40 Years Ago: Tammy Wynette Reportedly Abducted in Nashville
On Oct. 4, 1978, Tammy Wynette was reportedly abducted from the parking lot of the Cain-Sloan Department Store in the Nashville neighborhood of Green Hills. The alleged kidnapping happened as the country star was out shopping for a birthday present for her then-8-year-old daughter, Tamala Georgette Jones.
Wynette reported that, on that date, 40 years ago today, she had left her car unlocked and was accosted by a strange masked man, who had crept into her backseat, when she returned. "I felt a poke in my side and heard a man’s voice say, 'Drive!'" she recounted to People a few weeks later. "All I could see was a brown glove, a lot of hair on his arm and two inches of gun barrel."
As the pair drove, the man strangled Wynette with a pair of pantyhose so forcefully that it left burn marks, Wynette shared, and also punched her — all before leaving her in a strange town and getting away in another car. All in all, the two-hour ordeal found Wynette 80 miles away from Nashville, near the house of a woman named Junette Young.
"Her neck hurt her real bad and her mouth hurt her where he had slapped her in the mouth," Young told The Tennessean, which put the crime on its front page on Oct. 5. "I gave her a cold wet rag. Her cheek was skinned. Her neck wasn't cut but was swollen and red from whatever had been tied around her neck."
Understandably, "it was the most terrifying experience of my life," Wynette told People. "At times like this, I have to say I wish I weren’t famous."
According to the magazine, Nashville police found the incident “very puzzling.” Although Wynette suffered a broken cheekbone and shocking bruises on her face, she wasn't sexually assaulted or robbed, despite having 30 credit cards and $40 in cash on her. The country star also claimed that she didn't see the face of her assailant, which didn't help solve the mystery.
The reported incident understandably rattled Wynette, she noted in a separate interview with the Washington Post. "I wake up and think, 'Why didn't I just ram the car into an empty car in the parking lot?'" she shared. "I think of a hundred things I could've done — but then again, I think, 'Well, I'm alive.' If I'd done that, he might've shot me. They'd have caught him, but still — I'd be dead.'"
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The alleged kidnapping was one in a litany of bizarre incidents Wynette had experienced in then-recent times. As People noted, she and her fifth husband, George Richey, found eight Xs drawn on their house, and a stranger had also tried to kidnap Tamala Georgette from school; before that, her house caught on fire, was constantly being broken into and had its phones tapped.
Still, the reported abduction in particular sent the Nashville rumor mill into overdrive: People reported on whispers that the abduction was a publicity stunt or a way for Wynette to cover up cheating — or even the singer's ex-husband, George Jones, getting back at her.
Such rampant (and unfounded) speculation hurt Wynette: "Two-thirds of the people were wonderful," she told the Washington Post. "The other third I would have to say were the cranks who said it was all done for publicity stunt, which broke my heart, or that it was done to hide an affair I was having ...
"It says all those things were discounted because 'Tammy was seen doing this' or 'Tammy was seen doing that,' but a lot of people won't even read that line — they'll get just so far down and quit: 'Ah, hah, she did it herself,'" she continued. "But that doesn't make sense; I don't know any woman who would want her face damaged. If I wanted publicity, I'd go down to Possum Holler [a club owned by George Jones] and dance all night."
Speaking to People about the abduction, Richey revealed that he "think[s] I know who is responsible for all this, and we’re going to put an end to it," although he then added, "It’s a professional job with some amateurish aspects just to throw us off."
However, the truth behind the crime just might be more heartbreaking. In 2000, one of Wynette's daughters, Jackie Daly, claimed in her book Tammy Wynette: A Daughter Recalls Her Mother's Tragic Life and Death that the abduction was made up to cover up Richey beating Wynette. (The country star had passed at the age of 55 in 1998.)
"Jackie's allegations that I abused Tammy are preposterous," Richey told the Scottish Daily Record in 2000. "To the contrary, I spent 20 years with Tammy, loving her and taking care of her and her career."
In her 2011 memoir, The Three of Us: Growing Up With Tammy and George, which was published after Richey died, Tamala Georgette reiterated the abuse claim, writing, "She did admit to my sister that when all that stuff came out about her being kidnapped in 1978 that she and Richey had had a fight and he had beaten her. He threatened to destroy her life and write a tell-all book so she decided to stay with him ... so he concocted the kidnapping story for PR."
It's never been determined with certainty whether or not Wynette's supposed abduction happened. But in a creepy postscript, People reported that after her first concert following the alleged kidnapping, Wynette found a note in her dressing room that said, “I’m still around. I’ll get you.”
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