HARRISONBURG, Va. (WFXR) — A Florida man will spend the rest of his life behind bars after pleading guilty to a plot to kidnap children and murder their parents.
The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia says Frank Jesse Amnott, 31, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit the offense of kidnapping, one count of conspiracy to kill witnesses, and one count of brandishing, carrying, and using a firearm in the commission of a federal crime of violence. The crime of conspiracy to kill witnesses carries a statuary sentence of mandatory life in prison, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Amnott and his wife Jennifer Amnott befriended Valerie Perfect Hayes and her boyfriend Gary Blake Reburn.
Hayes, authorities said, originally claimed to the Amnotts that three of her children were kidnapped and held by two Mennonite families in Dayton, Virginia.
Hayes allegedly asked the Ammnots for help rescuing her children and two other children. In return, Hayes promised to gift one her children to the Ammnots, which she was aware were unable to conceive a child.
The children that were part of the kidnapping plan were not Hayes’ children nor had any relationship with Hayes, Reburn or the Amnotts.
Investigators say they planned to kidnap five children, all younger than eight years old.
The plan organized by the two pairs involved kidnapping the children from two homes in Dayton and killing the parents to remove any resistance and witnesses. Once the children were in their custody, they would travel to Maryland. Then the Amnots would return to Florida with a child as promised to them, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Hayes, Reburn and Frank Amnott executed their plan on July 29, 2018, while Jennifer Amnott stayed in Maryland to watch Hayes’ other children. During her absence, she continued to communicate with the group, receiving updates on their progress, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
At the first house, Hayes appeared at the door dressed as a Mennonite. When a parent opened the door, the group forced their entrance into the home by gunpoint.
Amnott and Reburn forced the parents to the basement, where they bounded his wrist together behind his back, according to officials.
The other parent in the household, unbeknownst to the kidnappers, grabbed a cordless phone, ran outside, hid in a cornfield and called 911.
When a deputy with the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office arrived, the parent who was hiding appeared, while Hayes who was outside approached the deputy claiming to be a neighbor who witnessed an armed man run inside the house.
The parent felt confusion and suspicion of Hayes but did not verbalize it. The deputy requested the parent to enter a vehicle with Hayes and Reburn, who exited the home. The parent was driven to a nearby convenience store and dropped off.
While that was happening, a deputy entered the home, located the children, who were unharmed and found Frank Amnott holding a father at gunpoint in the basement, officials say.
Amnott was arrested without incident.
Hayes and Reburn returned to Maryland and in August 2018, the pair including Jennifer Amott, fled the U.S. to the United Kingdom, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Officials say they have been arrested and are pending extradition to the U.S.