The Art of Ordeal

Kidnaped, tortured and nearly killed in a Mexican hellhole, a Phoenix entrepreneur wants to teach others about the perils of doing business south of the border

"She's 110 pounds, and these guys had weapons, and she's telling them to shut up?" he says.

But she'd conveyed her message to Krusensterna, and so it was time to go. Krusensterna was wrapped in an old carpet, dragged outside and tossed onto his face into the back of a van, where he bounced and skidded as the van made its way into the night.

"If I had a heart attack today, I'd be pissed off," Krusensterna says now. "Because I should have had it then. I missed my window of opportunity."

Krusensterna's book is slated to come out this week.
Krusensterna's book is slated to come out this week.

He could barely breathe for the rag in his mouth and the tape on his face, and the blood from his head wound had filled his nose with an odious, choking scab. His heart pumped wildly with fear, and at one point he had a near-death experience, feeling as if he was passing through a long tunnel toward a light at the other end.

When the van finally lurched to a stop, the kidnapers grabbed the rug and pulled it straight out the back of the van, letting the load drop. Krusensterna crashed onto the curb of the carport with such force he was sure he broke his shoulder. He was dragged into a house and stripped naked, then chained to a chair. The rag was pulled out of his mouth. Then the captors put new tape over his mouth and poked holes in it so that he could breathe more easily, the way a kid would poke holes in the top of a jar full of bugs. At least one captor stayed with him at all times, and every time he made the slightest movement, he'd immediately feel the gun butt crashing into his skull. After a while, he says, it stopped hurting.

He stayed that way for two weeks.

Larry Platt, a vice president in Krusensterna's Dallas office, was the first to realize that something was wrong. Krusensterna was a micromanager, on top of every detail, and he called the office so many times a day he was a pain in the ass. So when Platt realized he hadn't heard from Krusensterna for more than a day, he picked up the phone and began to call around. No one in the office had heard from Krusensterna, including his wife, Corrine.

Corrine Krusensterna was undergoing treatment for lung cancer (she was later found to have breast cancer), so she was heavily medicated and barely able to cope with her husband's disappearance. She enlisted her children, Beth and Deanne and Keith, and they all started making calls. Meanwhile, Otilio del Angel, the Mexican office manager, started making calls as well.

One of them called the McAllen hotel, and a clerk told them that Krusensterna had already checked out. In fact, he'd never checked in, but the girl at the front desk called up his name, got a record from weeks earlier and assumed those were the dates in question. They called every hospital on both sides of the border, and police stations. They called the car rental company and learned that Krusensterna had not yet returned his rental car. Platt asked what color it was so that he could look for it and was told it was blue. In fact, Krusensterna had a red car, because the car he was assigned was blocked in the agency's parking lot and Krusensterna was in a hurry, so the rental crew tossed him the keys to another car and forgot to note as much on the paperwork.

Platt and Keith Krusensterna traveled to Reynosa to see what they could find. Cruising the streets of Reynosa, they found a red rental car, but by the time they found out that it was Krusensterna's and got back to it, it had been broken into and all of Krusensterna's bags had been stolen.

While Keith Krusensterna and Platt were in Reynosa, they got a call from del Angel, who'd heard news of Ken Krusensterna. When they got to the office, they were confronted with the crying and screaming apparition of Gabriela Leyva, who was tugging hysterically at del Angel while yammering about Krusensterna and about her mother. And for the first time, Platt and Keith realized that Krusensterna had been kidnaped.

Leyva was so hysterical that neither man could remember what she looked like. She was doubled over and her face was covered with running mascara, and both men were so shook up that they assumed she had to be sincerely terrified. She may have been.

"She won the Oscar. She sold it," says Keith Krusensterna.

"If that was acting, it was one of the best jobs I'd ever seen," says Platt.

But Platt was suddenly afraid, wondering if the kidnapers were nearby and if Krusensterna's son was also at risk. He rushed Keith Krusensterna back across the border, where they contacted the FBI.

Otilio del Angel also was living a nightmare, not knowing if the kidnap had anything to do with the company's bad relationship with the local cartel of trucking firms, not knowing if he and his family could be the next victims. He moved them out of his house and kept them moving for the duration of the ordeal. But he faithfully and courageously served as Krusensterna's advocate in Reynosa.

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