Actual Factual Gwinnett: A kidnapped college girl buried alive

This is "Actual Factual Gwinnett," a regular column in which I, Tyler Estep, answer reader questions about Gwinnett happenings and history. Read previous editions -- including enlightening topics like "Why does Suwanee City Hall look so much like the Hall of Justice?" -- by clicking the hyperlinks at the bottom of this column, where you'll also find information for submitting your own questions. Enjoy!

Reader Jenny Jensen writes:

“Did the story '83 Hours 'Til Dawn' really happen in Gwinnett County, and if so where, and what happened to the college student?"

We'll talk later, Jenny, about how I had to add all that punctuation myself. But on a more positive note, yes! "83 Hours 'Til Dawn" -- a TV movie from 1990 about a college student/heiress being kidnapped and buried alive until her parents paid the ransom -- is based on a real event that (partly) happened in Gwinnett County.

Whoa whoa whoa...what? Yup, you read that right. It happened in 1968. It involved Gary Stephen Krist (the bad guy) and Barbara Jean Mackle (the daughter of a wealthy Florida developer, both seen below in an AP file photo).

For the details, I'm going to rely on a previous offering from colleague Andy Johnston, who writes The AJC's "Actual Factual Georgia" column (from which we blatantly stole the name of this column, because we couldn't think of anything better). Last summer, Andy wrote the following, in part:

Mackle had the flu and was staying with her mother at a local hotel on Dec. 17, 1968, when Krist showed up in the early morning hours, talked his way into the room and grabbed her.

Krist had already built and prepared the 8-foot-long box where Mackle would stay while he demanded money from her family. It included air hoses, a powered fan, pumps to keep it from flooding, candy, water, a light and even toilet paper, as written in "Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of its People and Events, Volume 3."

Krist and accomplice Ruth Eisemann-Schier drove Mackle to a spot near Gwinnett County's Berkeley Lake, where they put her in the box, snapped a photo of her holding a sign with the word "Kidnapped" written on it, and buried her.

The kidnappers sent a $500,000 ransom note to Robert Mackle, Barbara's father, who met the demand. After he received the money, Krist called the FBI on Dec. 20, to let them know where Barbara was buried. Officers and agents found her – still alive – and pulled the box out of the ground that afternoon, more than three days after she was buried.

Yowza, right? It gets weirder. Krist, 23, was captured within a few days, tried and convicted. But he was paroled 10 years into his life sentence and then PARDONED in 1988 -- SO HE COULD PURSUE A MEDICAL DEGREE.

Predictably, potential patients weren't exactly knocking down his door and, in 2006, he was arrested in Mobile, Alabama, while trying his hand at smuggling cocaine (and humans). He was released from federal prison in 2010, then sent back in 2012 for violating his probation. Federal prison records show he was released again last July, when he was 70 years old.

What he's doing these days, I have no idea.


I, Tyler Estep, am a staff writer with the AJC and a Gwinnett County native. To submit “Actual Factual Gwinnett” questions, contact me at, @ByTylerEstep on Twitter or via the form below.