Naked, blindfolded and bound in her captor’s apartment, Lisa McVey had just one thing on her mind — survival.
Hours earlier, the petite 17-year-old had been snatched at gunpoint while cycling home from her job in a cafe.
The man who had bundled her off her bike and into his car was Bobby Joe Long, a serial killer who had mutilated and murdered eight women in Tampa, Florida.
A vast police taskforce had hunted in vain to find him — and now he had abducted the woman he intended to be victim No 9. Over the course of the next 26 terrifying hours, Lisa was repeatedly raped and tortured.
Naked, blindfolded and bound in her captor’s apartment, Lisa McVey had just one thing on her mind — survival
Yet, showing astonishing courage and presence of mind, she calmly persuaded her captor to release her, all the while gathering clues to help identify him to the police.
Her subsequent escape and detailed testimony enabled them to arrest Long, bringing an end to his reign of terror.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Captain Gary Terry, who oversaw the investigation, said in a recent interview: ‘If we had not arrested him when we did, who knows how many victims there would have been, how many victims that Lisa saved.’
Now her remarkable experience has been dramatised in Believe Me: The Abduction Of Lisa McVey. A largely faithful retelling of her harrowing story, it has become the most-watched programme on streaming service Netflix since its release last week.
The world it depicts is mid-eighties Florida, which by November 1984 had become a hunting ground for a deranged killer. In the space of seven months, police had found eight mutilated female bodies.
The first was that of 20-year-old exotic dancer Lana Long (no relation), who was found lying face down and naked in a field alongside the interstate in May.
Her hands had been bound behind her back, a rope tied around her neck and her hips broken so she could be posed with her legs spread at right angles. Just two weeks later, police were called to another sickeningly violent scene. Michelle Simms, 22, had had her throat cut and a ligature placed around her neck.
Survivor Lisa is pictured above around the age she was abducted
When red fibres on the bodies of both women were shown to have come from the same nylon carpet, police knew they had a serial killer on their hands. But other than tracks close to the scene showing a car tyre that did not match the other three, they had little to go on.
As tension mounted around Tampa, the body count grew with stomach-churning speed: Four bodies in one month alone, all bound, posed in bizarre positions and left to decompose. ‘The weight really falls on your shoulders, that if you didn’t get him, he could kill again,’ Captain Terry recalled in one documentary about Long’s killing spree. ‘The haunting reality is that every day that goes by you could have another homicide victim.’
It was against this grisly backdrop that Lisa was snatched after her late-night shift in a doughnut store in the small hours of November 3, 1984.
She had suffered a dysfunctional upbringing. By the age of five she had been placed into care and bounced around assorted foster homes until, aged 14, she was sent to live at the home of her maternal grandparents, where she was sexually abused by her grandmother’s boyfriend.
Incredibly, on the day she was abducted, a desperate Lisa had decided to take her own life and had left a suicide note in her dressing table drawer.
Yet fate had other ideas.
That night, as she cycled home — having refused a lift from a concerned co-worker — she was followed in a car by Long and knocked off her bike. ‘And that’s when I felt the gun to my left temple and I heard a click,’ she recalled in one documentary about her ordeal.
Ordered into Long’s car, she was told to strip and made to perform a sex act before being tied up and blindfolded.
Yet despite her terror, Lisa was already deciding to gather as many clues as she could.
‘A small voice inside of me said, “You’re going to be ok, stay calm. Let’s see what you can do to get out of this”,’ she recalled.
Using her jaw, she managed to loosen the blindfold allowing her to see small bits of detail in his car — its green digital clock, thick red carpet in the footwell and the word ‘magnum’ on the dashboard — something that would later prove crucial to Long’s capture. When he hauled her into his apartment, she counted 32 steps up to his door and took in the smell of fresh paint.
Lisa later recalled how he directed her to the bathroom, where he raped her on the floor. Yet prior to that, she recalled, he had bathed her tenderly as if she were his lover.
‘He mentioned he had raped other women. And I said, “why are you doing this to me?” and he said to get back at women in general,’ she recalled. It was something to play on. I had to take all the abuse I had incurred as a child and just reach down into the pit of my stomach and find those survivor’s skills.’
Long raped Lisa repeatedly in those 26 hours, often flying into violent rages. Yet, using reverse psychology, Lisa earned Long’s trust. ‘I said, “I’ll be your girlfriend”. It really helped me survive, to use psychology to get inside his head, to really see that I was compassionate person.’
She also told him she was the sole carer to a seriously ill dad who would have no one if she died.
