How to Survive a Kidnapping

Question: What skills or strategies did you employ to survive this ordeal?  

Stanley Alpert:  All the experts—by that I mean the NYPD and the FBI—agree: I should be dead.  And some how I managed to get through this horrendous experience.  First of all, I stayed very calm.  I stopped, I thought, I listened.  I didn’t do anything without calculating the power and the import of my words.  For example, “Stanley, it’s your birthday. Wow!  You deserve something nice for your birthday.  How about a sexual favor for your birthday?”  Obviously, they didn’t use those words, but I won’t say them on camera here.  And going slow and being calm and thinking about it, I realized that if I said no, that might be very offensive.  Why doesn’t this lawyer think that our girls are good enough for him?  So I was very careful to answer in a way to not offend.  So I said, “Well, I’m sure the girls are lovely, but considering my circumstances, I’d really rather not.  I made it seem light, yet was very respectful.  

And actually many hours later I had the opposite problem because they were smoking marijuana, they were in a good mood, and I’m blindfolded with my own scarf covering most of my face.  And one of the men said, “Well, these, you know, Stanley, I think these girls are starting to like you, they’re looking at your lips.”  And that gave me the opposite problem because if we went down that path and their girlfriends liked me, they could get angry at me for the fact that their girlfriends liked me.  So I had to deflect me in the opposite fashion.  And in that instance I used humor, which I think you have to use very carefully in these situations.  But humor is another thing in the arsenal of a hostage, but only to be used sparingly and with great care.  And I said, “Really?  The only reason these girls like me is because most of my face is covered.”  And they thought that was hysterical.  And they burst out laughing.  

Now, the fact is, if you use humor the wrong way, it can twist against you.  For example, there was a point at which they, again, they are high on weed, they’ve had sex with the girls, this was the second time around—I was there for 25 hours, and they—one of them started imitating a Jamaican accent.  Well, I’m very good at doing all sorts of different accents.  And I pondered very carefully whether to go with it and to go where they were.  And I made a decision to do it, so I imitated my Jamaican accent for them and they loved that.  It was hysterical to them.  The thought that this polished, pressed, Caucasian attorney could be imitating a Jamaican accent was hysterical to them.  But then they were talking about a store that was owned by Indians.  And I thought well, should I do another kind of accent just to have some fun and keep things light and I said, no, let me stop because I didn’t know... as long as I was doing an accent that they were doing, I thought okay, that’s far enough.  But don’t take it any further.  You just don’t know when they might twist against you.  

So I think survival skills.  Stay very calm.  Think, listen, observe.  Understand your circumstances.  Also, give up your ego.  Give up who you were.  I was a Federal prosecutor; in that position I had considerable power.  In this position I was in, I had no power at all except the power of my wits, which I tried to get by with.  But understand that you’re no longer who you were in the situation and adjust to that.  So that’s another principle I would say for survival is to be very flexible.  You know?  Get in the car, guns pointing at me, you know, if I was inflexible I might have started yelling, fighting... All the detectives I spoke to say, “Listen, you can’t second guess yourself Stanley because you managed to survive.”  And I think because I was flexible, I was able to go with the situation.  That helped me a lot.  

Another thing you need to do is feel some sense of empowerment.  I mean, let’s look at my thing.  How much control did I have?  I had seven people with automatic weapons on me who could have killed me at any moment—and who might have killed me at any moment.  And I have no doubt in my mind, nor does the NYPD or the FBI, that they were perfectly capable of doing it.  Yet there were certain things where I felt I needed to keep control.  

For example, when I first went in, they invited me to take off my shoes.  I said—they put me down on a mattress, they took off my trench coat, I kept my sport jacket on, but they invited me to take off my shoes.  And you know what I thought?  In my head I thought, a guy with his shoes off isn’t walking out.  A very powerful symbolism.  So, I said, “No thanks, I’ll leave them on.”  Because in my mind and I think in the psychology of the room, a man with his shoes on could walk out; a man with his shoes off might not get the chance to walk out.  Or, for example, there was the point in time I purposely didn’t ask to go to the bathroom.  I didn’t want to ask for anything that wasn’t offered to me, but they eventually asked me if I needed to use the bathroom.  I said, “Yes.”  And as soon as I said, “Yes” and sort of military alert cocking the guns, pointing them at me.  In other words, they were nervous that on the way to the bathroom I may pull something.  

So, again there, I felt the need to maintain some control even though they’ve got the guns, they’re in control.  Still I wanted some small bit and I stopped.  And I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” I didn’t even get up.  I said, “Whoa.  Hang on a second.  Relax; I’m not going to do anything.  All I’m gonna do is go to the bathroom.”  And they calmed down and then we went to the bathroom.  And I didn’t get shot.  

Another example of me getting some control was when I first got in there, they kept calling me “Steven.”  And I kept saying, “My name's not Steven, its Stanley.”  And they thought this was really funny.  “Oh, sorry Stanley.  Steven’s the guy we did this to the other night.”  And it turns out later they’d actually taken him to the bank, not to the apartment, gotten his money and then left him in the backseat of his own car.  

