The Story of Jayme Closs' Escape From the Man Who Kidnapped Her and Killed Her Parents Remains Incredible

What happened to the 13-year-old, who survived three months in captivity, is a nightmare and a miracle wrapped into one

By Natalie Finn May 24, 2019 10:50 PMTags
Jayme ClossBarron County Sheriff's Dept

Jayme Closs' story sounds like a nightmare that, against all odds, concluded with the miraculous.

Answering the prayers of her family and an entire city that was hoping she would come home, the 13-year-old is alive, having managed to escape her abductor three interminably long months after her parents were killed in their Wisconsin home.

Jake Thomas Patterson was sentenced to life in prison Friday after pleading guilty in March to two counts of intentional homicide and one count of kidnapping.

According to NBC News, Jayme stayed away but said in a statement read in court by attorney Chris Gramstrup: "He stole my parents from me. He stole almost everything I loved from me. For 88 days he tried to steal me and he didn't care who he hurt or who he killed to do that. He should stay locked up forever. 

"He can't take my freedom. He thought he could own me, but he was wrong. I was smarter. I watched his routine and I took back my freedom. I will always have my freedom and he will not."

Barron County Circuit Court Judge James Babler, calling Patterson "the embodiment of evil," already denied his attorney's request that he be eligible for supervised release in 2072.

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"I'll just say that I would do, like, absolutely anything to take back what I did. I would die," a visibly emotional Patterson said in court. "I don't care about me, I just am sorry. That's all."

What happened to Jayme during those torturous 88 days before she was found in January is unfathomable, but the very fact that she is now with family members and on the road to recovery was an unexpectedly happy ending to this story. Most children who go missing, if they've been kidnapped by a predator, don't come back at all if they aren't found in the first 24 hours.

Not infrequently, there can be some disagreement or confusion in those critical first few hours as to whether a child has actually been abducted—and in 2018, less than 1 percent of 25,000 missing-children cases that involved law enforcement were categorized as nonfamily abductions, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

But there was no misunderstanding about the scene that greeted law enforcement in the early morning hours of Oct. 15, 2018.

T'xer Zhon Kha/The Post-Crescent via AP, Pool

Responding to a 911 call that came in at approximately 12:53 a.m. from a then-unknown person, Barron County Sheriff's deputies arrived at the home of James Closs, 56, and Denise Closs, 46, at roughly 1 a.m. Both were dead from gunshot wounds, Denise in the bathtub and James by the front door. Their daughter, Jayme, was nowhere to be found. It appeared that someone had broken in through the front door, and no gun was found in the house.

Several 12-gauge shotgun shells were found, one on the ground next to the steps outside the front door, one near James' body inside and one in the hallway directly in front of the bathroom.

Authorities dispatched drones and dogs and utilized infrared equipment to search the area, and later that day investigators went to Jayme's middle school, where she danced and ran track, to gather more information. An Amber Alert was also issued for the 100-pound, 5'-tall teen, but they had no vehicle information to go with it.

"At the end of the day, I want a 13-year-old here safe and sound," Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald told reporters. "That's our goal. That's our only goal right now." 

Jayme was not considered a suspect in her parents' death, authorities quickly confirmed.

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Among the more than 200 tips that poured in within two days, the Miami Police Department released an alert the night of Oct. 15 that a girl matching Jayme's description had been seen at a gas station with two well-dressed, bearded men driving a black Ford Explorer with a Wisconsin license plate. "If you have any information please call 911 immediately," Miami PD tweeted.

But what at first sounded like a promising lead didn't amount to anything. A week later, authorities released two more descriptions of vehicles of interest, a black Acura MDX or Ford Edge and a red or orange Dodge Challenger.

Deputies now know that they did see the car that Barron County prosecutors say carried Jayme away from her home that night; they passed right by it as they approached the Closses' house, according to court documents.

