The 75-year-old grandmother was strangled, punched, kicked, bound in duct tape and thrown in the trunk of her own car by three young adults. After 26 hours without food or water, Sandy Vinge made a silent plea to God: Either save me, or let me die.
“I told God that,” Vinge, her face still swollen and marked by ugly purple bruises, recalled to TODAY’s Matt Lauer. “Then I asked my late husband, who had just died — I said, ‘Don, tell God [to] help me.’ And he did. That night he helped me. The sheriffs came and they rescued me, because I wouldn’t have lasted long.”
Vinge had spent several days in a San Diego hospital, so badly beaten that she couldn’t even speak at first. But by Monday, the spirited woman who loves to dance was feeling well enough to get her hair done, put on a nice dress, and talk to Lauer from her La Mesa, Calif., home with her son, Daniel Allen, at her side.
“I have bruises on my body because they kicked me and hit me and everything,” she told Lauer in an interview that was recorded on Monday and aired Tuesday.
Vinge’s ordeal had begun a week earlier on Monday, Dec. 8, when she bought a vacuum cleaner from a door-to-door salesman identified as Jeffrey Edward Nelson, 19. That night, she said, he returned to her home and asked to use the phone.
“He said his girlfriend had kicked him [out] and could he use my phone to call his mother,” Vinge told Lauer. An open woman who likes to help anyone she can, she let him in.
“I said, ‘Yes, you can,’ so I showed him where the phone was,” Vinge said. “As I turned to walk away, that’s when he choked me from behind.”
Vinge lost consciousness, and when she woke up, she was in the trunk area of her Dodge Magnum station wagon, bound with duct tape so she couldn’t move. “They stole me in my own car,” she said. “That was awful.”
For the next 26 hours, police say, the three abductors drove around in Vinge’s car, using her credit cards to buy gas and other items. They never offered anything to Vinge, and when she asked for something to drink because she was desperately thirsty, one of the men smashed her in the face with his fist.
“I was so taped and bound I couldn’t even move to protect myself,” Vinge told Lauer. “He was driving crazy and I was bouncing all over the place.”
Finally, on Tuesday night, a police officer saw the car committing a traffic violation, gave chase, and stopped the car. The officer found Vinge in the back. When the duct tape was removed, it took her skin with it in some places.
Nelson, Osborne and Baker were arrested and charged with a number of crimes, including kidnapping and assault. They were arraigned on Friday and are being held on $2 million bail each. The three pleaded not guilty.
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An in-court television camera zoomed in on Nelson, a muscular young man with buzz-cut hair, and showed him rolling his eyes as the charges against him were read.
“This is the most egregious, baffling set of circumstances that I’ve ever come across,” Deputy District Attorney Paul Greenwood told reporters.
“It’s hard to believe someone would do that,” Daniel Allen told Lauer. “For what, some credit card charges, a few bucks and a bottle of booze? It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Life goes on
Vinge has three children, including Allen, and two grandchildren. Allen is staying with her as she recovers. He told Lauer it’s not easy to control his anger at what happened to a woman as sweet and beloved as his mother.
It’s hard for him to look at his mother’s bruised and battered face. “But when she talks, it’s my mom behind it all,” he told Lauer. “It’s very comforting that she’s the same sweet, loving person that loves everybody and her home is open to everybody. That’s probably how this all came about, that she became an easy target because she’s an open door.”
Although she can’t understand why she was attacked, Vinge is determined to get back to her active and busy life. “There’s nothing I can do about what happened,” she said. “I have to be positive, because life goes on.”
Lauer asked Vinge if she would be letting any more strangers into her home.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said with a big smile. “There’s not that many people out there like this. I’ll probably be afraid — even now, when the doorbell rings, I get a little scared even [though] I have my big old boy with me. I don’t think I’ll do that again, Matt.”
Lauer wished Vinge a happy holiday and told her to take care of herself.
She smiled and offered Lauer some grandmotherly advice of her own: “You take care of you, too, Matt. Don’t you let strangers in.”
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