Tag Archives: kidnapping

Is a blood choke a safe, reliable and effective way of knocking someone out temporarily?

There’s no real “safe, reliable way” to knock someone out that’s not in controlled circumstances. A blood choke like the triangle choke where the elbow wraps around the neck to cut off blood supply to the brain will knock someone out very quickly, but it will also kill them. It happens very quickly, so the margin for error ends up being a matter of seconds. In the heat of the moment, too much relies on aggressor’s discretion and their enemy’s physiology. The brain needs blood to function, if the flow of blood suddenly stops then the brain can no longer work and it shuts down. This is what causes the knock out, but knocking someone out is basically putting them in a coma and one step away from death.

The same is true of oxygen deprivation. When you choke someone, you’re strangling them. You’re cutting off oxygen to the brain by obstructing their ability to breathe. Many chokes apply direct pressure to  windpipe by squeezing with the hands or crushing with the forearm. The techniques always risk permanent damage to the windpipe and to the brain.

In a controlled environment like a martial arts match or a UFC bout where there are referees keeping careful watch on the contestants and are ready to leap in at a moment’s notice if something goes wrong (and the contestants are given the option to tap out before they pass out), this isn’t as much of an issue. The same is true of the Army and the Marines who both teach choke holds, including a more deadly variation on the triangle choke, because they are effective techniques in situations where the survival of the enemy isn’t an issue. Police in the United States used to love choke holds because they are very effective, the reason they aren’t used anymore is because policemen who used the techniques accidentally killed a great many suspects while subduing them. (The same is becoming true of Tazers. Yes, freaking out someone’s nervous system with electricity can in fact kill them.)

Drugs, in the controlled environment of a hospital they work very well, in a combat situation where you can’t control all the variables not so much. There’s also considerations like body weight, height, and resistances to various drugs that vary from person to person. Unfortunately, there are no one size fits all drug types and in a combat situation too many things can go wrong for it to be reliable. Add to that, any time you put someone under there’s a chance they won’t wake back up or will wake up with real brain damage and it just isn’t a viable solution.

This is all before we get to the issues of moving the body. Moving an unconscious person is a lot like moving a corpse (except they could wake up and, while you can guesstimate, you don’t know for certain when that will be). While putting someone over your shoulder in a fireman’s carry works, it’s incredibly aggravating and terribly obvious. Dragging the body is slow and cumbersome, while carrying it with two is awkward. If you saw a pair of guys in black dragging an unconscious body into the back of a black van, you’d probably call the police. On the other hand,if you saw a nicely dressed man putting an obviously drunk twenty something into the back of a taxi cab, you might not question it as quickly.

Whether it’s a hold up on heroes sneaking around a government facility or a snatch and grab off the street, it’s much more viable to make your target move themselves. Kidnappers don’t have fifteen to twenty minutes to exit a scene, they have five. They’re moving fast. This means disorienting their target and using the fear, shock, and trauma of being kidnapped to force them to move. Whether it’s getting hit with the butt of the rifle, a black bag and handcuffs, or getting dosed with an animal tranquilizer (or date rape drug like rohypnol), it’s much more viable to put them in a condition where they can’t struggle or fight back and make the target carry themselves.

I do understand the dilemma here. We’ve been conditioned by countless action movies to believe that a knockout is an easy out. The enemy cracks the character over the back of the head and we change scene. Unfortunately, (and if you look at most movies that deal with realistic kidnapping like Man on Fire, you’ll notice a change in tone) this isn’t how it actually works. The goal of a kidnapping is going to be extracting them alive and scared, but relatively undamaged. You’re taking them because they are valuable to someone (whether it’s for ransom or for sale is less relevant). Anything that jeopardizes that ultimate goal is going to be off the table for a professional. If you’re writing an amateur kidnapper, they may go for a knockout because “that’s how it works in the movies”.

In Hollywood and some books, knockouts have become sort of a “free pass” for badasses. The badass gets to do all the fancy tricks and cool moves but can also get the “good person cred” of not killing anyone. It’s a “have your cake and eat it too” bit where the author handwaves the violence and doesn’t deal with the consequences. It’s in the same range of heroes shooting arrows and bullets through joints and going “Ha! See! I’m super skilled and I don’t have to kill!” but avoids the obvious part about CRIPPLING THEM FOR LIFE!

