Kidnapping Search Over: Couple in Custody


By Amy Fox
By Jared Roberts

ELDORADO -- After a 12-hour search, police located and arrested the kidnapping suspect, Sonny Pilgrim. The alleged victim, Courtney Godwin, was found safe and unharmed.

Police say 23-year-old Sonny Pilgrim abducted his girlfriend, 19-year-old Courtney Godwin.  They were arrested 12 hours later at a truck stop in Southeast Missouri.

On Wednesday afternoon, Pilgrim was arrested in Saline County. Police checked him into Ferrell Hospital in Eldorado.  But, he escaped the hospital and ended up at his girlfriend's step- grandparents house.

Carlton Van Ness was sitting on the couch Wednesday night when he says Sonny Pilgrim came inside his Eldorado home and held him at knifepoint.

"He threatened me with it and asked me to go get my keys," said Carlton Van Ness, Godwin's step-grandfather.

Pilgrim grabbed Carlton's phone and money and headed to the bedroom where his girlfriend, Courtney Godwin, was staying.

Carlton said, "I heard her crying, and to the best of my knowledge, he forced her to leave with him and they took my vehicle."

Within a matter of minutes, the couple was gone in Carlton's SUV.  That's when Carlton called Eldorado Police.

 "We thought they were trying to get back to, maybe, where he originally lived, which is Thomasville, Georgia," said Shannon Deuel, Eldorado Police Chief.

After about 12 hours, the couple was found at a Love's Truck Stop in Matthews, Missouri and taken into custody.

"I was worried about my granddaughter, but I was worried about other people out there," said Elaine Van Ness, Godwin's step-grandmother.

Pilgrim faces charges of armed robbery and kidnapping out of Saline County.  In addition, he is being charged with tampering with a motor vehicle and resisting arrest. Both are charged with unlawful possession of a stolen vehicle.

Just 10 days ago, Pilgrim and Godwin moved to Illinois from Georgia to start a new life.

Carlton said, "Sonny was very helpful and did some work around the house, did some yard work for us, and was not a problem for us whatsoever."

The Van Ness's say they were just trying to help the couple find jobs and get settled in the area.  But, now, that plan has fallen apart.

"I blame myself because I should have checked it all out, but it happened really quick," said Elaine.

"It's been hard," said Carlton. "We just don't know what to do. We tried to help someone and here we are."

The couple is being held at the Pemiscot County Jail.  Pilgrim is being held on a $550,000 bond.  No word yet on when the two will appear in court.

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