`Kidnapping' That Wasn't -- Gates' Mother Was Accosted In 1984

New reports that the mother of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates was once kidnapped apparently refer to a 1984 incident in which she was accosted outside but not taken from her home.

For years, talk about Mary Gates, who died of cancer last year at age 64, has inevitably led to mention of the incident.

Often referred to as "the kidnapping," the encounter was never clearly that, although it apparently could have become so had Gates not fended off the man who confronted her outside her Laurelhurst home. Mary Gates fled to a neighbor's house for help.

News reports of the incident resurfaced this week based on a deposition by the Microsoft billionaire in legal proceedings stemming from a lawsuit by a KIRO-TV reporter who was detained while trying to cover Gates' wedding to Melinda French in Hawaii on Jan. 1, 1994. Bill Gates cited the incident in defending tight security at the ceremony.

A PC Week news magazine report stated that the deposition provided few details of the incident, saying only that it occurred more than two years ago, that Mary Gates eventually was released and that no arrests were made.

People who had been close to Mary Gates, including her husband, a Seattle attorney, and the software magnate himself, could not be reached to clarify whether the incident referred to in the deposition was the same as the 1984 episode, reported at the time by local media.

However, Seattle Police have no other record of Mary Gates

being the victim of a crime in Seattle.

In a 1991 interview, the neighbor, Margaret Gaia, said a distraught Gates had appeared at her door in stocking feet.

"She said, `Someone just held me up,' " Gaia recounted. Gates told the man, "Here, take my car," and gave him her car keys.

The man responded, "I don't want the car, I just want you,' " Gates told Gaia.

Gaia, who said Mary Gates reported the incident to police as a robbery, discounted it as a kidnapping attempt. Gates' husband said at the time there was no indication it was a kidnapping. He said his wife's assailant didn't mention Microsoft.

Bill Gates' net worth is estimated at about $10 billion, much of it in Microsoft stock, which recently hit an all-time high.

The attorney representing Gates in the wedding lawsuit, Stuart Kodish, confirmed that Gates had testified about the kidnapping in a deposition, PC Week reported.

The incident came to light as a result of a lawsuit filed by one of the reporters barred from the island of Lanai. The reporter, Scott Rensberger of KIRO-TV, was arrested and jailed by Lanai security, but the charge was dropped when he agreed to immediately leave the island.

A judge in Hawaii ruled last month that Rensberger was not trespassing when arrested.

He and 11 other journalists were evicted from the island or told to stay out of the public beach park and all property owned by the Dole Food Co., which owns 90 percent of Lanai land. Gates has sued Dole and two subsidiaries in hopes of having himself freed of any liability if Rensberger wins his lawsuit.

Seattle Times staff reporters Byron Acohido and Peyton Whitely contributed to this report.