Police: NJ kidnap victim rescued in Missouri

January 11, 2010 3:35:07 PM PST
Authorities are investigating whether three men kidnapped the wrong person in New Jersey before driving nearly 1,200 miles to mid-Missouri where the victim was rescued.Vernon County Sheriff Ron Peckman describes the three western Missouri men as "bumbling idiots."

Forty-six-year-old Douglas Stangeland, 44-year-old Lonnie Swarnes and 21-year-old Andrew Wadel were being held without bond in Missouri's Miller County on charges of first-degree kidnapping.

Peckman says authorities believe the suspects were headed to a home in Vernon County before they had car trouble Saturday in the town of Lake Ozark, about 115 miles to the east in Miller County.

Authorities say a convenience store clerk saw the 59-year-old victim, Jeff Muller, of Newton, N.J., attempt to escape and called police.

Muller was freed Saturday and treated at a hospital for minor injuries and released.

The Lake Ozark Police Department said it was working with other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, to determine why the man was taken by force and brought to Missouri.

The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., reported that the ordeal started Friday morning when the suspects approached the pet store owner outside his business, J&G Discount Pet Foods.

"It's bizarre, the entire thing," Newton Police Chief John Tomasula said. "When he arrived at work early in the morning, they asked if he was Jeff Muller. When he said yes, they said, 'You're coming with us.' He said, 'No, I'm not,' and the struggle ensued."

Muller told authorities he was shot with a stun gun and forced into a car, where he was falsely told that his wife was being held captive at the couple's Newton home. His wife became alarmed when she arrived at the pet store about two hours later and found it locked and dark. Police found Muller's eyeglasses and lunch in the parking lot, where his vehicle also was parked and locked.

Lake Ozark police said the suspects stopped at the convenience store when they had car troubles and that's when Muller tried to escape. Police said that when officers arrived, the suspects were trying to restrain Muller.