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Senior Couple Safe After Bizarre Kidnap Plot

Authorties say James and Sandra Helm were taken to Canada, ransomed for cocaine
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 8, 2020 12:30 PM CDT

(Newser) – A senior couple in upstate New York were kidnapped and driven into Canada before their captors demanded the return of 50 kilograms of cocaine or its value, $3.5 million. Prosecutors described the "terrifying ordeal," in which the victims—James Helm Sr., 76, and Sandra Helm, 70—had hoods or pillowcases placed over their heads as a group of men took them from their home in Moira, through Akwesasne and Mohawk tribal land straddling the Canadian border, and into Quebec, where they were ferried across the St. Lawrence River, a criminal complaint reads, per the New York Times. They were then taken to a home, where the captors sent a photo of the couple to their son. This was a week after the couple's grandson and his mother had been arrested with cocaine during a Drug Enforcement Administration operation in Vermont, per an affidavit.

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Unaware the drugs had been seized, the captors demanded to be put in touch with a person they believed was holding the cocaine. A day after the kidnapping, they offered to trade the couple for that person, per the Times. Upon finding signs of a struggle at the couple's home, authorities used cellphone data to trace them to a home in Magog, Quebec, whose setting matched what was seen in the photo, and they were rescued on Sept. 29, the complaint reads. Reached by phone on Tuesday, James Helm told the AP, "We're doing all right." Four people are charged with seven counts each in Canada, including kidnapping and threats for ransom, per the Times. Meanwhile, Graigory Brown, 50, of Plattsburgh, NY, is charged with conspiring to kidnap the Helms. He told investigators that he drove the others to the couple's home, according to the complaint. (Read more kidnapping stories.)

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