Jeff Baenen/AP/Shutterstock

Since deputies didn't know the nature of the call they were responding to yet, they had no reason to pull that car over. Barron County Sheriff's Deputy Jon Fick later stated that he remembered passing a maroon vehicle that, to him, appeared to be an older model Ford Taurus, in the dark that night. It was the only car he observed coming from that direction.

Meanwhile, in addition to a missing girl, law enforcement also had a double homicide on their hands.

A vigil was held at a church in the Barron County village of Cameron for James, Denise and Jayme on the night of Oct. 16 as people in the close-knit community held out hope for the child's safe return. Blue (Jayme's favorite color) and green (representing missing-child awareness) ribbons were passed out to the crowd. 

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More than 100 volunteers spread out on the ground to search for Jayme on Oct. 18. By then over 1,200 tips had come in and she topped the FBI's Missing Persons list.

Jeff Baenen/AP/Shutterstock

The following Monday, Oct. 22, the sheriff's department posted on Facebook a request for 2,000 volunteers (just over 3,300 people total live in Barron, as of 2017) to help re-sweep the area, starting with the land around the Closs house off of US Highway 8.

Another vigil, dubbed "A Gathering of Hope," was held for Jayme at the Barron High School football stadium.

Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP

Fitzgerald said at a news conference on Oct. 24 that more than 2,000 people did indeed turn out to help.

"Jayme, not a moment goes by when we aren't thinking of you, and praying for you," the child's aunt Jennifer Smith, Denise Closs' sister, read a statement for the cameras. Another aunt, Suzi Allard, stood next to her holding the Closs family dog, which was at the house when deputies found Denise and James.

"Your family and friends miss you so much, your sparkling eyes, your bright smile, your soft little giggles," Smith continued. "Your dog, Molly, is waiting for you. She's sleeping in one of your sweatshirts and will only eat chicken. Grandpa needs new artwork on his fridge. Aunt Suzi wants to go jogging in the park with you, and I want that girls' shopping date we planned. I even brought your favorite iced coffee with me today," Smith added, holding up a bottled Frappuccino. "To whoever may know where Jayme is, please contact the Barron County Sheriff's Department.

"Jayme, we need you here with us, to fill that hole we have in our hearts. We all love you, to the moon and back, and we will never stop looking for you."

Leila Navidi/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS via ZUMA Wire

On Nov. 1, Sheriff Fitzgerald reiterated that finding Jayme remained his department's number-one priority and encouraged people to keep sending in tips, but they were scaling back the ground search, which had been ongoing 24/7, to pursue a more targeted course of action. The reward for information to help find Jayme reached $50,000, with $25,000 coming from the FBI and $25,000 from the Jennie-O Turkey Store, where the Closses worked.

The holidays came and went, with no sign of her. The town put up a tree decorated with green and blue lights, the color pairing a frequent sight all over Barron, on ribbons, balloons, T-shirts and other signs that the community was still invested in bringing Jayme home.

On Jan. 9, Smith—who had been posting about Jayme on a near-daily basis since she vanished—marked day 87 of her niece's disappearance on Facebook, writing that she was praying every day and would never give up the search. She even had Christmas presents waiting for her.

On Jan. 10, day 88, Jayme was found, alive.

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Jeanne Nutter was returning to her cabin in Gordon, Wis.—about an hour's drive from Barron—after taking her dog, Henry, out for a walk when a "thin" and "disheveled" girl, wearing a sweatshirt, black leggings and tennis shoes on the wrong feet, approached her at around 4:10 p.m. and identified herself as Jayme Closs. Nutter remembers it being about 20 degrees out at the time.

"She said 'I don't know where I am' a couple of times," Nutter, a former social worker, recalled to reporters. "All I could say to myself was, 'be calm, keep her calm.'" Nutter knocked on a neighbor's door and asked Peter and Kristin Kasinskas to call 911.

"It was like seeing a ghost in front of me," Peter Kasinskas told 48 Hours, saying he knew right away it was Jayme from seeing her face on TV and billboards for months.

