The Brodys of Bethesda live today in an elegant home on three wooded acres, encircled by a network of burglar alarms, plagued by conviction that life has done them a great injustice.
Nearly five years ago, two armed men broke into the Brody home, abducted Billy Brody, then 16, held him for three days inside a coffin-like box, then released him after the family raised and delivered $200,000 ransom.
It was the first major kidnaping-for-profit case in the Washington area, and to this day it remains unsolved.
In the years since. Norman and Florence Brody have struggled to return their lives to normal, but they cannot escape the psychological grip of the week their son was kidnaped. "I have thought about it every day since it happened," Norman Brody says.
Brody has long ago written off the $200,000, which he borrowed from a bank. "I don't expect to see any part of that again. What I want to know is who kidnaped my son," he says. "I would like to see justice done."
Billy Brody is now a business student at a university in the South and claims to have emerged unscathed from the incident. His parents have installed a new alarm system in their home wired directly into the county police station, and Mrs. Brody now habitually checks her rear-view mirror to see if she is followed.
The Brodys, who appear to be an unassuming couple who say life has returned to near normal, are still haunted by the desire to know who attacked their family. "As far as I know, I have no enemies," Norman Brody says. "We were just not the logical choice."
At first the Brodys were brimming with confidence in the FBI. The agency seemed to have checked every conceivable suspect. Now the family feels abandoned. "They say they're working on it - what does that mean?" asks Brody. "I suppose if someone hands them a lead they might check it out, that's about it."
Brody believes the kidnaping was done by "professional" men "who knew what they were doing at all times. The whole kidnaping and escape took less than a half hour. It was like they were on a timetable. They just didn't goof."
Brody hired lawyers, who have peppered the Justice Department with requests for information about the case. These requests have been denied, and the family has appealed that decision. Meanwhile, an FBI spokesman said last week, the Bureau can make no comment about my aspect of this case.
The FBI's conduct has led Brody and his lawyers, Gerald H. Shermanand Samuel H. Black, to the verge of concluding that the government itself might have been involved in the kidnaping in some bizarre way.
"It's a theory for which I wouldn't have given you two cents six years ago," says Sherman, "but look what we've seen happen since then."
Sherman points out that Brody is not a well-known political or social figure, but "just another reasonably successful businessman." He is a senior official of a local firm that distributes health and beauty aids.
Although the Brody home at the time of the kidnaping was valued at more than $100,000, there are larger and more expensive homes nearby in the Bradley Hills neighborhood.
"I always felt so secure up here," Florence Brody says. "You know we don't live lavishly. I read about my friends who have their pictures in the paper and design clothes . . . Why didn't they (the kidnapers) go for their child? Why mine? When I'm living up here in my own quiet little way, doing my own thing . . ."
Sherman conducted a study of other kidnapings in the country and found that the Brody case is the longest-running unsolved kidnapers proved to five years. In nine cases out of 10, his study showed, the kidnapers proved to be clumsy amateurs who were quickly apprehended.
"Kidnaping is a very glamorous crime," Sherman said. "Law enforcement focuses on it, but in this case, it's like a curtain has come down."
The statute of limitations on the Brody kidnaping will expire in three months. Even is the kidnapers are eventually caught after that time, they cannot be charged with the abduction. An FBI spokesman emphasized that the culprits still could be liable for their acts under provisions of the Hobbs Act, providing a conspiracy could be established. Under the act, the FBI said, the statue of limitations would not begin to run until such time as the conspiracy, if any, is found out.
Norman Brody's desperation to know the identity of his son's kidnapers has led him ultimately to this newspaper, to the publicity the family has so carefully avoided all these years. In doing so he has come forward with many details of the crime that have never been printed. "It's my last shot," he says. "I only hope that someone will come forward with something new."
Norman Brody, a man in his 50s, thinning hair, a tennis buff, sat on a sofa in the family room with his wife and talked in reserved tones about his family's week of terror. "I think we'ver handled it as well as any family could," he said.
It was unusually mild, an almost springtime night in February and the Brodys had just finished watching the 10 o'clock news when they heard glass breaking in the kitchen.
Billy was in the family room, mounting photographic slides and the Brodys were preparing for bed.
The breaking glass at the kitchen door set off a loud alarm bell through the house. "I heard Billy give out the most awful gutteral sound, an enormous gasp," Mrs. Brody recalls.
"I saw a dark figure with a shotgun and took off toward the other end of the house," Billy Brody remembers.
He scrambled down the hall, past his bewildered father, and headed for a telephone in the master bedroom, locking the library door behind him.
In the instants before the gunmen descended upon him, Norman Brody dressed in his underwear, said he was thinking to do." One of the gunmen lem here, Norman, and you got a lot of talking to do." One of the gunmen cracked his rifle butt into the locked library door and sent it flying off its hinges. Norman Brody found himself facing two men in black jumpsuits, black hockey masks, and long guns in gloved hands. One of the men took after Billy.
In the master bedroom the younger Brody managed to tell the operator there had been an unlawful entry at the address when one of the intruders dived over the bed and grabbed the phone from his hands. "That was a mistake!" Billy Brody recalls the gunman telling him.
"The man looked like he was 10 feet tall," says Mrs. Brody, who watched the scene unfold in her bedroom. In his dive, one gunman knocked the Brody's sleeping 7-year old daughter off the master bed and she awoke hys terical.
The two gunmen walked Billy and Norman Brody down the hallway toward the garage, followed by Florence Brody and their screaming daughter. At this point the Brody's figured it was a robbery.
