Wagner's account of her kidnapping and miraculous escape is a sort of fairy story for the soft of head.
Born into a wealthy family, she became a successful businesswoman in her own right with her Herbagere hydroponics and Menotti permanent wave products. In 1971, though, her life was changed utterly as she underwent the terrible ordeal which is the central subject of this book.
After receiving a message indicating that a beloved aunt had fallen ill, Wagner hurried to a local private hospital, where in an apparently unused ward she found herself at the mercy of a gang of vicious kidnappers:
... my head exploded as his massive fist smacked my left temple. Another strike slung me onto the hard floor and I crumpled on the far side of the bed.
Everything began unfolding like a sickening slow motion sequence. With my ears ringing and my consciousness already blurring, I lifted my head just as Sidekick's boot swung, knocking me against the wooden floor once more.
This level of violence seems rather over the top, especially given that the cunning plan against her requires that Wagner's eventual death by electrocution is to be certified - by a doctor in on the plot - as due to a heart attack. The bootmarks, bruises and broken teeth would look so suspicious at any post-mortem that they might as well have shot her up with a machine gun and saved themselves a lot of trouble. While she yet lived, however, the sadistic thugs had further indignities to inflict:
Not long before dark, Roger, the orderly who sometimes brought me food, came into my room with a curly black wig which was stretched over a Styrofoam wig head. I was totally perplexed.
... “Why should I wear such a hideous wig?”, I pleaded ...
She's not the only one perplexed. The orderly attempted to provide an explanation:
”... Dr Holmes. - h-h-he he wanted you to be wearing this wig when you are found.”
Dr. Holmes? Not THE Dr. Ronald Holmes - the most notorious psychiatrist in Texas?
No, not THE Dr. Ronald Holmes, actually, since as the copyright page tells us, “Dr. Ronald Holmes is a fictitious epithet”. The purpose of the wig, and why the gang could not have put it on after they had killed her, are mysteries that remain unexplained.
The devilish crooks wired Wagner up to a set of electrodes and passed 240 volts through her, a figure which they gloatingly repeated as though it were something exceptional. However, a mere 240 volts is quite enough to kill someone, so we must surely believe her when she says that she found herself in the next world:
Even though I seemed to be walking on billowing white ether, there was a firmness under my feet as I moved. Overhead was the most blue-hued sky I had ever seen. Every color, every sense, was magnified innumerable times. A brilliantly lit magnetic force propelled me without any effort on my part.
Thoughts assaulted my mind, as if my brain had become a silent, drawing sponge. Even without a mirror, I realized that I was young again - beautiful, unwrinkled, with my hair raven-colored and floating around me in the heavenly atmosphere. I felt twenty again - young, uninhibited, wearing a deep purple robe.
Up in heaven, she met Jesus, who, just like his pictures, has a “beard and soft, brown curly hair”. He told her she can choose whether to stay in heaven or go back, and she, considering her “work on Earth is not done”, decided to return. Maybe she felt the world needed a new type of cold perm, or something.
Back on Earth her guards were understandably surprised to find her alive again, after THE Dr. Ronald Holmes had certified her dead, but instead of sensibly making sure they finish the job they left her alone so she could escape, just like in all those bad films. But Wagner, unlike James Bond, did not have to rely on her own strength and ingenuity alone. She had the advantage of an exceptional accomplice:
“I am the Lord your God,” he said. “I am here to help you, not to hurt you. Do not be afraid. Keep a spoon tonight when they bring your supper tray, and I will help you escape.”
Under instruction from Jesus, Wagner used the spoon as a screwdriver and removed one of the windows. Before she can escape however, God had another, weirder instruction.
“I want you to pray for David,” He said. “At this moment, the engines of his plane are stopping in the middle of the sky.”
David, it turns out, is the mastermind behind Wagner's abduction. God was punishing him by causing his plane to crash but Wagner had to do her bit and get some prayer in. It seems monstrous to me that God should insist that Wagner ask Him to forgive someone whose fate has already been determined, though I'm no theologian. But it is not only David for whom Wagner had to perform this arguably redundant ritual:
“... George!”, the Holy Spirit affirmed. “At this very moment, his car is on Highway 10, just a few miles from here, travelling ninety miles an hour and crashing into the back of a flatbed truck!”
With the Lord as her almighty minder, Wagner escaped and made her way to safety. She then discovered that a number of people she had trusted had conspired against her to rip off the assets of her company. Bafflingly, though, no criminal charges seem to have been brought against those responsible: instead she pursued a number of successful civil cases including a major suit against the hospital where she was held against her will.
This case she claims was adjudicated on the 6th March 1974, in the Harris County District Court, and she reproduces a document relating to it, with certain details obscured such as the full name of the hospital. Curiously, when I searched the court records online at idocket.com I was unable to locate it, and - perhaps even more oddly, considering the newsworthy nature of the entire bizarre story - so far I have not been able to find any online resource that mentions it, at all. Perhaps there has been some sort of conspiratorial cover-up. One would not want to doubt the word of someone who claims to get instructions directly from God.
Marvellously, through the wonder of the Internet, it is possible to hear Petti Wagner talking about her all this, complete with evocative musical accompaniment. Hallelujah!