Kristin Kasinskas told a local Fox station, "When our neighbor Jeanne came in with Jayme, she said, 'Get a gun, we don't know if he's after us.' So we were armed and ready in case this person showed up."

Jake Thomas Patterson, 21, was charged with intentional homicide, kidnapping and armed burglary charges. He confessed almost right away to fatally shooting James and Denise Closs and kidnapping Jayme, according to the criminal complaint filed against him in Barron County and published in full by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, and he was initially held in lieu of $5 million cash-only bail. Two state public defenders were appointed to represent him.

"This is a very tragic situation," those attorneys, Charlie Glynn and Richard Jones, said in a statement on Jan. 11 after getting Patterson's case. "There is a substantial amount of information, interest, and emotion involved in this case. Mr. Patterson's legal team will be relying on the integrity of our judicial system to insure that everyone's rights are protected and respected."

Regarding Patterson's motive, "there will come a time in this proceeding when that question will be answered," Jones told the Associated Press. Glynn said he wasn't sure their client would be able to get a fair trial in Wisconsin. Neither commented on their client's mental state.

Their client cut a deal two months later. In a letter sent to a local NBC affiliate, Patterson wrote, "The reason I did this is complicated. No one will believe or can even imagine how sorry I am for hurting Jayme this much. Can't express it." He claimed that he told the police so much right away to spare Jayme the trouble of having to be interviewed by police, but she was anyway.

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The details that started to emerge about Jayme's terrifying ordeal and how she managed to escape from an isolated cabin in Gordon where Patterson held the teen prisoner for three months, 77 miles away from her own house, were nothing short of unbelievable.

"She's 13 years old, and if you read the criminal complaint, you can see the amount of control that he was exerting over her," Barron County District Attorney Brian Wright said about Jayme's ordeal in January. "And at some point, she found it within herself at 13 years old to say, 'I'm going to get myself out of this situation.' I think it's incredible."

"I knew she was close and I never gave up that hope," Jennifer Smith, cuddling Molly (the dog was still sporting a collar reading "find Jayme Closs"), told 48 Hours. She and Jayme reunited on Jan. 11. The next day she wrote on Facebook, "It will be a long road, but we are family strong and we love this little girl so much!!"

"The will of a 13-year-old girl is what broke this case," Fitzgerald also told 48 HoursPeter Van Sant. As for Patterson, the sheriff heard "he was sitting in his cell—lookin' at the wall, all by himself."

Peter Kasinskas told the AP he thought Jayme deserved the reward money because "she got herself out."


As for the 48-second 911 call that brought deputies to the Closs home on Oct. 15, Fitzgerald said that you could barely hear the voice on the phone, but there seemed to be "a lot of movement" in the background. Deputies arrived within four minutes, he said. Reports have said that a callback to the number reached Denise Closs' voicemail.

Patterson told investigators he was only there for about four minutes total, according to the criminal complaint.

Prosecutors state that Patterson told authorities he had been driving to work one day when he saw Jayme board the school bus in front of him, and he decided then and there he was going to take her. Per the complaint, he said he then drove to her house twice, putting "quite a bit of thought into the details of how he was going to abduct her," before actually doing so on Oct. 15. 

"He prepared himself to try to beat the forensics...of law enforcement," Fitzgerald told 48 Hours. "Things like he cut his hair all off, so that he wouldn't leave trace evidence of his hair." Nor did investigators find any fingerprints.

"This is a true mystery," Fitzgerald added. "We believe the first time they met was the night of the incident."

Sure enough, prosecutors say Patterson told authorities he didn't know Jayme's name until he took her, or her parents' names until he saw reports about the killings afterward.

Baron County Sheriff's Department

Patterson's mug shot shows a pale young man with a receding hairline and closely buzzed haircut, wearing glasses. He was reportedly voted the "most quiet boy" of his graduating high school class in 2015. Former classmates told the Journal Sentinel that they didn't remember Patterson going to prom or taking part in the graduation ceremony, and he wasn't in the senior class photo. 