This isn’t to say you can’t go with it but just remember, no matter what your hero does, if they are using violence then they are always running the risk of killing someone. This is especially true when harming vital organs or the brain.

Seriously.

-Michi

could you write something on kidnapping for information?

If you haven’t yet, I’d start here, and follow with this.

We never got into actually talking about grabbing someone for information, but the basic idea is still the same. Your kidnappers need to go through all the steps necessary to grab someone, but they don’t need to worry about ever releasing or ransoming the victim. The other difference is the victim is the most important part of the equation (for the kidnappers), unlike in a conventional kidnapping for money, where they’re just a bargaining chip.

They’ll also need a way to break the victim. The simplest answer, “grab a crowbar and go to town” doesn’t actually work. Torture isn’t a means to obtain information. So, as I said in the interrogation answer, this is going to be about talking the character around.

Also, it’s worth pointing out that Sodium Pentothol does exist. But, it’s just a barbiturate, not truth serum. So while it will sedate someone, and make them easier to hold and transport, it won’t actually make them spill their guts. Also, in larger doses, it’s used in lethal injections. So, that fine line between stoned off their ass and dead, is an issue.

-Starke

You don’t need to answer this but I want to thank you for taking the time to walk me through the kidnapping thing! actually, it’s the kidnapper’s girlfriend, not the victim’s, who’s there who the kidnapper is avoiding to kill (it’s a complicated situation… and pronouns can be confusing sometimes sorry), but the situation is sort of like a Taken thing, where there is a system in place but it’s opportunistic. thanks so much though! sorry for all of the dumb questions I’m so embarrassed

Don’t be. What you’re doing right now is learning how to think, how to feel, how to plot, and how to plan from a perspective that is not your own. It’s a difficult thing to learn to see through the eyes of a career criminal because what they are willing to do and what you may be willing to do in real life are (quite literally) world’s apart. It’s fine if it doesn’t come naturally (and also fine for those out there whom it does). It is an important concept to start grasping and sometimes you need some help.

But since this is your antagonist and your antagonist (not your hero) is the backbone of the story through which all the actions revolve around, it’s important that those actions make sense and more importantly that they ring true to shared human experience. For someone who has never had to think this way, it can be very uncomfortable.

It’s also worth noting that while the kidnappers in Taken are opportunistic, their decision to take the girls is not a random snatch and grab. The tell comes from the handsome young man at the airport, who is the acting forward scout perusing and befriending potential victims (in this case young women traveling alone in a foreign country), when one of the girls gives him the address of where she’s staying and admits that they will be alone (in hopes of some vacation sex), their fate is sealed. The girls are identified and the kidnapping is planned in advance.

There are a few primary factors for why these girls were chosen:

1) They were naive enough to give away the place they were staying to a complete stranger.

2) They were traveling alone in a foreign country and because of that, it would be more difficult for the police to search for them as no one knows who they are and they are already busy enough dealing with local crimes.

3) There were no obvious signs of protection (in this case, due to the kidnapper’s religion and background, men) and because the family they were staying with was out of town, it was likely that no one would notice if they went missing until the girls were already across several borders.

All these things, information the man at the airport charms out of one of the girls, is the logic behind for their kidnapping and the setup for what’s going to happen in the story. The movie isn’t exactly coy about how one thing leads to another, but I also understand how that could be easy to miss as it’s not spelled out. (We do see the man at the airport chatting up another woman and playing the same gag when Liam Neeson jumps him for information.) If any of these things had been out of place or the girls in question had simply not fallen for the man at the airport’s charms, then the kidnapping would not have occurred. If Liam Neeson’s character had been traveling with the girls at the time, the kidnapping would not have occurred. But he wasn’t there and at the time, in the minds of the kidnappers, the threats he gave were empty ones because he was in a different country.

A career criminal doesn’t waste time and energy on unknown quantities if they don’t have to and they don’t usually have to. An airport is a logical place to scout for targets of a kidnapping and if those girls hadn’t fit the bill then there would have been several hundred others getting off different planes who might have made for good targets.

