How a Florida Mom Who Was Abducted by a Serial Killer Escaped With Her Life: 'I Had to Charm Him or Die'

Barbara Mabee Abel survived a 1974 encounter with a man who would later be dubbed the Casanova Killer

<p>Warner Bros. Discovery</p> Barbara Mabee Abel

Warner Bros. Discovery

Barbara Mabee Abel

On Nov. 14, 1974, Barbara Mabee Abel was a 31-year-old single mother in West Palm Beach, Fla., working to support her 6-year-old son Dale and her twin sister, Beverly, who had cerebral palsy, when she was kidnapped by a killer. Dubbed the Casanova Killer for his good looks, Paul John Knowles was eventually linked to 18 murders, though he claimed he committed up to 35. In her own words, Abel — who appears on a new episode of People Magazine Investigates: Surviving a Serial Killer on Sunday, May 19 at 9/8c on ID and streaming on Max — tells how she used her charm and quick-thinking to escape an even worse fate. (An exclusive clip of the episode is shown below.)

When I got to work that morning, I had an eerie feeling. I didn’t know what, but something was wrong. I called Beverly, who always answered because she was always at home. But there was no answer. I left around 5 p.m. and picked up Dale at school. When we got to the house, I called out for Beverly and told Dale, “Go look for her, honey,” while I went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. That’s when I heard a voice say, “Don’t turn around or I’ll shoot.”

Like an idiot, I turned around. The man who I later learned was Paul John Knowles was there with a sawed-off shotgun by his side. Then Dale ran in and said, “Beverly’s in the bedroom — she’s bleeding.” Knowles took me into the bedroom, where Beverly was bound and gagged. She had blood dripping  from  her  mouth.  And she was naked. I lost it. I said, “Did you rape my sister?”

<p>Billy Downs/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP</p> Paul John Knowles

Billy Downs/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Paul John Knowles

He laughed. He said he had tried, and now he was leaving and taking Dale with him. “Don’t take my son,” I told him. “Take me instead.”

So I walked out of the house with him and into the car while he held the shotgun. We took off into the sunset. I didn’t know who he was, but I knew he could kill me. I decided I would do whatever I needed to do to survive. I told him how I thought he looked like Robert Redford. I was trying to build up his confidence. I prayed to the Lord to give me words that would make him fall in love with me. I knew I had to charm him or die.

In the car, he was getting frustrated when there would be no news on the radio. He was trying to do the radio and drive stick shift. He kept telling me we were going to Georgia. I believe if he had taken me there, he would have killed me.

<p>COURTESY BARBARA ABEL</p> Barbara Abel, right and twin sister, Beverly Mabee


Barbara Abel, right and twin sister, Beverly Mabee

Eventually, we stopped at a motel in Fort Pierce, Fla., because he was just so tired. As we walked up to the front desk, I put my arm around him. He had the shotgun under his coat, and I knew for a fact that he would shoot the lady at the desk if there was any trouble, so I acted like we were married. At that moment he was being very charming. But he was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When we got into the room, he told me to take all my clothes off. That evening, he raped me. I had to figure out how to get out of there. At the motel, he kept the TV on the whole time. The news came on and all of a sudden, my face and his face were on all the stations — NBC, CBS and ABC. The news was about me being kidnapped and how he had killed somebody. He was excited. That’s when it finally hit me: He wanted to be famous. He wanted to write a book. And me being a radio copywriter by profession, I told him I could help. My job was what saved me, because this serial killer wanted me to tell his story.

<p>COURTESY BARBARA ABEL</p> Barbara Mabee Abel, with son, Dale


Barbara Mabee Abel, with son, Dale

The next day we went to a restaurant, and I pretended to be in love with him because I knew that if I opened my mouth, people would be killed. When we got back to the motel, he raped me again and tied me up and gagged me before he left to make a phone call. When he got back at around 1 in the morning, he realized he left the key in the room. He was locked out and couldn’t get back in. Through the door, he told me he knew I couldn’t talk — I was gagged — but that he was leaving. The last thing he said to me was, “I love you.”

For more on the how Barbara Mabee Abel survived the Casanova Killer, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now, or subscribe here.

I don’t know how I did it, but the gag came out of my mouth, and I got loose. I called the motel manager and said, “I was kidnapped by a serial killer.” After law enforcement arrived, I got on the phone with Dale, who said, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy! I love you! When are you coming home?” I told him I’d be home soon and that I loved him to pieces.

I eventually married Jim Abel. He's my soulmate. I survived breast cancer. Dale grew up to be a fine young man. He remembered everything, even though he was only 6 years old. Now, he's a prayer warrior for others, he's always been helping people. He has his own business and his own beautiful family.

Beverly died of cancer in 2019. She was the strongest woman I'd ever met in my life. She put up with cerebral palsy and made it a joke. She was amazing. I had decided to write a book, One Survivor, before she died and she was so happy that I was writing it. I did it for the two of us.

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up for PEOPLE's free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage, and details of intriguing unsolved cases.

After leaving Barbara Abel tied up and gagged in a motel room, Paul John Knowles started driving toward Georgia, in Abel’s stolen car. The vehicle was spotted by a Florida state trooper, who attempted to stop the wanted killer. But still armed with a shotgun, Knowles ambushed the trooper and took him hostage, before using his squad car to pull over a businessman. 

Knowles kept the trooper and the businessman captive in the back of the latter’s car, before taking them both to a remote area in Georgia where he shot and killed the pair. The next day he was arrested after he crashed into a police roadblock and led officers in a foot chase into the woods. 

Paul John Knowles' wrecked car
Paul John Knowles' wrecked car

The man later known as the Casanova Killer died weeks later, in December 1974, when he escaped from his handcuffs while leading authorities to the location where he ditched the state trooper’s gun. Knowles tried to grab the gun of a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent’s gun and was shot by another agent.

People Magazine Investigates: Surviving a Serial Killer airs Sunday, May 19 at 9/8c on ID and streaming on Max.

For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on People.