One of the saddest realities of criminal history is that notorious killers often claim the identities of their victims. These unfortunate human beings became immortalized only as part of the supporting cast for their killer’s infamous biography. Lisa Noland (nee McVey) is an exception to this rule. She was the last victim of the serial killer, Bobbie Joe Long. A woman of remarkable, courage, intelligence and tenacity, Nolan had endured a life of abuse long before she was abducted. In fact, Noland claims she wrote a suicide note on the day was abducted. When she faced the reality of being killed, however, she changed her perspective and used the street smarts she had acquired during her years of abuse in order to survive.
The world of modern self-protection training contains of a myriad of different opinions and principles. Once we get past the charlatans, the deluded, the cults and even the well-meaning by-product myth disciples, we are left with a mixture of varied approaches. It has often been my mission to glean common constants found amongst the best disparate teachers. This ever-growing and also greying pool of knowledge and experience comes from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, all with their own slant on strategies and tactics for dealing with modern civilian violence. However, the vast majority speak from being in the position of an enforcer of some description. The military, law enforcement and security personnel are employed to enter into an affray. Others who don’t have backgrounds in professions that are directly involved in stopping violence, but are no lesser self-protection teachers, often have a background in practical fighting systems. Although they will often be put into a situation where they need to defend themselves and certainly put themselves up to be likely targets for violence, they are rarely in what one might call a victim position. Yet they provide the body of information out there for the average vulnerable-feeling citizen to access.
Lisa Noland’s case provides us with something different. Noland escaped her killer and was instrumental in bringing him to justice. She later became a law enforcement officer and today she says she applies all she has learnt through life to her profession. Her story has been told on an episode of “I Survived…” and also Crime and Investigation Channel’s “I Escaped my Killer”. The latter show provides anyone with a genuine interest in self-protection with insights into what worked for individuals who were specifically targeted as vulnerable people for violence.
“I Escaped my Killer” moves back and forth in time between the history of the police investigation into a serial killer and the individual case of the victim who escaped. In Noland’s episode she tells us how she, at 17 years of age, was abducted on her bicycle ride home after pulling a shift at work that had ended at 2 a.m. She was blindfolded, bound and bundled into a car to be taken back to the killer’s home.
When she was at Bobbie Long’s home, Noland was subjected to a series of brutal sexual assaults and raped several times. However, throughout the whole ordeal Noland drew upon her life experiences to placate and pacify her abuser. She worked hard to establish a bond with Long, working hard not to arouse his temper, which he revealed on several occasions. Whilst doing this, she took opportunities to memorize details of his car – both its exterior and interior. For example, the dashboard had “Magnum” embossed. It was 1984 and “Magnum P.I.” was a popular action series on at the time. Noland drew a mental connection between them. She also did her best to memorize their journey in the car. Despite being blindfolded the whole time, Noland did her best to peak under the blindfold. This was achieved by her tensing up of her facial muscles when Long first put it on her, which allowed it become loose once she relaxed. She also relied on her other senses to best record information. She felt the carpet texture in the car. And taking an opportunity when she felt she had won her tormentor’s trust, she touched his face, picking up the outline of his thin eyebrows, thin moustache and the pockmarks on his face. She also ensured she got her fingerprints on as many places as possible in Long’s bathroom when she asked to use his toilet.
As Noland built up her trust with Long, the killer started to become internally tormented by his decision regarding her fate. Noland says she never knew why Long did not kill her, but she created a story about a sick father who she had to care for back at her home. In reality, Noland had suffered abuse since the age of two. She had a drug addicted, alcoholic mother who ended up on the streets. At age 14 she went to live with a relative who she said had a boyfriend who sexually and violently abused her. It is quite understandable why Noland would feel suicidal. Now, once she had made the decision that she did want to live and also bring her current abuser to justice, she applied everything she had learned in her tragic life. She created a plausible yet fantastic solution for Long. She would be his boyfriend. No one need know how they met or what had occurred, she told him. In the end, Long simply dropped her off.
The information Noland provided to the police enabled them to not only locate, find and convict Long for the offences he committed against Noland, but to also connected him to the Tampa Bay serial killings. To date, Bobbie Joe Long is thought to have murdered at least 10 women in Florida. Prior to becoming a serial killer, Long was known as the “Adman Rapist”. He has admitted to raping 50 women. For his many crimes, Long has one five-year sentence, four 99-year sentences, 28 life sentences and one death sentence.
Lisa Noland does not know why Long did not kill her, but her description of the tactics she used implies that she feels her placation contributed to him making this decision. The biggest challenge to my own view on self-protection provided by Lisa Noland is that she did not advocate self-defence as a tactic. From her experiences, taken from a lifetime of abuse, fighting back against a strong predator only resulted in a more severe beatings and the threat of death. Only by playing a longer game of allowing her abuser to get his own way for the time being, did Noland see a chance of reducing the damage that might be inflicted upon her.
