Golf Saved My Life

After Being Kidnapped,
Golf Eased My Mind

October 2011

EDITOR'S NOTE: Reg Murphy served as president of the United States Golf Association in 1994 and 1995. Now 77, he recounts being kidnapped at age 40 when he was the editorial-page editor of the Atlanta Constitution.

In 1974, Atlanta was growing rapidly, and the heart of the city, or at least the connective tissue, was the newspaper. When I was at the Atlanta Constitution, one role of mine was to network with local figures. So it was not unusual when one day I received a call from a man looking to donate 300,000 gallons of heating oil. He was closing one business to start another and was hoping to get a substantial tax break. The man spoke pleasantly enough and asked if I could connect him with potential recipients. I checked with our accountants to confirm and estimate the tax implication and then lined up four candidates: three local universities and a children's hospital.

The man canceled our first meeting but called the next day -- Feb. 20 -- at dusk. He said he was heading to his lawyer's office to sign some papers and wanted me to go with him. I was at home but agreed to go. He drove a green Ford Torino, but my most vivid memory is of him standing at my front door. I'd later learn he was 33, but he looked older. He was medium height, like me, and stocky, but not intimidating, with close-cropped hair and a red face. He seemed agitated, and my instinct was to not let him in my house, especially with my 12-year-old daughter upstairs doing her homework. He kept prattling about the papers that needed to be signed, so I got in the passenger seat, and off we went.

At this hour there would still be law offices open downtown, but we weren't heading in that direction. "Hey," I said, "there aren't any law offices this way."

He was steering with his right hand, and with his left he leaned a handgun across his forearm, looked over, and said, "Mr. Murphy, you've been kidnapped."

He tossed a roll of white adhesive tape onto my lap and told me to cover my eyes. With the gun pointing at me, I did as I was told and applied three strips from temple to temple. A few minutes later the car stopped. He came around to my door and made me get out and stand still while he used rope to tie my wrists behind my back and then my ankles. Though I was blindfolded I knew that dusk had turned to night. I felt the gun prod my neck, my back and my legs as he fought the knots tight. He told me to get in the trunk. It was awkward and clumsy as I sat on the fender and tumbled in, him at once facilitating the effort and enjoying the physical pain he could inflict freely.

When I was in the trunk, he tied my wrists to my ankles behind me so that my body formed a reverse-C. This was very uncomfortable for my back. The trunk was shallow -- if I moved my head up even a few inches it hit the roof. I was breathing fast, but I was also trying to control my breath, trying not to panic.

We drove for hours. The trunk of a car isn't soundproof, so we spoke without raising our voices. He was a "colonel" in a militia he called the American Revolutionary Army. Its goal was to stop the lying of leftist newspapers in America, as well as eventually force all federal government officials to resign, and hold new elections. Two weeks before, in the most famous kidnapping case of the decade, newspaper heiress Patty Hearst, 20, had been abducted in Berkeley, Calif., by a leftist militant group calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army. My kidnapper, however, was far to the right. He was a bigot and disagreed vehemently with the anti-Vietnam stance of our "damn liberal" newspaper and all it had done to promote the civil-rights movement. He talked about his .38-caliber pistol and a lot about guns in general. His group practiced sniper tactics and other drills in the woods on weekends. He insisted that I address him as Colonel, and I believed it was prudent to humor this request.

Lying in the trunk, the bumps in the road shuddering the side of my skull, my eyelids and lashes painfully stuck to the tape, my mind wandered to Barbara Jane Mackle. My home was four miles from the Emory University campus, and it had been six years earlier that Mackle, a student at Emory and the daughter of a wealthy Florida real-estate developer, was kidnapped for ransom and buried underground in a plywood-and-fiberglass capsule with an air hose for 83 hours before being rescued. I prayed something so torturous was not in store for me.

We stopped. I heard dogs barking and a different man's voice say, "Don't let the dogs get him." Still tied and blindfolded, I was led into a building, stuffed under blankets and made to sleep in the narrow space between a wall and a bed. Sometime during the night I thought I heard the voices of children. I would learn later that the Colonel's real name was William Williams and that he was a drywall subcontractor and the father of two. As seemingly incomprehensible as it would've been to lead me blindfolded into his home or the home of a conspirator who had children, the Colonel's plan often seemed erratic. Before I was shoved between the bed and the wall, he dialed my colleague Jim Minter, managing editor at the Constitution, and held the receiver to my mouth so that I could tell Jim I'd been kidnapped. I was also made to record an audiotape saying that the ransom was $700,000 and summarizing several of the inanities held dear by the ARA. Knowing my wife and two daughters would likely hear this, I tried to sound very calm.

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