We met with American tourist and grandmother, Estelle Bogopolsky, who recently spent a harrowing seven days as an ISIS hostage in an unknown location.
Ironically, Estelle had never wanted to leave the comfort of the Leisure World Retirement Village in Sunnyvale, Florida. However, she didn’t want to disappoint her daughter Mona, who had given Estelle and her husband, Harold, a weeks holiday in London as a 50-year anniversary gift.
The vacation started quietly, and if you had told Estelle that morning that in 24 hours she would be kidnapped by ISIS terrorists who mistook her for Theresa May, she would have said you were crazy.
“If you had mentioned the word torture, the only thing that would have come to mind was my Bed & Breakfast, where we were staying.”
It was on the second day of their trip that the unthinkable happened. As her husband Harold was taking a photo of Estelle outside 10 Downing Street, terrorists grabbed her, put a bag over her head, and drove away with her in a van. It was only later that it became clear they had mistaken her for Prime Minister, Theresa May.
“If only Harold had been a little faster to take the picture, the whole ordeal might have been avoided, but to be honest, my Harold is not so good with these new smarty-pants phones,” Estelle says.
As the van screeched and drove away, Estelle believed she heard her husband say, “Estelle, which button do I press to take the picture?”
Estelle woke up on a dirty mattress in a dark room. It was then that an event occurred, which would set the tone for the rest of her week in captivity.
When she refused to urinate with the bathroom door open, one of the terrorists threatened to chop Estelle’s head off. She was terrified, but she knew she had to draw the line.
“Listen mister,” she said, “if I had a nickel for every time one of my children or grandchildren threatened to chop my head off, I’d be neighbours with Mr. Rockefeller and Mr. Dupont.”
Dumbfounded, and with no idea who Mr. Rockefeller or Mr. Dupont were, the terrorist backed down.
Men in masks came and went and time passed slowly. Gradually, Estelle began to know the men better. In particular, she felt comfortable with the one the others called Big Mo, a bald man who Estelle estimated to be around forty years of age.
“He may have worn those fancy sneakers like the other boys, but he was over forty if he was a day,” she says.
Big Mo was the first man with whom Estelle formed a bond, and concerned about his health, she made him promise to put less salt on his food and to schedule a colonoscopy with his doctor as soon as he got home.
After becoming friends with Big Mo, it wasn’t long before the rest of the crew followed suit and began to form an attachment to Estelle and vice-versa. She insinuated her way into the kitchen and began to do all the cooking.
“Listen, these boys were so skinny, I could’ve put them in my back pocket and walked around with them,” she says. “So, I started making them all my specialties: brisket with a side of kreplach, chicken soup with matzo balls, and for dessert, my famous double-death-by-chocolate-peanut-butter cheesecake.”
It became clear to Estelle that the men were waiting for further instructions on what to do with her. But with no TV or radio, it was tedious. To pass the time, she convinced them to play gin rummy using matchsticks as markers and told them family tales.
“I told them how my bubby saved my zayde time and time again from financial ruin back in Poland and about my grandson Morris, who is studying film at USC. He’s a genius. But I wanted him to be a doctor.”
Just when things were beginning to get tolerable for Estelle, a man burst into the hideaway and found the men sitting around playing cards and eating cake. (By then Estelle had most of the matchsticks.) Screaming at the men, he grabbed Estelle by the arm and dragged her out.
“Wait a minute, what’s happening?” she asked.
“I’ll tell you what’s happening,” he said. “My men have gotten fat and lazy. I told them that they don’t deserve the honor of cutting your head off, so instead, we are going to exchange you for one of our own.”
Having grown fond of the boys, Estelle was about to defend them by saying that they did indeed deserve to chop her head off, but she stopped herself at the last second.
“Wait a minute, what am I doing?” she said to herself. “I don’t want them to chop my head off.”
Back home in Florida
Estelle never did get to see London, but she is just grateful to be alive back in Florida where the only thing she has to fear is the occasional hurricane and alligator.
“All I have to show for the whole crazy trip is this picture,” she says, holding up a photo, which as it turned out, her husband Harold did manage to snap in front of 10, Downing Street after all. In it, standing behind Estelle plain as day is British Prime Minister, Theresa May.
Oren Shafir for Pf Magazine