"How did he get like this?" one classmate wondered. "He just disappeared after high school."

"Nobody had any clues up until this thing happened," Patterson's maternal grandfather, Jim Moyer, told ABC News in January. His grandson was a "nice boy, polite," Moyer continued. "Computer games were more of a priority than social interaction." He added, "Nobody will ever know what went on in his mind. I can't fathom anything in his life that could change him so drastically. It has to be some kind of a twist in the mindset."

Their family was "absolutely heartbroken," Moyer said. "It's wrenching to deal with."

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"All I care about right now is Jayme's family," Jake's father, Patrick Patterson, told CNN at the courthouse after his son's arrest. "I want to get them a note." He didn't want to say anything else.

Patterson's parents divorced in 2007. He has an older brother and an older sister.

Jayme's grandfather Robert Naiberg told the AP, meanwhile, that he appreciated the sentiment from Patterson's family. "You can't blame the parents," Naiberg said. "A guy becomes 21 years old, and sometimes it's not how he was raised or anything."

Investigators had at first proceeded thinking that Denise and James were the targets, but the only connection found between Patterson and Jayme's parents were that he had worked for one day, three years beforehand, at the turkey processing plant where they were supervisors. Sweeps of all the Closs family's devices found nothing having to do with Patterson, either.

Patterson doesn't have a criminal record or a history of any trouble with the law. He had applied for a job online the day Jayme escaped. The shotgun that investigators believe to be the murder weapon was found in the search of Patterson's property, where he seemed to have lived alone, though numerous old cars were parked in the yard.

"There's not much up in Gordon," Fitzgerald told 48 Hours. "Couple gas stations and a couple of bars in Gordon—if that. So it's a very, very small town."

Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via AP

Photos said to be from inside the cabin obtained by DailyMail.com show a basement room containing some boxes, as well as a mattress, a plush stuffed pig, makeup and women's clothes.

According to a transcript of the call obtained by CNN, when Kristin Kasinskas called 911 on Jan. 10, Nutter got on the phone and gave them Patterson's name and mentioned his cabin was close to hers, which is why she didn't take Jayme back to her place. Jayme had identified her abductor as Jake Patterson and told Nutter that he killed her parents.

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The dispatcher asked her what Jayme's condition was, and Nutter replied, "I think shock and cold. And shock."

Asked if she knew about his work or vehicle, Nutter said, "He doesn't work, and I asked [Jayme] what kind of car it was. It's red—he used to be in the military—it's a red car." The woman explained that she and her husband only went to their cabin a few times a year, and in four years Patterson had "never been friendly" or talked to her, even though their properties were off the same road.

"I don't even know what he looks like," Nutter said.

About Patterson being in the military—he was prematurely discharged after five weeks of the 13-week Marine boot camp in 2015 because the "character of his service was incongruent with Marine Corps' expectations and standards," a Marine Corp. spokesman confirmed to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The Associated Press reported that Patterson had lied about his military service on a job application to work for Saratoga Liquor Co. in Superior, Wis., that he submitted on Jan. 10. The applicant had written that he served in the Marines for nine months in 2017.

The work he was referring to when he saw Jayme getting on the school bus in October was at a cheese plant. He quit after working there for two days.

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Several Douglas County Sheriff's deputies and sergeants showed up and secured the Kasinskas home. Per the complaint, a Deputy Dittbrender left with Jayme, while a Sgt. Engelman following in his squad car. Dittbrender later recounted that they soon spotted a red car, but Jayme couldn't be sure it was the car. She contacted Sgt. Engelman and a Sgt. Derosia, who had remained at the Kasinskas house.

Engleman ran the license plate and found that the car was registered to a Katie Patterson. Derosia got in his car and waited for the vehicle to pass and, when it did, he saw that the driver's side taillight and license plate light was broken. He followed the car and, just as it was passing the driveway matching the address on the vehicle registration, pulled Patterson over. Engleman pulled up and approached the passenger side. 