All the while Lisa continued to peek under her blindfold and, when Long let her go to the bathroom alone, she touched every surface she could to leave fingerprints. ‘I wanted the police to know he did indeed have me in his apartment,’ she says.
Long is pictured moments after his conviction. In one police interview, he confided that he hadn’t wanted to hurt her. ‘It was a real tug of war trying to decide whether I should let her go or not’
She also memorised as many physical details about her captor as possible. ‘At one point he took my hands and put them all over his face. There were pock marks. He had a moustache and his ears were small,’ she recalled. ‘I never saw his face — but with my hands I did.’
Then, at four in the morning the night after she had been captured, Long — who had been sleeping next to her as she lay bound and blindfolded alongside him — woke her and asked what he should do with her. Lisa again offered to be his girlfriend, reassuring him that no one need ever know how they had met.
Instead, he ordered her to get dressed and bundled her back in his car, telling her he would drop her off near where she lived.
In a move that would help seal his fate, Long stopped at a cashpoint on the way where, again peeking under her blindfold, Lisa saw the sign for a local motel and shop. ‘I knew exactly where we were,’ she recalled.
Once back in the car Long drove on, before stopping and telling her he was sorry she had to go through her ordeal. Dumping her out of the car, he ordered her to wait five minutes before removing the blindfold.
‘I took off my blindfold and saw this amazing oak tree,’ she says. ‘I had wanted to die before and now I wanted to live.’
Terrified that Long would change his mind, Lisa ran for her life, straight to a police station where, initially, detectives struggled to believe that a 17-year-old girl could really escape a violent and calculated serial killer.
Yet when fibres on Lisa’s body were found to match those on other victims, the police realised that the traumatised teenager in their interview room was the breakthrough they needed. ‘It was unbelievable what she was able to retain,’ recalls Captain Terry.
Lisa’s help was crucial. Her recollection of the ‘magnum’ on the dashboard meant that her abductor could only be driving a 1984 red Dodge Magnum, the only model with that inscription, while her memory of the motel and television show music she had heard playing in the background when Long visited the cashpoint allowed detectives to home in on the time and machine he was most likely to have used.
Cross-referencing the names of owners of Dodge Magnums in the state to those that had used the ATM in the hours before Lisa’s release, one name stood out: Bobby Joe Long.
An unemployed 31-year-old with a long history of violence against women, Long’s crime spree had begun four years earlier following a bitter divorce from the mother of his two children.
Known as the ‘Classified Ad Rapist’, he had trawled the small ads in newspapers in Long Beach, California, looking for women who were selling domestic appliances.
If he found a woman alone at home, he asked to use her bathroom before sexually assaulting and robbing her.
He is believed to have carried out around 50 rapes before moving to Florida — crimes which were never prosecuted by Californian authorities, in part because the statute of limitations had already expired by the time he was caught.
But now, courtesy of Lisa McVey, his reign of horror was about to come to an end. Days after Lisa’s testimony, two detectives spotted Long’s car in north Tampa.
Telling him they were investigating a robbery in the area, they persuaded him to allow them to take a picture for elimination purposes before letting him go — noting as they did the mismatched rear tyres on his car.
As a surveillance team kept watch, Lisa was shown the photo among dozens of others and immediately identified Long as her captor.
Tragically, by then, Long had already murdered two other young women in the space of six days — Virginia Johnson, 18, and 21-year-old Kim Swann.
Long was arrested on November 16, 1984, as he went to the cinema, and confessed to ten murders. Lisa had been different from his other victims, he said.
In one police interview, he confided that he hadn’t wanted to hurt her. ‘It was a real tug of war trying to decide whether I should let her go or not.’
Long later received a string of 99-year prison terms and two death penalty sentences. After exhausting all possible appeals, he was finally executed by lethal injection 35 years after his arrest on May 23, 2019, in front of two dozen relatives of his victims.
Lisa McVey — now Noland — was in the front row.
Cared for by a loving aunt and uncle following her ordeal, Lisa went on to flourish, starting a family of her own and qualifying as a police officer.
Today she works in the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office — the same department that oversaw the capture of Bobby Joe Long. Inspired by her own horrific experiences, Lisa specialises in helping young victims of sexual abuse. ‘Nobody is going to get hurt on my watch,’ she recently told U.S. television channel Fox News.
While still plagued by nightmares and flashbacks, she takes solace from the fact that she broke what she calls the ‘vicious’ cycle of her dysfunctional upbringing.
‘I had a second chance at life. To do it right as an adult,’ she said recently. ‘I was able to see that I could take all that negativity in my life and turn it into something positive.’
Believe me: The Disappearance of Lisa McVey is on Netflix.