Anniston, AL – A kidnapped 75-year-old retired volunteer firefighter was found tied up inside the closet of a residence on Monday night, according to investigators.
Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade said 75-year-old Betty Cobb’s family members reported her missing at approximately 1:20 p.m. on July 4 after they went to her home and couldn’t find her anywhere on the property, WVTM reported.
Cobb’s keys and phone were inside the house and her vehicle was parked in the driveway, according to police.
When deputies arrived at the scene, they found the groceries she’d purchased earlier in the day inside the home and some of her belongings lying in the street, WVTM reported.
Sheriff Wade said he immediately called in off-duty deputies to help assist with the search for Cobb.
The local fire department and numerous community members also assisted in the effort, WVTM reported.
Investigators obtained security footage from the stores Cobb shopped at on Monday to help identify potential suspect vehicles, then checked out multiple residences with the information gleaned from those vehicle registrations, according to WBRC.
They later determined that the suspect, 47-year-old Tony White, had allegedly followed Cobb home from a grocery store, attacked her with a knife, and stuffed her into the trunk of a car.
White then allegedly drove the kidnapped woman to a home on South Wilmer Street and bound her with duct tape before putting her in a closet, WBRC reported.
Investigators found Cobb inside the closet at approximately 7:15 p.m., roughly six hours after she was reported missing.
She was transported to a hospital for treatment and observation, WVTM reported.
White had fled the home prior to their arrival.
“Whatever he did or however he did what he did to her, it wasn’t easy. She fought. Without a doubt, she’ll fight till the end, and that is why she is still here today. She didn’t give in,” Quad Cities Assistant Fire Chief Jason Austin told WBRC.
Cobb, a former volunteer firefighter and ambulance driver, “would take the shirt off her back and hand it to you,” Austin said. “That is just the type of lady she is.”
Sheriff Wade said he visited Cobb in the hospital on Tuesday night, The Birmingham News reported.
“I hugged her neck and told her, ‘We weren’t going home until we found you,’” he said.
The Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) issued a BOLO for White, who was ultimately apprehended by Kentucky Highway Patrol troopers in Richmond at approximately 7:45 p.m. on Tuesday night, WVTM reported.
He is facing charges of burglary and kidnapping, and more offenses may be added, The Birmingham News reported.
Sheriff Wade said investigators believe White attacked Cobb at random and that he perceived her as an easy victim due to her age, according to WBRC.
He said White may be linked to two similar kidnappings that occurred in 2012 and 2013 and that investigators are checking DNA evidence from those cases to see if there is a match with White.
“People don’t just wake up and go to peoples’ houses, kidnapping them,’’ the sheriff said, according to The Birmingham News. “That’s not the first crime they’ve done.”
The victims in the other two cases were sexually assaulted, according to Sheriff Wade.
He said investigators believe White was planning to rape Cobb, but that he was tipped off about the manhunt and went on the run instead, The Birmingham News reported.
“If this is the same guy, the motive is picking out elderly women to sexually assault,’’ Sheriff Wade told reporters.
White was previously arrested on third-degree robbery and domestic violence offenses, according to The Birmingham News.
He was working as a certified nursing assistant caring for elderly patients at the time of Cobb’s kidnapping, and has worked with mentally-challenged patients in the past, Sheriff Wade said.