"I did it," Patterson said as he got out of the car, according to Derosia.

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Jayme says she was tied up in the trunk of the Taurus when three patrol cars, sirens on and lights flashing, passed it that night. In fact, the Taurus' driver yielded to them, according to Patterson and the deputies who responded to the call.

Per the criminal complaint, Jayme told investigators she could hear the sirens passing from the trunk; her wrists and ankles had been bound with tape and a piece of tape covered her mouth. Patterson told authorities he had been wearing a black mask when he shot the Closses and took Jayme, but removed the mask when he started driving. He had previously removed the emergency cord from the inside of the trunk that's there for someone trapped inside to pull on, and was driving with a stolen license plate. 

He had been driving for maybe 20 seconds, he said, when he saw the sheriff's vehicles.

If he had been stopped, he "most likely would have shot at the police," he said.

Jeff Baenen/AP/Shutterstock

Jayme told authorities that she woke up when she heard Molly barking and saw a car pulling into their driveway. She woke up her parents and she and her mother, seeing a man through the glass holding a gun, went to hide in the bathtub while her dad went to the door.

Patterson told investigators that he started banging on the door and heard James Closs ask to see his badge, apparently assuming he was a police officer. He could see James through the glass panel in the wooden front door, so he aimed and fired at his head. Then he shot at the doorknob to get in.

From the bathtub, Jayme and her mom heard the gunshot that killed her father, the teen said. They were in the tub, the shower curtain drawn around them, when her mom called 911 from her cell phone, she continued, but Patterson broke down the bathroom door and told her to hang up.

According to the complaint, Patterson told authorities he then ordered Denise to put tape over her daughter's mouth, which she did, and then he shot Denise in the head.

The suspect drew a diagram of the Closs home and indicated how he got in and out of the house, as well as where he killed Denise and James, the complaint states.

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Jayme further recalled to authorities being in the car for about two hours until they arrived at the cabin. Jayme said that Patterson ordered her to go into his bedroom and take off her clothes, which he then stuffed in a bag, saying something about not wanting to have evidence. She said she didn't know what he did with her clothes.

Patterson told detectives that Jayme had wet herself in the trunk so he had her change into a pair of his sister's pajamas. He took her clothes, the duct tape and gloves he wore that night and threw them in a wood fireplace in the basement, he said.

Patterson sometimes had people over and would make her hide under his twin-size bed, Jayme told authorities, warning her that "bad things would happen to her" if anyone found out she was there. He stacked bags and laundry bins pinned down with the sort of weights you slip onto barbells around the bed, to ensure she wouldn't try to emerge, telling her he'd be able to tell if she was trying to get out if the stacks were moved at all. He would play loud music so she could never hear what was going on, Jayme said.

The teen alleged he made her stay under the bed for up to 12 hours at a time, with no food, water or trip to the bathroom. On one occasion, Jayme said, Patterson hit her "'really hard'" on the back with the handle of some sort of cleaning tool when he was mad and warned her that if she did it again (she couldn't remember what "it" was), next time the punishment would be worse.

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On Jan. 10, Patterson told her he'd be gone for five or six hours and stashed her under the bed. During that time, Jayme managed to push the heavy objects out of the way, put on a pair of Patterson's shoes and leave the house. Happily, she saw Jeanne Nutter.

The retired child protective services worker met Jayme's family a few days after the girl was reunited with them.

"It was wonderful," Nutter told CBS News' Gayle King. "I can only imagine what they've been through. Honestly, I feel privileged that I had this little piece of, you know, the puzzle of finding Jayme."


Tragically, Jayme no longer has her parents, but the rest of her family is beyond overjoyed to be with her.

Jenninfer Smith has been appointed her legal guardian. "My new little sister," Jennifer's daughter Lindsey Smith called her cousin in a sit-down with Gayle King.

