On the afternoon of May 11, the six Bradnick children stepped off the school-bus to walk down the dirt road to their home. Time Magazine reported, “A masked, rifle-toting man stepped from the woods. Before dragging Peggy into the dense brush, he snapped, ‘I don’t want any sass from you kids. I’m taking this girl.’”
He dragged 17-year-old Peggy Ann Bradnick through the dense forest. He carried a haversack filled with a pistol, bullets, a chain, and a Master lock. The kidnapper and victim eventually came to a tunnel—a culvert that allowed them to pass beneath the Turnpike. After forcing the girl through the tunnel, they came to his cabin.
By that time, a county sheriff had arrived at the Bradnick home. He quickly determined that the girl had indeed been abducted and called in reinforcements. Before dark, hundreds of lawmen, game wardens, and citizen volunteers were scouring the woods. All were armed.
The next day, FBI agents from Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. arrived to help search for the pretty blue-eyed high school student. The Feds had an Arkansas tracker flown in—he owned three of the best German Shepherd tracking dogs in the country. Agents also identified the suspect.
William Diller Hollenbaugh was known in the community as “Bicycle Pete,” or “Bicycle Bill.” He pedaled an antique red bike all over the area. He always carried “one of his mongrel dogs in the handlebar basket,” according to Time. He lived in the mountains, and had no friends. Most residents didn’t know that he’d spent 13 years in the Fairview State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Or that he had theft, burglary, and escape convictions. Or that in the past two years, he’d shot at five people driving down the turnpike—he hit two. Or that he was a Peeping Tom.
After six days of the largest manhunt in the Pennsylvania’s history, FBI agent Terry Anderson spotted one of Hollenbaugh’s mongrels. He followed it up a steep ridge. Suddenly, a shot rang out. Anderson was dead before he hit the ground.
Like almost everyone in the nation, the Pennsylvania governor had been following the case. After Anderson was murdered, the governor called out the National Guard. The troops brought along armored personnel carriers, but in the heavy mountains they did little good.
Eight hundred men surrounded the area where Anderson had been shot. Since it was nearly dark, they decided to wait until daylight to continue the search.
Early the next morning, Cambria County Deputy Sheriff Francis Sharpe walked into the outbuilding of a farmhouse. A gunshot felled him. As he bled from a stomach wound, Hollenbaugh ordered Sharpe at gunpoint back to his car. The kidnapper forced Deputy Sharpe into the driver’s seat, then he and Peggy Ann climbed into the backseat.
“Drive,” the kidnapper said, pointing his rifle at Sharpe. The car traveled only a few hundred yards before it came to a cattle gap. It could go no further, so Hollenabugh jumped out, dragging Peggy Ann. They raced toward a farmhouse.
Fifteen-year-old Larry Rubeck was in the hay barn when he saw a car coming up the road. “I ran to the house and got the gun and yelled to my mother, ‘Hit the floor, Mom. That crazy mountain man is on the porch.’”
By this time, a group of state troopers had arrived and were taking positions around the house. Hollenbaugh pulled Peggy Ann up onto the porch. Larry’s shotgun was loaded with a “pumpkin ball,” a slug used for hunting deer. He aimed through a window and fired. The ball blew out Hollenbaugh’s carotid artery. He fell, but was able to squeeze off two errant shots. The troopers then unloaded on him.
Through the chaos, Peggy Ann broke free and fled into the arms of the only reporter on the scene. “Thank God, I’m safe,” she cried. The reporter, Scott Rombach of the Pittsburgh News, had the biggest scoop of his career.
Bicycle Pete suffered several gunshot wounds, but Larry Rubeck was credited with bringing down the kidnapper. “I’m a hunter,” he said. “I’ve killed animals, but I just don’t know how I feel about this...I’m glad the girl is all right and I’m glad it’s over.”
According to Dr. G. T. Lorentz, who examined Peggy Ann, the victim was not sexually assaulted. She spent a week in the hospital recovering from her ordeal. She told a harrowing tale of having been chained to trees at night while her abductor slept and hiding in caves during the day. She was led around with a dog-leash when they traveled. Later, a book was written about the case and a movie was made. A year later, Peggy Ann married and dropped into welcome anonymity.
Hollenbaugh “was a model inmate,” said Dr. John P. Shovelin, superintendent of the state mental hospital. “Shy, [he had] a strong sense of inadequacy, and [was] withdrawn. A troublemaker he was not...Hollenbaugh had what we call simple schizophrenia . This primarily is the type of person who withdraws from social contacts...”
After “the symptoms of his disease had been removed,” Hollenbaugh was sent back to prison where he was quickly released and began his reign of terror on the small community of Shade Gap.