An 86-year-old Korean War veteran and his 55-year-old wife told police they were kidnapped Thursday morning by three women who forced them to open a bank account and rent two cars for them.
Shaken and unharmed but indignant, the couple on Saturday recounted the bizarre tale of their six-hour abduction ordeal. Police said five people, including one of the alleged kidnappers, have been arrested.
George Saunders and his wife, Priscilla Jones, of Southwest Philadelphia, said they were walking - with the aid of canes - to a convenience store for groceries about 11 a.m. Thursday on the 3000 block of Pennsgrove Street in West Philadelphia. Three women pulled up alongside them in a gray Chrysler Town & Country minivan and asked if they needed a ride.
The couple said they told the women no, but were pushed into the vehicle. In the backseat was a 5-month-old boy - and to Jones' dismay, the women were smoking marijuana, she said.
"That was a hell of an experience. I never had anyone do me like that," Jones said. "I couldn't say nothing - all I could do was pray. I said, 'Please God, get me out of this.' "
"I had fear in my heart," Jones said. "You got this baby in your car and you don't know his name? I looked at George and said, 'This isn't right.' "
Jones said she and her husband were driven to a TD Bank at Fourth and Market Streets and escorted inside by one of the women. She said the woman forced Saunders to pretend he was her father to open a debit card account, apparently with the intent to later rent two cars.
"She pulled out $600 and made a claim that I would be responsible for her," Saunders said.
The debit card opened in Saunders' name and paperwork were then taken by the women.
The women then took Saunders and Jones to 17th Street and Parkway to a Hertz rental car agency, where they used Saunders' name to rent a gray 2014 Dodge Charger.
Jones says she and her husband were then separated and driven to another Hertz rental agency on Bartram Avenue near Philadelphia International Airport. There, they rented a 2015 Chevy Silverado in Saunders' name. They began driving recklessly, he said.
"They wouldn't let us drive at all," he said. "It shook me up. I didn't like it."
Their ordeal ended almost six hours later, when their abductors dropped them off at their home. Jones said she immediately called her daughter to take them to a nearby police station, where they spent five hours being interviewed.
New Jersey State Police in Cranbury recovered the Silverado using its OnStar GPS tracker around 10:30 a.m. Friday. Lt. Johnnie Walker from Southwest Detectives said two males and one female who were inside the Silverado have been charged with receiving stolen property. Police have not released their names, and their involvement in the couple's abduction is being investigated.
Police recovered the Dodge Charger around 8 p.m. Friday in Belmont with a female and male passenger inside. Walker said Vashti Williams, 23, of the 500 block of South 56th Street, was arrested without incident and charged with kidnapping, robbery, criminal conspiracy, and other related offenses. Police say Williams is one of the three alleged abductors. Her male passenger, Damon Cornish, 25, of the 5900 block of North 21st Street, was charged with theft and unauthorized use of an auto.
Police speculate the women targeted the couple in order to use the cars in criminal activity.
"They would have had a car to use criminal acts and should this car be recovered by police, it would be backed toward an 86-year-old man and not the persons responsible," Walker said.
Saunders and Jones, who are new to their Southwest Philadelphia home, said they have no plans to leave their neighborhood. Jones did say she is fearful they will be targeted again for witnessing and reporting the crime.
"Why you got to do us like that?" she questioned. "We're both walking on canes and old. An old man and a middle-aged woman. They took advantage of us." She said they both have heart conditions. Saunders, who served in the Air Force as an engineer, has had both knees replaced and Jones has had several strokes; they have to use canes and walkers to get around.
She said she believes there have been other victims.
"I'm not their first victim. How many more out there they have done like that?"
Investigators also believe there may be more victims. Anyone with information is urged to contact 215-686-TIPS (8477).