The most important skill you will ever develop as a writer is learning to identify and show to the reader: why these people? Why them? Why now? It’s not enough that the reason just be that they are your characters, there needs to be an underlying logic that works both in context of the overarching narrative and jives with the person (in this case the kidnapper) who is making the decisions. If you want your characters to come alive, then they have to seem human (or relateable) and we do that through human behavior. This particular logic isn’t savory and it’s a little difficult to develop, but you’re only just beginning. Through practice and dedication, you will improve and you were brave enough to ask the questions to begin with which is a sign of courage all on it’s own. Inexperience is not stupidity, don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

-Michi

sorry for the convoluted ask from before… i guess, in brief, i’m just wondering what would be the fastest way to incapacitate someone (in order to kidnap them)? like, without the knowledge of pressure points, what would be the most effective way? thanks.

For the two witnesses? Your kidnapper would kill them. He might shoot them in the head, and drag the victim off at gunpoint. He might shank the male friend first, then the love interest, then grab the victim.

When it comes to dragging someone around, it’s actually easier if your character avoids incapacitating them, and relies on the shock of watching their friends die to keep them manageable.

The short version is, if you have a character who’s willing to drag someone off the street, and threaten to kill them over money, they’re not going to have any qualms about killing someone who got in their way.

More than that, your kidnapper does not have a choice. While he can probably overpower your ex-military character, he can’t do anything to him that will keep him out of the fight long enough to get away, short of crippling or killing him. If he cripples him, then the cops will have information on who took the victim. The same goes for the girlfriend. I’m sorry, but, if you’re committed to the whole kidnapping thing, those characters need to either die, or never be be there to begin with.

For the entire scenario, killing those characters isn’t a bad thing. It throws the reader for a loop. Carries over a real sense of threat. And, if they’re actually compelling characters, their deaths aren’t the end of those characters, as your protagonist, and the other people in their lives, deals with their loss. The first couple hours of Deus Ex: Human Revolution can give you a pretty solid toybox to play with, for how this can effect every character in your story.

But, in your kidnapper, you’re playing with a character who cannot afford to screw around. You can’t defang the situation, or play it non-lethally. People in situations like this can, and do, die.

Also, and I’ll say this again, kidnappings are not spur of the moment. For the situation to be credible, your kidnapper needs to have planned this out ahead of time. They need to know who they’re grabbing. They need a way to get them to someplace they control quickly.

Grabbing some random guy off the street who looks like that one rich, famous guy, won’t play, because what if it’s not them, just someone who looks like them. And now your character has egg on his face, because it’s the wrong guy and there’s still bodies on the pavement.

The only time you can have opportunistic kidnappings is if the victim is being sold to a third party. Like Taken and Spartan. And, both of those films only work because the kidnappers have a system in place, that’s just waiting. But, even if your kidnappers are running it as a revolving door, they’re still going to need to know who they’re grabbing, and they’ll have their methods worked out.

I’m sorry. Kidnapping people off the street is very serious business. It’s not something you can distil down to Saturday morning cartoon villainy without doing a disservice to the real victims of human trafficking.

-Starke

What would you say is the most effective way to kidnap a character? it’s spur of the moment. the kidnapper is a strong man with training (but no weapon) and his victim, who does get captured, is a much physically weaker man. there are two witnesses who try to intervene: one with military training (though not as much as the kidnapper) and the other is the kidnapper’s lover, who attempts to stop him. how could the kidnapper incapacitate them all before the police arrives? thanks so much!

Okay, there’s actually an issue in here, so let’s step back and talk about professional criminals for a second. Criminal activity is their job, and they need to approach their life with a risk vs. reward analysis for nearly everything they do. They’ll work together and network with other professionals. This isn’t altruistic, just an understanding that they need to work with other people to achieve their goals. They don’t need to like the people they’re working with, but, if they all still have a shared goal, they will. Most understand how planning and advance setup can help reduce the risks involved in their profession.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s talk about the crime. A kidnapping is not something you do spur of the moment. It’s a difficult criminal operation, involving a lot of moving pieces, any one of which can scuttle the whole operation after the team is committed.