"Get the keys," one of the men said.
The Brody men got into their 1972 Peugeot while one of the gunmen ran down the driveway, looking in all directions. The victims and their two captors then drove away. Mrs. Brody ran to a neighbor's home. The attack had lasted less than three minutes.
"I was thinking, Norman don't lost your cool, don't do anything stupid," he recalls. The strangers told him which way to turn.
Let's go number three is waiting," one of the men said. Norman Brody was wondering whether he should cause an accident.
"Stop right here," the leader said.The Peugeot had reached a ramp joining I-270 and the Beltway. The two gunmen jumped out, pushing Billy in front of them, and disappeared through the underbrush into the darkness.
Norman Brody, still in his underwear, sat stunned for a few moments. He thought they were going to kidnap him too. The only sounds were the cars rushing by on the Beltway. He decided to get home to his wife and daughter.
Police cars were parked in front of his home. As he approached the front door a policeman called out from the blackness. "Hold it, I've got you covered." Florence Brody rushed to greet her husband and stopped short. "Where's Billy?"
In the woods the kidnapers had put a laundry sack over Billy Brody's head. Handcufied, he was led to car, forced to lie down, and driven to an unknown destination. The men forced him into a wooden box and padlocked it, Billy Brody recalls. That was his home for the next three days.
Once, around noon, he would be given food from McDonald's. Through a crack in the box the kidnapers handed him instructions, printed in pencil, and a microphone to tape messages to his parents. He could see white markings on red tile, and could hear a dog barking.
At the Brody home, FBI agents monitored calls, opened mail with gloved hands and told the Brody's they had not experienced anything like it in this area. A special agent from Baltimore was brought in to head the operation. "There were men walking around with holsters on their belts and on their suspenders, just like you see in the movies," Florence Brody say. "I was incredulous that this was going on in my own home."
The first call came in Wednesday night, about 24 hours after the kidnaping. Billy's taped voice said his captors wanted $200,000 in unmarked 20 dollar bills by Friday. There would be further instruction.
The FBI left up to Norman Brody whether he would comply with the demands. "There never really was a choice in my mind," Norman Brody says. He borrowed the money from his bank after the FBI explained to bank officials what it was for.
The second call came Friday night, again in Billy's taped voice, and instructed Brody to drive onto the Beltway at the River Road entrance and head toward Baltimore until he saw a flashing red light at the side of the road. He was to leave the money there.
The FBI gave Brody the drop bag with a transmitting device agents had installed. He could not and they showed him a small disc in the lining.
As he drove along the Beltway, Norman Brody prayed. An FBI agent hid under a sleeping bag on the back seat floor.
Less than a mile from home he saw the blinking light the kidnapers had referred to positioned on the right shoulder of the Beltway near the Fernwood Road overpass. It was a portable light, like those used in unmarked police cruisers.
The Beltway was swarming with FBI agents, including a carfull following Brody. He had made the decision not to allow them to try to capture the pickup men. The FBI had warned him that the kidnapers might have left a time bomb next to his son.
Brody dropped the bag, stuffed with 10,000 used $20 bills, the serial numbers all recorded by the FBI. After he left, an FBI surveillance car saw a shadowy figure grab it and retreat into the bushes. The next day lawmen found the bugged bag discarded a few hundred feet away on a residential street.
"Keep calm," one of the kidnappers told Billy Brody as they let him out of his wood prison. The handcuffs and laundry bag went on and he was again lying on the floor of a car, he recalls.
"I'd carved my initials with my belt buckle in the bottom of the wooden box," he says. Neare the end the kidnapers had passed him a note warning that they would come back and kill all the Brodys if he talked. Shortly after his capture he had tucked his driver's license under the rear floor carpet of the getaway car. On the ride to freedom, however, he had second thoughts and removed it.
"Look straight ahead; we're gonna take the bag off. Don't look back." Billy Brody said the kidnapers told him when they stopped. It was nearly midnight, and he found himself in the midst of the Heritage Apartment complex on Landover Road in Prince George's County.
A call home brought the FBI.
The interrogation went on for hours and days. The FBI took fingerprints in the peugeot, plaster cast of the Brody's footprints, and combed the area where the money was dropped.
A lab test showed white cat hairs on Billy Brody's clothing, leading to speculation that there may have been such as animal in the house where he was held.
"We will use any technique to catch these guys," the FBI special agent in charge told the press. "Our imagination knows no bounds."
"There never was any doubt in my mind that they would catch the men," Norman Brody said wistfully from his family room sofa.
He has since repaid the $200,000 to the bank, plus interest.
In the first two years afterward a few of the $20 bills turned up in the area, but the FBI could not connect any suspects to them.
Norman Brody has a register of the 10,000 serial numbers, page after page of numbers in very small print. "At first I looked up every $120 bill I got," he said. "It takes a long time. After a while I gave up."
Billy Brody returned to Wait Whitman High School, and after a short time as a celebrity, became just one more student. "I never thought that they would kill me," he says now, "because the kidnapers had gone to such lenghts to conceal their identity."
The Brodys say they have not talked with the FBI in months. "What's the point in calling them, to ask if any thing is new? . . . After all these years?" Norman Brody says.
Mrs. Brody let her voice rise only once during hours of interviews. "For someone to walk into your home and take away a member of your family and say you can't have them back until you pay X amount of money - it's horrendous," she says. "I would like to punish them severely, personally."