AJC Deja News: Emory coed Mackle kidnapped, buried alive (1972)

A review of the news that made The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s front pages through the decades.

Today’s AJC Deja News comes to you from the Sunday, Feb. 27, 1972 Sunday edition of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution.


In December 1968, Gary Krist kidnapped Emory student Barbara Jane Mackle from her mother’s room at the Rodeway Inn motel, formerly located at 1706 Clairmont Road, Decatur at gunpoint, buried her inside a specially-made ventilated box in a shallow trench near Duluth and demanded a $500,000 ransom, which he received. Krist then phoned the FBI with a vague description of the rural Gwinnett County area where she had been taken. Mackle, who was physically unharmed, was found 83 hours after being abducted.

Feb. 7, 1969 - Gary Steve Krist, left, is shown the way back to his jail cell an officer after two court-appointed attorneys were granted a three week continuation in DeKalb County Superior Court at Decatur, Ga. in the arraignment of Krist on charges of abducting Barbara Jane Mackie, 20,, of Miami, Fla. Source: File/AP

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"Mackle was an heiress to a Florida real estate developer. Krist spent months researching Mackle's family and stalking her. He meticulously planned the crime, installing air tubes and a fan in the burial box to pump air from the surface, and including water and food," the AJC's Ariel Hart wrote in a Sept. 2016 article on Krist, who later became a doctor.

In a 14-part series from Feb. 27-March 11, 1972 Journal-Constitution readers learned just how terrifying Mackle's 83-hour ordeal was when the paper published excerpts from her book, 83 Hours Till Dawn, written with the Miami Herald's Gene Miller, in serial form. Here are some of Mackle's first-person accounts from that series:


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On being confronted by Krist at gunpoint:

“I wasn’t scared exactly. You know how sometimes you are so astonished that you are completely calm? That’s how I felt.”

On Krist telling her about the ‘underground room’:

“It was all coming at me so fast. I couldn’t conceive of any room underground where I could walk around... In Atlanta, Georgia? This was absurd. The man is crazy. And yet I was listening intently.”

On being placed in the underground ventilated box:

"When I tried to straighten out, I couldn't. My feet wouldn't go all the way. And for the first time I could actually see. There was a light in there. I knew instantly this wasn't a passageway. It was a box. I was petrified really. I was shaking. I was terrified. I was never so frightened in my life. I guess I became hysterical. I cried, 'No! No! No! You can't do this!'"

Newsmen and onlookers inspect the hole in which Barbara Jane Mackle was buried. The Emory University student, daughter of Miami millionaire Robert Mackle, was found after her father paid a half-million-dollar ransom. She was unearthed after 83 hours, physically unharmed.

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On being buried underground:

"Then I heard the dirt. I heard it falling. There are no words to describe it. The first shovelfuls were very loud. After a while they became muffled. I was hysterical. 'Oh, God! You can't leave me here!' I'd talk, then be silent waiting for an answer, then talk. There was nothing. Then I'd talk some more, begging, begging. And there was nothing. Only silence. That's when I knew they were gone.

"I'm being left here to die. This is it, I thought... why wait? Then I said to myself, Come on , Barbara, you know better than that. You'll make it."

On reaching out to God while buried:

"I just started talking, as if God were there beside me. And I said, God, I'm not going to die here. I don't know what kind of feelings people have when they are going to die. But I know You are not going to let me die. I said even if no one knows where I am, You know where I am."

On finally being rescued after 83 hours in the box:

"I had never felt such a wonderful feeling of relief. I heard prying, all sorts of sounds... And then finally, they opened the lid and the dirt was falling in... And everything was light. I stuck my head out and it was so bright I blinked. And I saw hands reaching for me."


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On what she told the FBI agents after her rescue:

"A little later I asked where we were. I wasn't familiar with that part of Atlanta... someone mentioned a part of town, and I said, 'Where's that?' He said, 'That's pretty far out.' And I said, 'Yes, sir. The whole thing is pretty far out.'"


Gary Krist was paroled in 1979. Krist was arrested again in 2006, went to prison from 2007 to 2010, then was ordered back to prison in 2012 after violating probation by leaving the country without permission. He was last released on July 2, 2015.

Barbara Jane Mackle has not given interviews since 83 Hours Till Dawn was published in July 1971. She is married with four children and lives in Florida.


In this highly irregular series, we scour the AJC archives for the most interesting news from days gone by, show you the original front page and update the story.

If you have a story you’d like researched and featured in AJC Deja News, send an email with as much information as you know. Email: malbright@ajc.com. Use the subject line “AJC Deja News.”

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