Your criminal will need a team backing them up. They’ll need to have a way to grab and extract the victim, a place to hold them, a way to keep them alive and under guard while negotiating, a communications method that can’t be traced back to them, and a method to retrieve the ransom. Some of that can be dispensed, if they have no intention of returning the victim alive, or ransoming them at all.

Grabbing the victim is a little situational, but the difference between a successful extraction and a botched bloodbath is advance planning. Ideally your team needs to be able to grab the victim without leaving any witnesses behind. This is trickier than it sounds, because they can’t actually kill the person they’re intending to ransom the victim back to. Ideally this means picking a time when the victim and the victim’s relative/friend/whatever are at separate locations. If that’s not possible, the team will need a very delicate touch.

If the person paying the ransom dies, then the operation’s over, and the criminals have a corpse and nothing else to show for a lot of wasted effort. In some situations, they might be able to salvage the situation, by ransoming the victim to a new buyer, but that is an extreme long shot.

In a well run kidnapping, once the victim has been taken, they’re fairly unimportant to the criminals. They need to be kept alive, and they can’t be allowed to escape. But, they’re not the kidnappers’ focus. At this point, they’re going to be more interested in getting person paying the ransom to do what they’re told.

The other side of it is, with the extraction itself, your criminal will not want to leave witnesses. If they’re not the ones the kidnappers are planning ransom the victim back to, they’ll have no incentive to leave the witnesses breathing. Killing them sends a clear message that the victim is in serious peril, and it discourages the person paying the ransom from screwing around.

What this means is, your kidnapper isn’t going to grab someone “spur of the moment”. If he decides “now’s the time”, it’s because he was already planning to grab them. Also, there’s a very real risk he’ll simply kill your other characters. Best case the police don’t even realize there’s been a kidnapping, and worst case, they’re no closer to identifying the kidnappers. As opposed to the police now having at least a physical description of one member of the crew. So, I guess the real answer to your question is: two shots to the chest, one to the head.

As a quick aside, if his plan is to force one of the characters to do his bidding, he might just grab them all, and release the one he intends to use as a pawn later, and keep the others as hostages.

Once they’ve got their victim, there’s the question of what they want. If the goal is money, then we’re talking about a ransom, and there’s a lot of literature on the subject. If they’re wanting to force someone else to do what they want, they’ll need the ability to micromanage that person’s actions. Usually we’re talking some kind of communications setup with the pawn, but surveillance isn’t out of the question. If the objective is information, then everything gets a little messed up. I’ll stick a pin in that for later, partially because a discussion on interrogation and torture will rate a trigger warning.

Spartan, the first season of 24, Man on Fire (2004), and Taken should all give you some insight into the kinds of people you’re dealing with. 24 opens with using captives to force the protagonist to do their bidding, and the first 12 hours are really good. Man on Fire (2004), is a kidnapping for money. Taken and Spartan both deal with selling captives into sex slavery, which is something I just glazed right over. Both films illustrate how this particular form of kidnapping operates in a more opportunistic assembly line nature, because of how they’re generating income.

For some additional insight on professional criminals, I’ll keep recommending Heat until you watch it. Ronin and Reservoir Dogs are also worth watching. Technically Ronin is dealing with former spies who’ve become mercenaries, but the same principles apply. Ronin also has the benefit of actually being a smash and grab operation, even though the target is an attaché case, and not a person.

-Starke

I have seven teenagers against five well-trained, enormous, agressive men that double their size. The teenagers are 14 years old and have a very basic training on self-defense. The men attempt to kidnap them. How should the kids proceed? What’s their best chance? They have 5 minutes until help comes. I guess there will be some broken bones, isn’t it?

Unfortunately for you, five minutes is more than enough time for five well-trained men to capture seven teenagers with rudimentary training, especially if they have them cornered with nowhere to run. Self-defense training is meant to prepare one to face untrained assailants, not professional kidnappers, soldiers, and ex-special forces washouts.

