Pamela Sue Wells and Nancy Ellen Trotter were lucky to be alive, police said later. The two attractive teenagers, 18 and 17, respectively, were thumbing for a ride in Stuart, Florida, their second day in town on July 21, 1972. Deputy Sheriff Gerard Schaefer stopped in his police cruiser, took their names and told them that hitchhiking was illegal in Martin County (it isn't). He drove the girls back to a halfway house where they were staying, then offered them a ride to the beach the next morning. Trusting him as an officer of the law, Trotter and Wells agreed.
The next day the sheriff's deputy kept their date, but instead of heading for nearby Jensen Beach, he drove to swampy Hutchinson Island, off State Road A1A, telling the girls he wanted to show them a Spanish fort. Once there, the 26-year-old lawman started making sexual remarks, then drew a gun and told the girls he planned to sell them as white slaves to a foreign prostitution syndicate. Forcing them out of the car, he handcuffed and gagged both girls, leaving them balanced on tree roots with nooses around their necks, at risk of hanging if they slipped and fell. Still making threats, Schaefer left them there, promising to return shortly, but while he was gone the girls managed to escape.
When he returned to find them missing Schaefer telephoned his boss, telling Sheriff Richard Crowder, "I've done something foolish. You're going to be mad at me." Schaefer had "overdone" his job, he said, trying to scare the girls out of hitchhiking for their own good.
Crowder ordered him back to the station and went looking for the girls, finding them both still in handcuffs as they emerged from the forest. Returning to headquarters, Crowder fired Schaefer on the spot and arrested him, charging him with false imprisonment and two counts of aggravated assault. Schaefer made his $15,000 bond and was released on July 24.
With no defense against the charge, he cut a plea bargain the following November, pleading guilty to one count of aggravated assault, while the other counts were dismissed. At his sentencing three days before Christmas, Judge D.C. Smith pronounced Schaefer "a perfect jackass" and "a thoughtless fool." Schaefer was sentenced to one year in jail and three years' probation. The good news: if he kept his nose clean in the lockup, he could be released in six months.
By June, he would be free to hunt again.