A few factors might be brought into this argument before we accept Noland’s belief that her tactics ensured her survival. Firstly, many serial killers become reckless or self-destructive towards the end of their careers. Sometimes this becomes something that criminologist Martin Fido calls the “fugue”. This period is marked by killings and attacks occurring closer together with the killer becoming ever more careless in his crimes, resulting in easier detection. With this in mind, it could be argued that Long subconsciously wanted to be caught, which is not uncommon in serial killers. When he switched from serial rape to serial murder, his crimes were very close together. He murdered over a six month period.
Billie Long wasn’t the first serial killer to kidnap a victim and then decide to let them go, resulting in their capture. Indeed, the series “I Escaped my Killer” is based on this premise. The “Vampire of Düsseldorf” Peter Kürten decided to let Maria Butlies go despite having taken her back to his apartment. He was later apprehended by the police when Butlies led them to his home. There are various distorted accounts of this story, which are probably the result “pulp non-fiction” books written about Kürten’s crimes. However, the best evidence suggests that Butlies allowed Kürten to rape her for the same reason that Noland allowed Long to rape her. However, when Kürten attempted to strangle her she fought back. This action, along with Butlies’ ability to convince Kürten she didn’t know where he lived, was enough to dissuade the killer from not murdering her. Was Butlies’ non-resistance to being raped contributory to Kürten having a changing of heart or was Butlies’ fighting back when he put his hand on her throat the deciding factor?
The issue regarding fighting back is surprisingly quite evenly divided outside of the self-protection world. Victims, criminals and criminal psychologists alike argue on both sides. Many killers and rapists have said that they have caused more harm to their victims purely because they fought back. However, there have been many instances where individuals have behaved passively and still ended up seriously injured or killed. For every example where an individual has not physically fought back and survived an assault, there is an instance where someone has fought back successfully.
Take the recent killing of Neal Falls, a suspected interstate serial killer, who had his gun turned on him by the unnamed escort he threatened. Upon arriving at her house, Falls grabbed the escort and threatened her with a gun with the words, “Live or die?” The escort was another example of a woman who claimed to have endured abuse at the hands of men, claiming she had fought them her whole life. Falls apparently told her that he would be calling the shots and dragged her around the house. She picked up a rake and Falls put his gun down to take the rake off her, seeing her moment the woman went for the gun and shot him dead. Police later found a “killer’s toolkit” in the boot of his car and various other incriminating evidence that linking Falls to a series of interstate rape/murders.
The second episode of “I Escaped my Killer” featured Jennifer Asbenson’s escape from serial killer, Andrew Uridiales. Uridiales had given the 18 year old care-giver a ride to work on 27 September 1992. He later picked her up from work, bound her, brutally assaulted her and put her in the boot of his car. He drove her out to the desert, where he presumably wished to kill her. Asbenson had remained passive throughout the assault and even conceded to tell him that she loved him when he forced her. This did not assuage his fury and he choked her into unconsciousness. Whilst in the boot of the car, Asbenson broke her bonds and worked to free herself from the boot of the car. Uridiales went to check on the boot, but didn’t suspect anything. When Asbenson saw her opportunity she made a break for it and ran with Uridiales in pursuit waving a machete. Her first attempt to get help from a couple driving past was unsuccessful, but she was eventually rescued. Unfortunately Uridiales got away and he went onto kill four more times until he was finaly caught in 1996, where Jennifer Asbenson would face him once more in court. A different set of circumstances and a different type of killer led Asbenson to make the decisions that most probably saved her life.
Unsurprisingly, being a self-protection teacher, I advocate a fight back attitude. When all options to stop an assault have been exhausted or bypassed due to a momentary lack of awareness, I teach proactive hard skills. Compliance and negotiation are certainly valid options in the pre-fight stage when the person threatens violence and wants a material item. However, when it comes to something like abduction or rape, the victim is conceding to a more vulnerable position. Besides, the victim is putting trust in an individual who has done everything to display they cannot be trusted.
That all seems quite straightforward and conveniently martial arty neat doesn’t it? However, if there is one thing I have learnt about life and the story of self-protection, there are no rules. Everything in self-protection is a judgement call and every situation is different. We do our best to categorize types of human predators and criminals, but there is always far too many who don’t squarely fit the profile. Despite my willingness to stand by the essence of the argument made in the previous paragraph, it would arrogant and ignorant not to take the case of Lisa Noland into consideration. Her tactics apply to a situation where a victim might very well be helpless. It’s not always prudent to fight an individual who has surprised you and has you at a complete physical disadvantage. In armed kidnapping scenarios, it is a perfectly viable tactic to build rapport with your kidnapper in order to buy time and help win their sympathy. Whatever Lisa Noland did in her situation, it probably saved her life and it has worked for many others in similar situations. She drew it from a lifetime of hard-experience that no one should have to endure. There is a great deal we can learn from her case study and it is inspiring to see how she has been able to turn her life around in such a powerful way. “I Escaped my Killer” is made for popular TV watching, but it isn’t as sensationalist as the majority of tasteless dross out there masquarading as True Crime documentaries. As self-protection teachers and students we can look to them for the vast array of tactics applied by different escapees, hoping to find some constants, but ultimately reminding ourselves of the chaotic nature that is violence and the need to adapt.