Death In A Storage Locker

Lasting success had always eluded Arthur Seale. He had been a policeman, a security officer for Exxon in New Jersey and a furniture-store owner in Hilton Head, S.C. But at 45, Seale was jobless and living quietly with his wife, Irene, and their two adolescent children back at his parents' home in New Jersey. In one final, desperate effort to make it big, Seale and his wife--and, the FBI suspects, possibly another accomplice--allegedly kidnapped Exxon International president Sidney Reso from his driveway in April, triggering the largest FBI manhunt since the Patty Hearst case 18 years ago. The ransom demanded from Exxon was a whopping $18.5 million. But last week the two-month hunt ended with Reso dead, Arthur Seale facing charges of kidnapping and extortion, and his wife of 25 years supplying evidence against her husband that could put him in prison for life.

Almost from the beginning, the kidnapping scheme went awry. According to Mrs. Seale's statement, Reso was shot in the arm after her husband wrestled the victim into a van that she was driving. The couple drove Reso to a do-it-yourself storage warehouse, where they locked him into a small, stifling metal room. Mrs. Seale also stated they had treated Reso's wound, but four days later--even as they demanded a ransom--their 57-year-old hostage was dead. In the letters to Exxon, the kidnappers insisted that officials set up a cellular phone to receive their calls, which proved to be a mistake. "They seemed under the impression that cellular phone calls were harder to trace than regular calls," said Lois Ferguson, spokeswoman for the Morris County prosecutor's office. They were wrong.

In an effort to frustrate the kidnappers, the police initially told the media that they were treating Reso's disappearance as a missing-person case. Meanwhile, the FBI deployed more than 300 agents to find Reso and his assailants. Weeks of negotiations by phone and widely dispersed notes finally focused on June 18: Ransom Day. What happened next, says an FBI spokesperson, " was 80 percent investigative skill, 20 percent luck." Although agents had no idea whom they were looking for, they staked out selected public phones across Morris County. At the Chester Mall, one young agent spotted a man removing a pair of gloves after making a phone call. Agents followed him to a car-rental agency, where Seale--and later his wife--were arrested. A search of their home produced nearly a dozen handguns, lists of foreign banks, a book on money laundering and other incriminating evidence. What they didn't have was Reso.

At their arraignment, where they refused to cooperate with police, Irene Seale told her husband, "I love you." But a little more than a week later, in a plea bargain for reduced charges, she led authorities to a remote area of southern New Jersey, where a police dog located the shallow grave of Sidney Reso. "She wanted him to have a decent burial," explained Sallyanne Floria, Mrs. Seale's court-appointed attorney. Apparently she also wanted to settle old scores. Last week in federal court, as Mrs. Seale supplied details of the abduction, her lawyer accused Seale of having manipulated and abused his wife throughout their marriage. Two hours later, Arthur Seale pleaded not guilty. And though he knew that his wife had agreed to testify against him, he showed no sign of anger. Asked what he thought of his wife, Seale said: "I love her."