Fact Check

Child Abduction from Theme Park Thwarted by Shoes

Urban legend holds that an attempted abduction of a child from a big box store, mall, or amusement park was thwarted because the kidnappers neglected to change the child's shoes.

Published Oct 12, 2001

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An attempted abduction of a child from a mall or amusement park was thwarted because the kidnappers forgot to change the child's shoes.

One of the most effective types of scarelore is the "barely escaped from the clutches of evil" variety, as nothing drives home a warning better than a vivid first-person account of a narrowly-averted tragedy. The explicit warning presented in a common child abduction legend is obvious: You must never, ever let your child out of your sight in a public place, even for a moment — kidnappers could be lurking anywhere, and the attempted abduction in the following examples was foiled only due to the diligence of an employee and the thoroughness of a store's security precautions:


Please take the time and forward this to any friend who has children! Thanks!

Wanted to share something that happened today while shopping at Sam's club. A mother was leaning over looking for meat and turned around to find her 4 yr. old daughter was missing, I was standing there right beside her, well she was calling her daughter and no luck. I asked a man who worked at Sam's to announce it over the loud speaker for Katie. Well, he did, and let me say he walked past me when I asked and went to a pole where there was a phone right there to make his announcement for all doors, and gates to be locked a code something...so they locked all the doors at once. This took all of 3 min after I asked the guy to do this. They found the little girl 5 min later crunched in a bathroom stall, her head was half shaved, and she was dressed in her underwear with a bag of clothes, a razor, and wig sitting on the floor besides her. Whoever this person was, took the little girl, brought her into the bathroom, shaved half her head, undressed her in a matter of less than 10 min. Makes me shake to no end.

Please keep an eye out for your kids when in shopping places. It only took a few minutes to do all of this, another 5 min and she would have been out the door...I am still in shock some sick person could do this, let alone in a matter of minutes...The little girl is fine... thank God for fast workers who didn't take any chances. Thanks for reading. Please keep praying for our children. Especially now that school is about to start. Just reading this was enough for me. I'm making a pledge to keep watch for all kids, young and old! We know those little kids slip by us so fast when we are in a store. Especially when they see toys or candy. Everything can be replaced but a life. No parent would want to lose a child in no way form or fashion!

[Collected via e-mail, March 2008]

One of my brother's works at the Sam's Club in Murfreesboro, TN and yesterday he called me with some very disturbing news. As most stores, Sam's has different codes that are stated over the intercom throughout the store such as for extra help, severe weather, etc. Sam’s has a code called "Code Adam" for when a child becomes missing or is feared kidnapped. The store is immediately shut down and employees are instructed to go to an entrance/exit. That code was called yesterday at his store. A mother had her four year old daughter standing next to her as she was looking in the meat department. Then she noticed she was gone and notified a manager who then notified the store manager. Immediately, the "Code Adam" was called and all employees went to each exit in the store not allowing anyone to enter or exit. They found the little girl in the bathroom with the predator. Her head was partially shaved, she had on a different outfit, and a wig was found. This all happened within less than five minutes. Thank God Sam's Club has this sort of "code" or that little girl would have been gone.

I wanted to pass this along to each of you so that you are aware that predators seem to be less fearful and braver these days. Please pass this along to anyone you know with small children.

[Collected via e-mail, November 2009]

Dear All. This is a very serious message that I hope you can pass on to as many people as you can.

Last night at the big ASDA in Bradley a three-year-old girl went missing. Fortunately their policy when something like this happens is to lock the doors.

The little girl was found in the toilets with two Romanian women, one shaving her head and the other dressing her in boys' clothes. This comes from an employee who was there last night. Please pass the message round to as many as you can and remain extra vigilant with your own children.

[Collected via e-mail, August 2011]

Friend of Ana's went to Wonderland yesterday. She was with another friend too and together they had 4 children (each w 2). Kids were 4-5-6 years old. While they were busy w 1 of the 4 kids one of the other kids disappeared ... Literally. 5 year old girl.

After frantically searching for 2 minutes they alerted the Park's security who then searched the Park for the next 5-6 mins. The Park then closed all exits and would not allow anyone too leave while they continued to search for the next 45 mins.

Still they couldn't find her and the Park was forced to re-open the exits. The Police advised Ana's friend to focus on childrens' shoes and nothing else. So she watched the exits and mobs of people were leaving. She noticed 1 man carrying a sleeping child with a blanket over her. And the child's hair was a different colour but she said to the police that she had noticed a child wearing the same shoes but ....... it probably wasn't her child.

The police stopped the man and it turns out that it was indeed the right child. The child had been tranquillized by injection to the neck and was sleeping. Her hair had been cut short and had been spray painted a different colour. And all her clothing had been changed except .... her shoes. They got the perp and, thank God the child is fine.

Moral: don't take your eyes off your child for even 1 second. Unbelievable!!!

Although these warnings may contain some good advice, the legend they present exaggerates both the prevalence and manner of kidnappings. A child is far more likely to be snatched by a family member or ex-spouse in a custodial dispute than to be the victim of a random abduction. And rarely will kidnappers go through such elaborate procedures as the ones hinted at here -- luring a child outside where he or she can be quickly bundled into an automobile is far more effective and less risky than trying to smuggle one out the exit of a crowded public space. (Some of the examples presented above don't even make much logical sense. Why would abductors waste precious getaway time shaving a child's head — with a razor, yet — when they already had a wig on hand to disguise their victim's natural hair color and style?)