The problem is that if they are kidnappers, then they are likely professionals and that means they are looking to extort something from them or their parents. They’ll have already chosen their targets and it’s unlikely to be a random chance event, instead it’ll be a premeditated targeting. This drastically reduces the teens chances of escape. They definitely won’t be able to hold them off. The men will be better at incapacitating them than they will be at holding them off.

The kidnappers will probably be carrying tasers and cans of mace for the express purpose of capturing the teens as quickly and efficiently as possible. Because the men are trained, they will work together regardless of their personal feelings with a focus on their goal. You won’t be able to break them up the same way you can with amateurs. These are professionals, they’ll have a game plan and several backups before they attack. They will be quick and efficient. Their preference will probably be to keep the teens alive, but that can go downhill quickly if they face serious resistance.

Now, much of the sequence is going to depend on where they are and who the five men are after. Do they have a specific target among the seven teens? Are their faces visible (if they can be identified, it’s likely that none of the teens will survive if they are taken)? What do they plan to do with the teens once they have them? Are they taking all seven or are some expendable, if so, which ones? If the kids give them problems, they may have to make some very harsh choices about who lives and who dies, who is expendable and who is not. If they are being taken to extort the parents, then it’s likely they will be handled more gently. If they are being taken for the slave trade, then the early troublemakers will probably be killed.

Assuming they are willing to incapacitate all the children (instead of killing a few) and have a vehicle close by, it’s a question of who they decide to take with them.

Run and hide is the teens best chance, if they stand and fight they are doomed. There aren’t enough of them to take on all five, especially not if the five are working together with a goal to capture only one or two of them. If they are capable of thinking on their feet, grabbing some sort of makeshift weapon is a good idea. What that weapon is will depend on what’s available for them to grab. So, think through your setting.

A few might try to be brave, but it’s the well-trained part, beyond enormous and aggressive that’s going to get the teens in serious trouble. Well-trained will mean that the men are good at working together, it means that they will be able to dispatch or incapacitate most of the teens in less than a few minutes, if not in a few moves. Ironically, the ones who put up the most fight will be dealt with first and harshly to make an example to the others. Because they are pressed for time (they may not know how much time, but they’ll know the kids have to be taken quickly) this may lead to them being sloppy and more likely to remove the troublesome ones. After all, seven are nice, but you don’t need them all for a payday. It would be best if no one got hurt, but if the kids push, it’s likely that someone will.

How to Survive a Kidnapping: take a look at this article

A Look at Kidnapping through the Lens of Protective Intelligence

Man on Fire both the books and the movie with Denzel Washington are worth looking at for how kidnappers operate.

Taken: I don’t recommend this Liam Neeson movie for the combat (it’s not bad, just not right for his SAS background), but it’s a good look at how kidnappers operate especially in the sex trafficking trade.

I also recommend watching the Burn Notice episode, Hard Bargain. In the meantime, check out the IMDB quotes page for the episode though this one happens to be my favorite. Burn Notice has a few great episodes dealing with kidnappers. Here are a few good quotes:

Michael Westen: [voice-over] A kidnapping is a business deal. The bad guys have negotiating power since they’re selling the life of a loved one. But then again, they have a market of one, so they *have* to work with you.

Michael Westen: [voice-over] About forty percent of kidnapping victims are released safely. These statistics are affected by a number of factors, including the nationality of the kidnappers, the age of the victim, and whether a hostage negotiator is employed.

Nick Lam: I can’t do this, man! What’s the point? They want, like, five million bucks!

Michael Westen: [voice-over] The odds go down sharply if no one has any money to pay the ransom.

The downside for your characters is that these kidnappers have a market of seven, they can stand to lose a few.

The question is, what do you want out of this scene? I personally would play it as a chase scene, possibly one told from the perspectives of a few different teens as they try to run and hide from the men who are trying to take them. A few will probably escape, because there’s not enough time for a prolonged chase and the kidnappers won’t want to spend too much time trying to track them all down. They’ll cut their losses early. However, the ones who try to stay and fight will most assuredly be captured, some perhaps killed. You can however have a very tense sequence that tips the audience off to the characters having good survival instincts and show that they are capable of thinking on their feet.

The big money is on what their lives are worth. Not to you or the reader, but to their parents and guardians.

-Michi