When Shane Benoit answered his phone on Tuesday, he heard what sounded like his wife, Darla, on the other end.
She pleaded for help, saying a group was holding her in a warehouse-like facility. Then an unknown man came on the call.
“This is what you’re going to do or your wife is going to die,” Benoit recalled the man saying.
Benoit and his adult son, Taylor, were inside their truck on Highway 17 Bypass on Tuesday afternoon. They listened intently as Benoit continued the conversation with the kidnappers. He threatened to kill Darla. He warned Benoit not to contact police. The suspect told the 47-year-old military veteran to drive to the nearest Walmart to wire them $5,000 — money Benoit didn’t have — to free his wife.
It was going to take 15 minutes, and Benoit told the caller as much. He gave them 10. For every minute longer, the caller threatened to cut off one of Darla’s fingers.
His son was behind the wheel as the two frantically navigated through Myrtle Beach congestion. Speeds in the truck reached 70 miles per hour.
The caller even knew details about their life, like the color of the truck and when they were stopped at red lights, Benoit said.
“I felt completely useless,” he said. “I thought this was 100 percent legit.”
Feeling like he was left with no other options, Benoit decided they should pull into Myrtle Beach Police headquarters. It was the only group that could provide help, he said, despite being told not to involve the authorities. Benoit and his son flagged down officers outside, trying to keep them quiet so the callers wouldn’t know police were aware. Officers listened and recorded the call.
Benoit’s son tried to call his mother at work from a different line and she didn’t answer. Officers went to Darla’s work and found her in a meeting, uninjured and unaware of the horror her family experienced.
Even then, Benoit didn’t believe it was over. When he hugged Darla, the terror was still too fresh.
“I pretty much cried all night,” Benoit said of the relief knowing his wife was safe. “It was too real.”
It wasn’t. It was a hoax.
For nearly an hour, a panicked and frantic Benoit and his son fretted that Darla was in danger and tried desperately to save her. The call came in from an 843 area code and appeared to originate in South Carolina.
The male voices sounded Spanish and used Spanish phrases at times, Benoit said. He's still convinced they mimicked his wife’s voice on the line.
A Myrtle Beach Police report lists the crime as “false pretenses/swindle” and mirrors Benoit’s story. The report stated that officers heard part of the call and the caller threatened to kill Darla.
Officer say the suspects spoke English, and then what could have been Spanish. The report states the person’s English was “flawless” and sounded American.
The callers’ identities remain unknown, and Benoit said he believes the personal information the suspects used in the conversation came from the family’s social media postings.
Benoit wanted to share his story to help others in case they receive a similar call. The Persian Gulf vet said he has health issues, but worried about others with more severe conditions dealing with similar calls.
As he reflected on the ordeal, Benoit said he is lucky his son was driving as he would have driven in the wrong lanes to help his wife. If the police would have tried to pull him over, he wouldn't have stopped, he said.
“It was 45 minutes of pure terror,” Benoit said.
Alex Lang: @LangSunNews, 843-297-0659