Book 'Em: The Birthday Party

(CBS/GP Putnam's Sons Publishing)
NEW YORK (CBS) On January 21, 1998, the night before his thirty-eighth birthday, federal prosecutor Stanley Alpert was kidnapped as he was walking home in Manhattan.

THE BIRTHDAY PARTY begins as Alpert is whisked away in a car full of gun-toting thugs looking to use his ATM card. But when they learn his bank balance, the plan changes. They take him, blindfolded with his own scarf, to a Brooklyn apartment, with the idea of going to a bank the next day and withdrawing most of his money.

But the later it gets, the more the plan changes, again and again, as Alpert's captors alternately hold guns to his head, threaten his family, and even seek his legal advice. In a bizarre twist, when they learn it is his birthday, they offer him sexual favors from their prostitute girlfriends.

In the meantime, Alpert's friends and law enforcement colleagues, worried because they hadn't heard from him, launched a major police and FBI investigation. It, too, would take many twists and turns before it was done.

Alpert's story is at once terrifying and, oddly, funny. The mere fact of his survival is amazing.

Interview with Stanley Alpert by Barry Leibowitz, Senior Writer at 48 Hours | Mystery

What's your most vivid memory of the day you were kidnapped?

Alpert: I walked down East 10th Street in Manhattan whistling a happy tune. I was going home to eat my favorite chocolate cookies and read a book. Suddenly somebody grabbed me from behind and stuck a fat black automatic weapon in my gut. They forced me into a car and I lived 25 hellish hours. That moment I was snagged is the most vivid.

So much happened to you that was bizarre, authorities didn't believe you at first. Tell us about that.

Alpert: The night I was released I was interrogated by the NYPD and the FBI for several hours.

Photo: Stanley Alpert.

I told the details of the story over and over. That whole time I had no clue that anyone might possibly doubt the truth of what I was saying. If I had known, I would have hit the #$%^&*# roof.

It was only many months later, with the perpetrators behind bars, that I saw FBI Special Agent Rich Meade at one of our U.S. Attorney dinners, and he told me that they had not believed me at first.

At that point, after a successful prosecution, I found their skepticism to be pretty funny.

What was the "funniest" moment of your captivity, if that's the right word?

Alpert: Funniest moment was by the gunman from the street, loosened up on weed and after having had sex with the prostitute accomplices. He thought he was Henny Youngman, and quipped: "What's goin' on here? We give you food. We offer you weed. We offer you a b**w job. What kind of robbery is this anyway?"

What was the scariest moment?

Alpert: When they told me they would kill my father by breaking every bone in his body if I failed to cooperate.

Describe being released.

Alpert: You must read The Birthday Party for this one, but they drove me to Prospect Park and let me go. I was blindfolded and at first was unsure if they were just planning to shoot me in the back. Finally, I ripped off my blindfold, spun around, and they were gone.

You were blindfolded but you remembered a lot about your surroundings, and your captors. How did you do that?

Alpert: Don't try this while driving. But if you close your eyes and listen for a while you will find that the sense of hearing alone becomes very powerful, more so than you think it is when sight is in the mix. I am a trained trial lawyer who has learned how to retain details. Also, with guns and seven people on me, I couldn't fight my way out, so all I had left to preserve any sense of purpose was to focus mentally on staying alive and gathering clues in case I made it.

How much of your survival do you think was luck, and how much was skill?

Alpert: Fifty-fifty. When you almost die as I did, you learn firsthand that much of this is between you and God. I could have died that night by accidental gunfire or because one of the kidnappers got mad at his girlfriend. That said, I did follow, on instinct, some of the things a hostage is supposed to do. I stayed calm and was non-confrontational. I even managed to make friends with my captors. William Grimes of the New York Times says I induced "reverse Stockholm syndrome" in them.

How did this episode change you the most?

Alpert: I am fierce in my belief that each of us needs to live life to the fullest while we have it. It is gone much too quickly, so ride it for all you can while it's here.

What question should Crimesider have asked you that we didn't? and what's the answer?

How do I feel about the detectives and agents after this experience?

Alpert: They are genuine American heroes. They lie in bed next to husbands and wives at midnight. The beeper goes off and for the next 48 or 72 hours they don't sleep, they don't come home, they work nonstop for not the greatest pay, and it is all with a passion and a purpose to do justice and prevent the perpetrators from hurting other innocent people. I will always be grateful to my friends in the NYPD and the FBI.

Watch "Live to Tell - The Birthday Party," a full episode of 48 Hours | Mystery.

Stanley Alpert served for thirteen years with the US Department of Justice as an Assistant US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. He now runs the Alpert Firm in New York City, where he lives.