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20 years ago, Barbara Jane Mackle was buried alive

Emory University student Barbara Jean Mackle, 20, was kidnapped and held for ransom while buried in a coffin in 1968. Gary Steven Krist and a female accomplice were arrested soon after a ransom was paid and Mackle rescued. Krist took this photograph showing Mackle in her coffin and used it as part of his ransom note. The FBI used the image as evidence in the criminal case against him.
Emory University student Barbara Jean Mackle, 20, was kidnapped and held for ransom while buried in a coffin in 1968. Gary Steven Krist and a female accomplice were arrested soon after a ransom was paid and Mackle rescued. Krist took this photograph showing Mackle in her coffin and used it as part of his ransom note. The FBI used the image as evidence in the criminal case against him.

ATLANTA -- Twenty years ago this month, a 20-year-old Emory University student was buried alive by a man who stalked her for months. Barbara Jane Mackle wasn't found until 3 days later. She wrote a book in 1972 but otherwise has not commented publicly on her ordeal.

Her assailant, Gary Steven Krist, spends his days as an Alaskan fisherman with a prison pen pal who became his wife, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said Sunday in a reprise of the Mackle story.

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Krist, a 23-year-old ex-convict at the time, buried Mackle beneath 2 feet of wet clay in a scheme that netted him $500,000 in ransom money.

'It would be a horrible thing to be buried alive. I don't believe anything could be worse,' said Hubert T. Jenkins, a member of the jury that sent Krist, an itinerant with a chameleonlike charm, to jail for life in 1969. He was paroled 10 years later.

For some, their brief brush with the enigmatic Krist, who had been working as a research assistant at Miami's Sea World before stalking Mackle, was one of the most memorable moments in their lives.

'You can depict him as the devil himself -- almost,' says Tommy Morris, Krist's former parole officer. 'You can depict him as the wayward child gone wrong. You can present the character of Gary Krist in any light you want.'

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Mackle was exhumed 3 days after her burial. Krist had abducted her at 4 a.m. from a motel room near the Emory University campus, where she was a student. She had been carefully chosen, watched and stalked.

'He was looking for a rich, tough-minded female,' Morris said. 'Someone who could stand up to the trauma of being buried alive. Barbara Jane Mackle fit that profile.'

In exchange for $500,000 ransom, Krist left a note giving the approximate location of Mackle, a site off Berkeley Road near Berkeley Lake about 30 miles north of Atlanta.

FBI agents, who went at the soil covering Mackle's coffin with their bare hands, were in tears after pulling her from the grave. She was both physically and mentally unharmed, a factor many believe later saved Krist from the electric chair.

Within 24 hours, Krist was captured off the coast of south Florida, running to nowhere in a speed boat he bought with part of the ransom. Within two months, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Krists's accomplice, Ruth Eisemann-Schier, was eventually captured and deported to her native Honduras.

Most of the Ransom money was returned to Mackle's father, a wealthy Miami developer.

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'I don't think money was the primary motivation,' Morris said. 'I think it was more the challenge. I honestly believe he pulled a caper like this because everybody told him it was impossible.'

The challenge was to bury a woman to keep her alive in a carefully engineered coffin with two air hoses to the surface. The challenge also was to keep her inside so he lied to her that if she broke through the coffin the water in the surrounding soil would drown her before she could be saved.

Krist rigged the coffin with a fan and supplied Mackle with food and water.

In a 1972 book, '83 Hours Til Dawn,' the only time she has commented publicly about her ordeal, Mackle recalled screaming as the shovelfuls of dirt hit the lid of the coffin.

'I screamed and screamed,' she said. 'The sound of the dirt got farther and farther away. Finally, I couldn't hear anything above. I screamed for a long time after that.'

On May 14, 10 years and five months after the kidnapping, Krist walked out of a back door of the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville. There he was met by a woman named Joan. Seven years his senior, Joan had met Krist through an exchange of letters while he was in prison. They flew to Alaska to marry several days later. They are still together.

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Krist and his wife operate a shrimp boat in Sitka, Alaska, a town of 8,000 where fishing and a pulp mill drive the economy.

'He's a fisherman and that is a kind of lone-wolf thing up here,' says one man who knows him pretty well. 'He gets along pretty well, but the bottom line is nobody messes with him.'

As for the victim, Mackle appeared only once in public after testifying against Krist. Members of Mackle's family have reflected on how little the ordeal seems to have affected Mackle, a wife and mother still living in Atlanta.

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