Institution)
Vinson Filyaw was found dead in his cell in a South Carolina prison while serving his 421-year sentence. (McCormick Correctional Institution)

Kidnapper and rapist Vinson Filyaw has died behind bars at the age of 51 while serving his 421-year prison sentence at the McCormick Correctional Institution in northwestern South Carolina. The cause of death has yet to be determined.

Filyaw was found dead in his cell on Monday, 15 years into his sentence for kidnapping, raping and torturing then-14-year-old Elizabeth Shoaf. The horrific ordeal went on for 10 days in 2006 as she was kept in an underground bunker in the woods before she was able to escape.

There were no immediate signs of foul play in Filyaw’s death and an autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death, The State newspaper reported.

Filyaw kidnapped Elizabeth in September 2006 after she came off her school bus. Filyaw jumped out from behind a bush wearing a shirt with a police emblem on it. Lying, he told her she was under arrest because her family had been growing marijuana, and put her in handcuffs.

He led her into the woods, raped her, and made her wear a necklace he said was laced with explosives. He told her that if she tried to escape he would blow her up and subsequently kill her younger brother.

After taking her deeper into the forest, he took her into a six-foot deep underground bunker he had built himself with a concealed door boobytrapped with explosives.

According to authorities, Filyaw had built another three bunkers around Kershaw County in northeastern South Carolina. The bunker where Elizabeth was kept had a well, a bed, a stove, a TV and an escape hatch.

At times during the 10 days, Filyaw allowed Elizabeth to play games on his cellphone. One night as Filyaw was asleep, she texted her mother from the cellphone, eventually leading authorities to the scene.

Filyaw fled when he realized the authorities were after him, which gave Elizabeth a chance to escape. When he was arrested, Filyaw was carrying a knife, a pellet gun and a pair of night-vision goggles.

Filyaw had put a chain around Elizabeth’s neck to prevent her from escaping. He told authorities that the motive was to exert revenge on the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office for allegedly wrongly accusing him of a sex crime.

Elizabeth’s mother said at the guilty plea hearing: “For 10 days we endured a hell we would not wish on any other family. Our innocent child was subjected to torment and abuse and placed in a world she did not deserve.”

Defence lawyer Jack Duncan said on Monday: “It’s the longest specific sentence, I think, in South Carolina history.”

Prosecutor Barney Giese told The State: “He was a bad guy, as bad as you can get without killing anybody.”

“He got 421 years and deserved every day of it,” Mr Giese added.

Sentences for different crimes, such as kidnapping, rape, impersonating a law enforcement officer, and many others, were stacked on top of each other to arrive at the sentence of more than four centuries in prison. Filyaw’s release date would have been in the year 2353.

At the September 2007 sentencing, judge Thomas Cooper told Filyaw: “You have preyed upon helpless victims with violence and in a savage manner.”

In 2013, at the age of 21, Elizabeth Shoaf told WIS: “I just didn’t know what to do. Just scared I was going to die. Most people do.”

“Day to day life was wake up, get assaulted... He sexually assaulted me many times throughout the day,” she said.

“I feel normal. I go to work, come home, play video games, hang out with friends on the weekends. It helps me not think about it and feel like I’m living a normal life,” she added.

She said her way out was gaining his trust by pretending she “enjoyed the sexual assault”. She said she would “tell him I loved him and I want to run away with him. I then wasn’t chained up at night to got to sleep. The sexual assault wasn’t as violent and he wasn’t yelling at me and threatening me 24/7”.

She added: “I had to sit there and watch my family on the news. Each time WIS came on I got to see my mom and dad crying, begging to see me. It was more or less torture. I never had a break.”