I felt that it was very important not to be called “Steven.”  I felt that it was important to be called by my correct name—my name’s Stanley—because my identity was my life.  If I’m a real person with a real name, then you’re less likely to kill me, and so I maintained that bit of control.  I think that’s also... to feel a sense of some empowerment.  And if you read the studies of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, what they say is that people get Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because they felt a complete disempowerment.  They felt a complete lack of control.  I was in a situation that was out of my control for the most part, but where I could find, I used it.  And also, I gathered clues the whole time.  So that to me, although purely psychological, was a form of control for me to have.  So I think all those things helped me survive.

Recorded August 9, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

The NYPD and FBI both agree that Alpert should not have survived his kidnapping; Alpert shares with us the strategies he used to stay alive.

7 most notorious and excessive Roman Emperors

These Roman Emperors were infamous for their debauchery and cruelty.

1876. Painted by Henryk Siemiradzki.
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Roman Emperors were known for their excesses and violent behavior.
  • From Caligula to Elagabalus, the emperors exercised total power in the service of their often-strange desires.
  • Most of these emperors met violent ends themselves.

We rightfully complain about many of our politicians and leaders today, but historically speaking, humanity has seen much worse. Arguably no set of rulers has been as debauched, ingenious in their cruelty, and prone to excess as the Roman Emperors.

While this list is certainly not exhaustive, here are seven Roman rulers who were perhaps the worst of the worst in what was one of the largest empires that ever existed, lasting for over a thousand years.

1. Caligula

Officially known as Gaius (Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), Caligula was the third Roman Emperor, ruling from 37 to 41 AD. He acquired the nickname "Caligula" (meaning "little [soldier's] boot") from his father's soldiers during a campaign.

While recognized for some positive measures in the early days of his rule, he became famous throughout the ages as an absolutely insane emperor, who killed anyone when it pleased him, spent exorbitantly, was obsessed with perverse sex, and proclaimed himself to be a living god.

Caligula gives his horse Incitatus a drink during a banquet. Credit: An engraving by Persichini from a drawing by Pinelli, from "The History of the Roman Emperors" from Augustus to Constantine, by Jean Baptiste Louis Crevier. 1836.

Among his litany of misdeeds, according to the accounts of Caligula's contemporaries Philo of Alexandria and Seneca the Younger, he slept with whomever he wanted, brazenly taking other men's wives (even on their wedding nights) and publicly talking about it.

He also had an insatiable blood thirst, killing for mere amusement. Once, as reports historian Suetonius, when the bridge across the sea at Puteoli was being blessed, he had a number of spectators who were there to inspect it thrown off into the water. When some tried to cling to the ships' rudders, Caligula had them dislodged with hooks and oars so they would drown. On another occasion, he got so bored that he had his guards throw a whole section of the audience into the arena during the intermission so they would be eaten by wild beasts. He also allegedly executed two consuls who forgot his birthday.

Suetonius relayed further atrocities of the mad emperor's character, writing that Caligula "frequently had trials by torture held in his presence while he was eating or otherwise enjoying himself; and kept an expert headsman in readiness to decapitate the prisoners brought in from gaol." One particular form of torture associated with Caligula involved having people sawed in half.

He caused mass starvation and purposefully wasted money and resources, like making his troops stage fake battles just for theater. If that wasn't enough, he turned his palace into a brothel and was accused of incest with his sisters, Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, and Livilla, whom he also prostituted to other men. Perhaps most famously, he was planning to appoint his favorite horse Incitatus a consul and went as far as making the horse into a priest.

In early 41 AD, Caligula was assassinated by a conspiracy of Praetorian Guard officers, senators, and other members of the court.

2. Nero

Fully named Nero Claudius Caesar, Nero ruled from 54 to 68 AD and was arguably an even worse madman than his uncle Caligula. He had his step-brother Britannicus killed, his wife Octavia executed, and his mother Agrippina stabbed and murdered. He personally kicked to death his lover Poppeaea while she was pregnant with his child — a horrific action the Roman historian Tacitus depicted as "a casual outburst of rage."

He spent exorbitantly and built a 100-foot-tall bronze statue of himself called the Colossus Neronis.

He is also remembered for being strangely obsessed with music. He sang and played the lyre, although it's not likely he really fiddled as Rome burned in what is a popular myth about this crazed tyrant. As misplaced retribution for the fire which burned down a sizable portion of Rome in the year 64, he executed scores of early Christians, some of them outfitted in animal skins and brutalized by dogs, with others burned at the stake.

He died by suicide.

Roman Emperor Nero in the burning ruins of Rome. July 64 AD.Credit: From an original painting by S.J. Ferris. (Photo by Kean Collection / Getty Images)

3. Commodus

Like some of his counterparts, Commodus (a.k.a. Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus) thought he was a god — in his case, a reincarnation of the Greek demigod Hercules. Ruling from 176 to 192 AD, he was also known for his debauched ways and strange stunts that seemed designed to affirm his divine status. Numerous statues around the empire showed him as Hercules, a warrior who fought both men and beasts. He fought hundreds of exotic animals in an arena like a gladiator, confusing and terrifying his subjects. Once, he killed 100 lions in a single day.

Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) questions the loyalty of his sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) In Dreamworks Pictures' and Universal Pictures' Oscar-winning drama "Gladiator," directed by Ridley Scott.Credit: Photo By Getty Images

The burning desire to kill living creatures as a gladiator for the New Year's Day celebrations in 193 AD brought about his demise. After Commodus shot hundreds of animals with arrows and javelins every morning as part of the Plebeian Games leading up to New Year's, his fitness coach (aptly named Narcissus), choked the emperor to death in his bath.

4. Elagabalus

Officially named Marcus Aurelius Antoninus II, Elagabalus's nickname comes from his priesthood in the cult of the Syrian god Elagabal. Ruling as emperor from 218 to 222 AD, he was so devoted to the cult, which he tried to spread in Rome, that he had himself circumcised to prove his dedication. He further offended the religious sensitivities of his compatriots by essentially replacing the main Roman god Jupiter with Elagabal as the chief deity. In another nod to his convictions, he installed on Palatine Hill a cone-like fetish made of black stone as a symbol of the Syrian sun god Sol Invictus Elagabalus.

His sexual proclivities were also not well received at the time. He was likely transgender (wearing makeup and wigs), had five marriages, and was quite open about his male lovers. According to the Roman historian (and the emperor's contemporary) Cassius Dio, Elagabalus prostituted himself in brothels and taverns and was one of the first historical figures on record to be looking for sex reassignment surgery.

He was eventually murdered in 222 in an assassination plot engineered by his own grandmother Julia Maesa.

5. Vitellius

Emperor for just eight months, from April 19th to December 20th of the year 69 AD, Vitellius made some key administrative contributions to the empire but is ultimately remembered as a cruel glutton. He was described by Suetonius as overly fond of eating and drinking, to the point where he would eat at banquets four times a day while sending out the Roman navy to get him rare foods. He also had little social grace, inviting himself over to the houses of different noblemen to eat at their banquets, too.

Vitellius dragged through the streets of Rome.Credit: Georges Rochegrosse. 1883.

He was also quite vicious and reportedly either had his own mother starved to death or approved a poison with which she committed suicide.

Vitellius was ultimately murdered in brutal fashion by supporters of the rival emperor Vespasian, who dragged him through Rome's streets, then likely beheaded him and threw his body into the Tiber river. "Yet I was once your emperor," were supposedly his last words, wrote historian Cassius Dio.

6. Caracalla

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus I ruled Rome from 211 to 217 AD on his own (while previously co-ruling with his father Septimius Severus from 198). "Caracalla"' was his nickname, referencing a hooded coat from Gaul that he brought into Roman fashion.

He started off his rise to individual power by murdering his younger brother Geta, who was named co-heir by their father. Caracalla's bloodthirsty tyranny didn't stop there. He wiped out Geta's supporters and was known to execute any opponents to his or Roman rule. For instance, he slaughtered up to 20,000 citizens of Alexandria after a local theatrical satire dared to mock him.

Geta Dying in His Mother's Arms.Credit: Jacques Pajou (1766-1828)

One of the positive outcomes of his rule was the Edict of Caracalla, which gave Roman citizenship to all free men in the empire. He was also known for building gigantic baths.

Like others on this list, Caracalla met a brutal end, being assassinated by army officers, including the Praetorian prefect Opellius Macrinus, who installed himself as the next emperor.

7. Tiberius

As the second emperor, Tiberius (ruling from 42 BC to 16 AD) is known for a number of accomplishments, especially his military exploits. He was one of the Roman Empire's most successful generals, conquering Pannonia, Dalmatia, Raetia, and parts of Germania.

He was also remembered by his contemporaries as a rather sullen, perverse, and angry man. In the chapter on his life from The Lives of the Twelve Caesars by the historian Suetonius, Tiberius is said to have been disliked from an early age for his personality by even his family. Suetonius wrote that his mother Antonia often called him "an abortion of a man, that had been only begun, but never finished, by nature."

"Orgy of the Times of Tiberius on Capri".Painting by Henryk Siemiradzki. 1881.

Suetonius also paints a damning picture of Tiberius after he retreated from public life to the island of Capri. His years on the island would put Jeffrey Epstein to shame. A horrendous pedophile, Tiberius had a reputation for "depravities that one can hardly bear to tell or be told, let alone believe," Suetonius wrote, describing how "in Capri's woods and groves he arranged a number of nooks of venery where boys and girls got up as Pans and nymphs solicited outside bowers and grottoes: people openly called this 'the old goat's garden,' punning on the island's name."

There's much, much more — far too salacious and, frankly, disgusting to repeat here. For the intrepid or morbidly curious reader, here's a link for more information.

After he died, Tiberius was fittingly succeeded in emperorship by his grandnephew and adopted grandson Caligula.

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