The alleged kidnapping of British model Chloe Ayling had all of the ingredients of a case that could captivate public attention: A young, beautiful victim; a shadowy online criminal syndicate; and a glimpse into the dark underworld of sex trafficking.
But questions are mounting about Ayling’s previous relationship with her alleged captors, and authorities are working to piece together the series of events that unfolded after she mysteriously vanished.
Ayling says she was lured to Milan on July 11 to a fake photo shoot. After arriving, she says she was drugged, stuffed into a suitcase, and held at a rural farmhouse by criminals who threatened to auction her as a sex slave, and also demanded a $300,000 ransom from her agent.
She claimed that her captors drugged her with ketamine and tied her to a wooden dresser. During this time, one of her captors, 30-year-old Lukasz Herba, allegedly said she would “be sold to Arabs” who would “feed you to tigers when they get bored with you.”
Ayling claims that when her captors noticed photos on her Instagram that made it clear she is a mother, that they determined to return her, as it is against their code to kidnap women with children. So, on July 18, Herba took Ayling to the British Consulate in Milan.
He was arrested by Italian police, and detained on suspicion of kidnapping to extort money and falsifying documents.
Who is Lucasz Herba?
Polish-born Herba lives in Oldbury, a town in the West Midlands area of central England. British police searched the apartment he shares with his 36-year-old brother, whom they reportedly plan to question, and say they took away computers for forensic examination.
Local resident Sinead Boyce told The Sun that Herba rarely spoke to his neighbors, and was sometimes seen wandering around with a rat on his shoulder.On Facebook, Herba claims to be chairman of the board of Karmerg, a company whose website describes it as “a well-recognized technology trade expert” in the fields of chemistry, electronics, biology, and physics. There is no public listing in Britain for such a company, according to ABC News.
Ayling told investigators that Herba bragged about having earned $15 million over the last five years selling women on the internet. Herba told investigators that the kidnapping was orchestrated by a group of Romanians who paid him 500,000 pounds ($649,000) to rent properties around Europe. He claimed that he needed the money to fund medical treatment for his heath issues.
Herba said he decided to intervene after he saw Chloe’s photos posted in an online auction. He said that he had met Ayling three months earlier in Paris, when she went to a modeling job. He claimed he cancelled the job after realizing it was her the crime syndicate intended to kidnap.
But a former girlfriend of Herba’s has described him as a fantasist and “narcissist” who claimed at various points to be running an international business making synthetic chicken feed, to own land in Scotland — and work as a professional assassin. Paolo Storati, deputy prosecutor, described Herba as “a person affected by mythomania” – an abnormal or pathological tendency to exaggerate or tell lies.
How well did Chloe know Lucas?
Witnesses who saw Ayling with suspected abductor Lukasz Herba have revealed that they thought they were a couple. Chloe and Herba were seen shopping together during the ordeal, and another source claimed that he saw them laughing and joking together while visiting a cafe in Milan, Italy.
Chloe’s lawyer confirmed she went shopping for groceries and shoes with Herba 24 hours before she turned up at the British Consulate. He said, “So, she abided to his request, ‘Let’s go and buy groceries,’ and ‘You need shoes, let’s go buy shoes,’ and she didn’t try to flee.”
Chloe said that the gang handcuffed her to furniture — yet paints a picture of Herba as a benevolent figure who was furious the group had snatched a mother. She claimed that, starting on the second night of her captivity, she slept with Herba in a double bed, but insists he did not molest her. She even says he gave her gifts, including underwear and chocolates.
According to DailyMail.com, Italian police sources have said they are checking into the possibility that Ayling and Herba may have been collaborating — but so far have been unable to corroborate this theory.
What is the Black Death?
The Black Death claims to be “an organized crime group based in eastern Europe,” and its home page, captured by EU police agency Europol, contains a picture of figures wearing pointed masks associated with the 14th-century bubonic plague. The group can only be accessed on the deep web through anonymizer browsers like Tor Project, and the site lists services including blackmail, murder, guns, and sex trafficked women for sale.
But it’s not clear if the site delivers the proposed illegal services — or if it simply lists fantasy abduction scenarios inspired by Hollywood movies. Journalist Joseph Cox, who examined the site in 2015, found that one of the photographs of a young woman supposedly up for sale had been lifted from a pornography video.
Europol said it couldn’t comment because there is “a live investigation ongoing” in an EU member state.
What is Chloe up to now?
Chloe has reportedly enlisted the services of a celebrity agent since emerging from captivity, and also booked a topless photo shoot. Her former partner Conor Keyes told The Sun she has not seen her 18-month-old son Ashton since returning to the U.K.
Main photo: Chloe Ayling [BBC News / YouTube (screenshot)]