Suspects charged with kidnapping Alabama businessman who paid $250K ransom


A retired Alabama businessman was kidnapped during a home invasion and forced to wire $250,000 to his captors before they released him unharmed.

Elton B. Stephens Jr., whose father founded EBSCO Industries in 1944, was kidnapped at 7 a.m. on Sept. 11 from a rental home in Birmingham, where police said a pair of suspects, Matthew Amos Burke, 34, and Tabatha Nicole Hodges, 33, broke into his residence hours earlier as he slept, the Birmingham News reports.

The pair had already stolen three of Stephens’ guns, including a shotgun, and told him they’d kill him if he called for help.

Burke and Hodges then took Stephens to a trailer in St. Clair County, where they forced him to wire $250,000 into their account before returning him back home later that day, according to the report.

Stephens does not know his alleged captors, nor two children who were with them at the time. Birmingham police, meanwhile, have declined to release information on the case beyond what’s listed in court records, the newspaper reports.

“Elton Stephens Jr. was kidnapped in a home invasion last Friday,” his attorney, Tommy Spina, told the outlet in a statement. “I ask that his privacy be respected by the press and the public to allow him time and space to process and deal with these very traumatizing circumstances.”

Spina told WBMA Stephens wasn’t hurt during the kidnapping but is still recovering from the frightening ordeal.

“He is obviously emotionally traumatized, although he’s better each day,” Spina said.

Burke and Hodges, of Remlap, were arrested Saturday. They’re also accused of stealing Stephens’ Toyota truck, a digital camera, a cooler, credit and debit cards, a checkbook and watches valued at more than $2,500, court documents show.

The $250,000 and Stephens’ other property have been recovered, Spina said.

Both Burke and Hodges, who were charged with burglary, kidnapping an adult for ransom, extortion and theft of property, remained held without bail Friday at the Jefferson County Jail, online records show.

Prior to retiring, Stephens Jr. served as vice president and general manager of EBSCO Realty, WIAT reports.

Its parent company, EBSCO Industries, was ranked by Forbes magazine in 2019 as one of America’s largest privately-held companies (No. 166). The company’s primary businesses include journal and magazine subscription services to libraries and corporations, as well as manufacturing fishing lures and hunting-related products, according to Forbes.

The Stephens family — with a net worth of $4 billion — was also ranked 66th in the magazine’s list of America’s richest families in 2014 before dropping off the list a year later.