This form of tale that has been circulating for decades, always involving the kidnapping of children from family-type public places such as amusement parks and shopping centers. In the basic form of the legend, a kidnapper snatches a child away from an inattentive parent, drugs it, and hustles it into a restroom; there the abductor performs a quick haircut, dye job, and clothing change on the child to conceal its identity (and sometimes to obscure its gender) and wraps it in blankets before attempting to quickly and quietly spirit the child off the premises. Meanwhile, a vigilant security force has sealed off all the exits, and the attempted kidnapping is thwarted either because the kidnapper realizes he cannot escape undetected and simply abandons his intended victim in the bathroom, or because the child's parent is monitoring the exits (in person or via security cameras) and recognizes the youngster by its distinctive shoes, which the kidnapper has neglected to change or remove.

More malevolent versions of this story end not with the thwarting of the abduction attempt, but with the discovery of the child's original clothing on a restroom floor (along with other evidence of what had transpired, such as loose hair, scissors, and a bottle of hair dye). In these versions police tell the victims' parents they are powerless to recover their children (whom they warn are probably already on their way out of the country to be used as unwilling organ donors or sex slaves), and the parents are paid off to keep quiet about the abductions. Often the payoff for the parents' silence is claimed to be something absurdly small in value, such as free passes to the amusement park where the kidnapping took place, yet people continue to take the story at face value. (Would you keep quiet about your child's disappearance for any amount of money, much less something as paltry as a few free tickets?)

The tale of the "haircut-and-dye-job" kidnappers goes back several decades and is tied to the growth of cities, the movement away from rural areas and small towns, and the increase in the crime rate that occurred in America after World War II. The small-town communities where everyone knew everyone else, outsiders were few, and residents felt safe leaving their doors unlocked at night began to disappear; as people increasingly became part of large, impersonal urban centers, they began to develop fears about the relative anonymity and facelessness of their day-to-day lives. Several of these fears are expressed in this one legend alone: fear of crime and mistrust of strangers (you don't know everyone here; criminals could be anywhere in the crowds you encounter every day, blending in with the masses), lack of faith in the willingness and effectiveness of police protection (the police are "powerless" to recover the missing children and therefore don't even try), and distrust of powerful, monolithic corporations (these companies don't care about you or your children; they'll pay you off to make sure you don't dent their enormous profits or ruin their carefully-cultivated family image by blabbing the TRUTH to the media). Even though most versions describe the kidnappers as being caught because of their carelessness, the story still serves its function of providing a vivid cautionary tale to drive home the message that you must carefully keep an eye on your children at all times while out in public: just a few moments' slip-up can lead to disaster.

Over the years, this story has been set in virtually every type of locale where families mingle with large numbers of strangers, such as shopping malls, beaches, carnivals, fairs, and amusement parks. Since the details of urban legends tend to gravitate towards the most prominent examples of their kind, this legend has become more and more associated with theme parks such as Disneyland and Canada's Wonderland, and big-box retailers such as Walmart stores, examples of well-known large facilities frequented by families with children and parts of huge corporate enterprises. (In truth, no child has ever been kidnapped from a Disney theme park, and although the abduction and murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh led Walmart to create its Code Adam protocol for locating missing children in their stores, Adam Walsh actually disappeared from a Sears outlet, and no evidence was found to indicate the abductor had made an effort to alter Adam's appearance.)

Sightings:   An episode of NBC's Law & Order: SVU ("Stolen"; original air date 12 October 2001) opens with a baby girl being kidnapped from a grocery store; the abductor takes her to a bathroom, drugs her, changes her clothes, and cuts her hair.

In April 2012, a reporter for a television station in Israel was suspended after running the "attempted abduction at Disney park" rumor as a news story. That news outlet was duped by a man claiming to be the father of a 9-year-old girl who went missing at Walt Disney World and was then discovered in one of the park's bathrooms drugged and with her head shaved.


  • Sometimes the intended victim is found abandoned in a bathroom, partially disguised (hair cut, clothing changed), or implements for altering the child's appearance (scissors, razor, hair dye, wig, clothing) are found in a bathroom stall.

  • Sometimes the kidnapper is caught attempting to escape through an exit with the disguised victim (often because the parent recognizes some detail of the child's clothing the kidnapper has neglected to alter, such as shoes).

  • The child is often found to have been drugged (to make it easier for the kidnapper to alter the child's appearance and smuggle him out an exit).

Additional information:

    Kidnappings and Missing Persons   Kidnappings and Missing Persons   (FBI)



Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Vanishing Hitchhiker.     New York: W. W. Norton, 1981.   ISBN 0-393-95169-3   (pp. 182-184).

Coogan, Naoise.   "Abduction Rumours Refuted by Shopping Centre Management."     Kilkenny Advertiser.   13 January 2012.

de Vos, Gail.   Tales, Rumors and Gossip.     Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, 1996.   ISBN 1-56308-190-3   (pp. 233-234).

Kahn, Gabe.   "Channel 10 Runs 'Disney World Abduction' Hoax."     Arutz Sheva 7 [Israel].   30 April 2012.

Koenig, David.   Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland.     Irvine, CA: Bonaventure Press, 1994.   ISBN 0-9640605-5-8   (pp.162-164).

Miller, Martin.   "Disney's Lost and Found."     Los Angeles Times.   12 June 1994   (p. 3).

Trewyn, Hywel.   "North Wales Abduction Story ‘Just an Urban Myth'."     Daily Post [North Wales].   28 July 2008.

<Leinster Express.   "No Truth' in Abduction Rumours."     29 June 2010.

Shropshire Star.   "Store Child Abduction Is Denied."     10 June 2008.

This Is Plymouth.   "Shopping Centre Hits Out at Urban Legend."     2 June 2009.

The Big Book of Urban Legends.     New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 166).

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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