Smith, who had described feeling as if there was a hole in her heart while Jayme was missing, "can't stop smiling," Lynn Closs, another aunt, told King. "It's such an overwhelming, amazing happy ending to such a horrible beginning."

Aunt Suzi Allard said their priority was ensuring that Jayme felt safe. "She feels safe," she said. "She's doing pretty well."

And they are certainly not rushing Jayme to talk about her ordeal, though of course they—and the rest of the world—have questions.

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"In due time," Allard said. "We have to take little steps. Jayme, when she's ready to talk, she will." Added Lynn Closs, "If she wants to be happy, let her be happy. If she wants to be silly, let her be silly. We gotta let her call the shots right now."

Moreover, Lynn said, "The thing I wanted to express to her immediately, and we all do, is the pride we have in her for doing this. For getting out. For making it. For the power that she has. You know, I mean, that she took the power away from this man. That she did this. I mean, it's just incredible."

Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS via ZUMA Wire

The story of Jayme's escape captivated countless people, including now 31-year-old Elizabeth Smart, who was 14 when she was kidnapped from her bedroom in her family's Utah home and held prisoner for nine months at the hands of Brian David Mitchell, who's now in prison serving a life sentence. Smart was out in public with Mitchell when a passerby recognized her and called police. When officers first approached the teen, she initially denied being Elizabeth Smart out of stone-cold fear.

"To go through everything she has gone through, and to have lost her parents on top of it all I hope she feels the love and support of the nation," Smart wrote about Closs on Instagram. "I also hope that as time passes as she is questioned in the future by people who will never understand what it is like to be a captive and to be kidnapped she never questions herself. She made all the right decisions.


"I have often been asked in regards to my own story questions like, 'why didn't you run? Why didn't you scream? Why didn't you escape?' And I always felt highly defensive about those questions because whenever a person started with the words 'why didn't you...' it felt like they were saying 'you should have..." I did everything I had to to survive, and I don't regret any choice I made. I pray Jayme never feels those feelings or gets asked those kinds of questions, but if she does I hope she remembers she is a hero, she is strong, she did nothing wrong, she is a survivor, and I will be cheering her on every step she takes!!! I also hope that this is a reminder to everyone that there are still thousands of missing children who deserve the chance of life and none of us should ever stop looking!!!!"

In April Smart hosted the Lifetime special Smart Justice: The Jayme Closs Case, which featured her and six other kidnapping survivors sharing their unique perspectives on the teen's situation.

Smart also talked about meeting Jayme and her family off-camera. "I could see straightaway that she was a very shy girl," she said. "I could sense she didn't know who I was, but why would she? She wasn't even born when I was kidnapped."

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Jayme's uncle Michael Closs, brother of her late father James, told the Green Bay Press Gazette in February that the family was "doing fine."

"Jayme is doing real well. We are really confident in the court system," he continued.

Family friend Michelle Saffert told CBS News, "I think that if she has to be with a group of people that will love her and support her for the rest of her life, she's in the perfect family to do that."

Jennifer Smith and other family members painted a grimmer picture Friday in court, where they emphasized the damage Patterson had done in victim impact statements.

"She doesn't have a normal 13-year-old life," Smith said about her niece. "We now live in fear every day, watch our backs, have home security, don't feel safe."

Barron County Sheriff's Dept

The fact that Jayme was found couldn't help but inspire hope in others, however, even those whose window to rationalize a happy ending may have seemingly closed. 

"#HOPE Such great news! Jayme is an example of why we never lose hope and never stop searching," read a Jan. 10 post on the Find Madeleine McCann Facebook page. Madeleine was 3 when she disappeared from her family's hotel room while they were vacationing in Portugal in 2007. Her parents, Jerry and Kate McCann of England said in 2017 that they've never stopped looking for her.

Jake Patterson told authorities he thought he had gotten away with taking Jayme when two weeks went by and he hadn't been caught. He said he "never would have been caught if he would have planned everything perfectly."

(Originally published Jan. 20, 2019, at 3 a.m. PT)