WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Reuters) - Five people face kidnapping charges in the abduction of a North Carolina prosecutor’s father, who was rescued in Atlanta four days after disappearing from his home, U.S. law enforcement officials said on Thursday.
Frank Arthur Janssen, 63, was reported missing on Saturday. His daughter, who was not identified by name in court records, is an assistant district attorney at the Wake County District Attorney’s office, they said.
Two days after Janssen was reported missing, his wife began receiving threatening text messages with demands on behalf of an inmate who had been prosecuted by Janssen’s daughter, according to a criminal affidavit by a Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent. The demands were not disclosed.
The inmate, Kelvin Melton, was serving a prison sentence of life without parole, the affidavit said. Prison records show Melton, 49, was convicted in 2012 as a violent habitual felon.
The text messages said Janssen had been kidnapped from his home in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and was headed to California in the trunk of a car. The abductors said he would be sent back “in six boxes” if law enforcement was contacted and various demands were not met.
Authorities traced the messages to phones in Georgia, where just before midnight on Wednesday an FBI hostage rescue team freed Janssen from an apartment where he had been held, the FBI said in a statement.
“We’re all thrilled by that result,” U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker told reporters at a news conference in North Carolina on Thursday.
Walker said five suspects ages 20 to 29 were charged with federal kidnapping, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.
Janssen works for a national security consulting firm. He had answered a knock at his door on Saturday and was attacked by several people who used a Taser and subdued him, the FBI special agent said in court documents.
The group drove him to Atlanta and held him against his will, the affidavit said. A text message sent to his wife on Wednesday showed Janssen tied up in a chair and warned he would be tortured if she did not comply with the sender’s demands.
During a phone call monitored by law enforcement Wednesday night before Janssen’s rescue, two men discussed a plan to drug someone with cold medicine, put a bag over his head and find a secluded area with ground soft enough to dig 3 feet deep.
One of the cell phones used in the call was believed to belong to Melton, the FBI affidavit said. After the conversation, authorities tried to enter Melton’s prison cell but said he barred the door and smashed the phone, which he was not permitted to have under prison regulations.
Authorities said they found picks, a shovel and a pistol in a car carrying three of the kidnapping suspects.
Beyond the affidavits, officials would not elaborate on why Janssen was targeted in the plot.
Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Cynthia Osterman