By Marion Filler
Nearly three decades later, the 1992 kidnap and murder of Exxon executive Sidney Reso still reverberates in Greater Morristown.
A standing-room audience packed the Morristown & Township Library on a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon to hear John O’Rourke speak about his new book, Mystery, Millions & Murder in North Jersey: The Tragic Kidnapping of Exxon’s Sidney Reso.
O’Rourke, a State Trooper for 26 years, is now a security consultant and instructor to private citizens and corporations. Although he never was directly involved, O’Rourke grew interested in Sidney Reso’s story while teaching his security course.
“No one has ever written a book about this case,” said O’Rourke. Referring to missteps by the criminals and missed opportunities by law enforcement, he said, “It’s a good example of what to do and not do” in such circumstances.
O’Rourke described kidnappers Arthur and Irene “Jackie” Seale in detail. He began with Arthur’s early days on the Hillside police force, where he had been reprimanded seven times in 10 years.
Arthur Seale became a security guard at Exxon but eventually was passed over in favor of better-educated candidates. A few unsuccessful business ventures and a lifestyle that exceeded the couple’s means resulted in a financial meltdown. The Seales and their two children returned to live with Arthur Seale’s father in Hillside.
Humiliated and angry, Arthur Seale believed his expertise in crime detection and security could be a way out. He knew who to target at Exxon.
“Seale actually looked at 12 people and Reso was not at the top of the list,” said O’Rourke.
Through surveillance, the Seales discovered that Reso had a routine — always a plus for kidnappers.
Every morning on his way to work, Reso would drive down the long driveway of his Morris Township home and lean out of the car to pick up the newspaper.
On the morning of April 29, 1992, it was a simple matter for Irene Seale to jog by before Reso arrived and kick the paper into the bushes. Reso would have to get out of the car to get it.
The white van was waiting.
Wearing a mask, Arthur Seale grabbed Reso, who did not resist until he saw a wooden coffin-like box meant to contain him.
The executive struggled and was shot in the arm and beaten before being shoved into the box. What followed was a tragedy of errors that ended badly for Reso.
For starters, the kidnappers forgot the ransom note. They called the hotline at Exxon to demand $18.5 million.
This was followed by a letter to the F.B.I. signed “Fernand Pereira Brigade, Warriors of the Rainbow,” to imitate the Greenpeace flagship –an attempt to confuse police by suggesting a terrorist connection to the Exxon Valdez oil spill three years earlier.
The FBI made two attempts to establish that Reso was still alive. Both times the family could not confirm that the tremulous voice of the dying Reso was really his, so the ransom was delayed.
On May 3, four days later, in an airless storage locker in Washington Township, infected from the gunshot wound and without adequate food and water, the 57-year-old hostage died.
The Seales buried Reso in the Pine Barrens, in Bass River Township, but continued to pretend he was alive.
They were asked to call a number and coordinate a pick-up of the money. But Irene, who was dyslexic, dialed the wrong digits.
What followed was a series of wild goose chases by the FBI that ended with an arrest on June 18 at a car rental agency.
In exchange for a plea deal, Irene Seale led police to Reso’s grave. For her cooperation, she received a 20-year sentence and was released in January 2010.
O’Rourke has not met her, but believes she now lives in New Jersey with her daughter. Arthur Seale was given the maximum of 95 years without parole.
“If they had just disposed of the body and not wanted the ransom, they would have gotten away with it,” said O’Rourke.
His presentation included photographs of the Seale family, Sidney Reso, the ransom letter, and actual recordings of conversations between the Seales and police.
There also was a map of the trail crisscrossing through New Jersey that led to the eventual capture of the Seales.
O’Rourke left the audience with a warning.
“Pay attention to the small, subtle changes in your life. It’s the subtle stuff that people miss.”
Acknowledging that we live in a very safe society, O’Rourke explained that predators prey upon our instinct to trust and to overlook things that are slightly out of the ordinary.
That could be unwise. One might notice the new jogger in the neighborhood, the same person walking too close behind us on more than one occasion, or perhaps a van that seems to always be parked nearby, and think nothing of it.
Maybe it’s time to think again.