When Candra Torres and Tom Brown first emerged from Mt. Hood National Forest on July 27, 1976, they told the same traumatic story.
Strangers prior to that week, Brown, 29 years old at the time, had met Torres, 16, at a river where she and her husband, Jose “Julio” Torres, were struggling to catch fish. The newlyweds were on a camping excursion in the great Oregonian outdoors with their dog, Rusty. The couple shot the breeze about fishing with Brown, who claimed to know of a more promising spot. The trio relocated, where they camped out. The following day, Julio was accidentally shot and killed when the two men botched a rifle handoff during a deer hunt. Alarmed, the dog attacked Brown, who then shot the canine in self-defense. Candra bore witness to the entire grisly sequence, she said, corroborating the tragic story.
These real-life events inspired “The Stockholm Syndrome,” one of the cases included in crime writer Ann Rule’s collection, Empty Promises. The story forms the basis of Lifetime’s “A Murder to Remember.” [Watch “A Murder to Remember.”]
The two survivors each passed polygraph tests. After a brief investigation, Julio Torres’s death was deemed accidental.
But in the days after the initial police interview, Torres struggled to make sense of the trauma she’d survived. Something didn’t quite add up.
“I remember waking up in the morning and just having all these memories hit me,” Torres told Elizabeth Smart for Elizabeth Smart: Finding Justice in a special that will air August 2 at 10/9c on Lifetime. “I was so confused, I remember that…and all the baths. So many baths. You just want to be clean.”
A few days later, on August 2, Candra returned to the police station with a radically different version of what happened.
Candra Torres’s Changed Account
In the second version of her story, Torres didn’t see her husband get shot. Instead, she says she was at the campsite cooking breakfast when she heard the shot go off. Brown came down to the campsite, where he then shot Torres’s dog.
“I looked at him and said, ‘You shot my dog,'” Torres recalls. “He got a big smile on his face, and he said, ‘I shot your husband too.'”
From there, Candra Torres says Brown took her farther into the woods, where he repeatedly raped her that night—the night of her husband’s murder. The next day, Torres prayed aloud to God for protection. Brown—perhaps moved by Torres’s fear, or by her religious devotion—told the teenage widow he would spare her life. He also told her that her husband’s killing had been a hunting accident rather than a deliberate murder.
Torres told police she believed him, explaining later that, “To protect yourself, you want to believe what you’re being told because it’s so much less traumatic. Now, nobody murdered your husband to rape you. So I believed that it was an accident.”
But investigators viewed the shifting story with suspicion. They gave Candra Torres a second polygraph test; this time, she failed it.
Torres’s failed polygraph didn’t mean that investigators dismissed her new testimony; the efficacy of polygraphs was widely debated even then—so much so that by the 1990s a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions would render polygraphs inadmissible in virtually all courts.
But a failed polygraph didn’t explain to investigators why Torres would’ve lied to the police when she first came forward. Why would she have covered up for a man who murdered her husband, murdered her dog, and then raped her?
Stockholm Syndrome and the Candra Torres Case
Frank Ochberg, a psychiatrist who specializes in trauma, says, “There are a lot of ironic things that can happen when people are traumatized…including that a captive—who often thinks he or she is going to die—might end up having positive feelings toward the hostage-taker.”
Ochberg would know—he helped define the term “Stockholm syndrome” while working with hostage negotiators at the National Task Force on Disorders and Terrorism. According to Ochberg, Stockholm syndrome is a condition wherein hostage-takers and hostages develop affectionate feelings toward one another, and both develop negative feelings toward those on the outside trying to resolve the situation.
Ochberg says these dynamics occur because the hostage is so distraught by the initial danger to their life that they experience their subsequent survival with overwhelming gratitude.
Torres echoes those sentiments.
“I was so thankful that I was going to be back with my family and that I was going to see people again,” Torres says. “I think he felt like I was totally under his control—which I was… At this point, you’re almost grateful to this evil person, because you’re alive.”
That feeling of gratitude can last long after the threat of danger is removed—like when later speaking with police.
“You thought you were going to die,” Ochberg explains. “It’s not like a teenage love affair and then it’s over. It’s a strong attachment.”
The Resolution to the Case
Torres says she only returned to the police after telling her mother the story as she remembered it. Her mother, unimpaired by Stockholm syndrome, understood the story for what it was: a murder and then a subsequent cover-up.
But even with Torres’s changed testimony, the case was far from a slam dunk for prosecutors. By changing her story, Torres was an unreliable witness. She’d failed a polygraph, Brown had passed one and there were no other witnesses to the murder.
Ultimately though, law enforcement caught a break when—after arresting Brown—he confessed his crime to a cellmate. That testimony, combined with Candra Torres’s, helped convict Brown of murder in 1977. He’s been incarcerated at Oregon State Penitentiary ever since.