This fall, I went to visit a kidnapper.
Gary S. Krist lives in Auburn, Ga. and has one kidnapping to his name, nearly 50 years ago. But it was a spectacular one: He buried a young woman alive in an elaborate ventilated box for 83 hours, for ransom. It landed him on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, and on TV news shows and front pages across the country.
MORE: From Doctor to Kidnapper
That’s old news. But then he got out of jail after serving only 10 years of his life sentence and authorities let him become a doctor. Then he was accused of misconduct with patients, including crossing sexual boundaries.
He couldn’t be reached by phone. So to ask if he had any response to the allegations laid out in our story, I had to just show up.
My editor was concerned.
Photographer Brant Sanderlin was assigned to go with me. I wasn’t concerned, until I looked at a satellite map photo the night before we set off. The road that looked so clear on Google maps was more like a dirt path. His house didn’t face even that road, much less the asphalt road. A few steps in most directions were woods. The home may be just an hour from Atlanta but it was secluded, and then some.
When we arrived, though, we found a well-tended lawn and bright white painted house. A welcome mat welcomed us as we knocked.
Krist isn’t photographed often, but when he came to the door I could recognize him from images taken about a decade ago, probably during his fight to retain his medical license. He’s a large man, still with the same round features but grayed and heavy now.
He opened the blinds and looked at us through the sliding glass door. I had my notebook and pen in my hands, and Brant’s two massive professional cameras were slung around his neck. It was obvious what we were.
MORE FROM OUR INVESTIGATION: Doctors & Sex Abuse
Krist’s tone as he slid the door open was civil but challenging. “What can I do for you?”
I introduced myself and Brant as my colleague, and Krist interrupted: “Colleague?” Yes, I said, we’re from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Then, while Krist was saying he didn’t want to hear my explanation of our subject, Brant took photos. Rather than turn around and shut the door, Krist threw his arms up, shielding his face.
He stood there a few seconds, then ordered us to leave his property and we did.
Krist developed a reputation as a master manipulator. When he was in prison on a life sentence for the kidnapping, he started writing corrections officials, and finally found one he could convince he was reformed. That man, despite warnings of his colleagues, led the fight to get Krist released on probation; Krist and his wife continued the correspondence afterward and the man helped him get pardoned, clearing the way for his medical career. He was accused of crossing sexual boundaries with patients in West Virginia. Krist then convinced the medical board in Indiana to give him a chance. It did, giving him a probationary license in that state.
Research on abusive physicians shows a remarkable number of them are narcissists and lack empathy for others, thinking of themselves as victims. I don’t know Krist, but I wondered about that as he stood there with his arms crossed instead of turning and shutting the door.
Those were the same hands that just before Christmas in 1968 knocked on the door of Barbara Jane Mackle and her mother, who had driven up to Atlanta to nurse the young college student’s flu. They carried a high-powered rifle into the room and restrained Mackle’s mother. They held a chloroform cloth over the mother’s mouth and tied her with a venetian blinds cord he brought, then took Mackle out while his girlfriend, his accomplice, injected her with a sedative.
It makes you think.