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Nancy Grace

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Day 5: Inside the Hornbeck & Ownby case

  • Shawn Hornbeck & Ben Ownby were found alive in Jan. 2007
  • Michael Devlin is serving 74 life sentences + 170 years
  • Follow the case on twitter @NancyGraceHLN #NGM
Day 5: Inside the Hornbeck & Ownby case

Day 3: The night Hornbeck & Ownby were found alive

Day 3: The night Hornbeck & Ownby were found alive

Editor's note: In Session correspondent and former prosecutor Beth Karas covered the Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby case. Here she talks with Nancy Grace Producers about their miraculous recovery.

Q: When you hear the names Shawn Hornbeck & Ben Ownby what comes to mind?

A: Terror, shock, disbelief, and relief... I think of those poor young men and the senseless, horrific abuse they experienced. I think of their parents and how helpless they must have felt. And I think of the great investigative work that ended the young men’s nightmare, and how wonderful it is that the families are reunited.

Q: What was captivity like for Shawn Hornbeck? Is it true he tried to contact his family?

A: Shawn described his first month as particularly torturous. He was tied to a futon and had duct tape over his mouth so he couldn’t yell or scream while Devlin was at work. But the abuse didn’t stop there, Shawn was also sexually abused.  After a month, Devlin had complete control over Shawn and slowly permitted more liberty to him. In time, Shawn had a cell phone, access to the internet, he made a friend, and even ventured out of the home. It is true that Shawn tried to contact his family via the internet. He posted a message to them asking how long they planned to search for their son. He called himself “Shawn Devlin,” hoping his family would take the hint. His father saw the message but didn’t put it together.

Q: In a certain light, if Ben Ownby had not been abducted, Shawn Hornbeck may never have been found. Your thoughts?

A: I suppose it’s possible Shawn may never had been found if Ben had not been kidnapped. It’s also possible that, as Shawn got older, he would have become bolder in his efforts to contact his family or reach out the authorities. I believe, in time, Shawn would have escaped. At least I want to believe that he would have been reunited with his family. 

Q: What evidence led authorities to Michael Devlin?

A: Devlin was arrested four days after Ben Ownby was kidnapped. The key evidence leading authorities to Devlin came from Ben’s friend who gave a strikingly detailed description of the getaway truck used at Ben’s abduction. The other tip came from Devlin’s employer who noticed red road dust on Devlin’s white truck, and that Devlin went home sick the day Ben disappeared—a highly unusual event. After Devlin missed the next two days of work, the employer called the police. Finally, two officers happened to be arresting his upstairs neighbor when they noted small fingerprints on the windows and dark spatter—like blood—on the floorboard of Devlin’s truck parked outside. Everything then fell into place.

Q: What do you remember about the day Shawn Hornbeck & Ben Ownby were found alive?

A: I remember the excitement that Ben Ownby was found alive so quickly. I also remember the sheer luck on the part of law enforcement to have stumbled upon the missing Shawn Hornbeck. It was a fascinating story as the truth unfolded.

Q: Can you explain why Shawn Hornbeck did not try and escape during his 4 years of captivity? It’s very had for people to understand.

A: After a month of captivity, Devlin told Shawn he was taking him home. Instead, he took the 11-year-old to a remote area to kill him. Shawn pleaded for his life as Devlin was strangling him, and promised he’d do whatever Devlin wanted so long as he could live. Devlin agreed to the deal provided Shawn promised never to try to contact anyone or try to escape. If so, Devlin would kill him. It was after that day that Devlin had complete control over Shawn and started to give him more liberties. Shawn also feared for the safety of his family. He says he prayed daily that he would one day be with them.

Q: Where is Michael Devlin now? Is it true he was attacked in prison?  

A: Devlin is in state prison in Cameron, Missouri, serving 74 life sentences. On the eve of trial in 2007, he plead guilty to more than 70 counts against him. In 2011, another inmate, who fashioned what were described as “homemade ice picks” from parts to a typewriter, attacked Devlin in prison. The inmate is said to have nicknamed the “ice picks” Shawn and Ben. Devlin was not seriously injured. 

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