Family Friend Arrested on Suspicion of Kidnaping Daughter of McDonald’s Exec


A Point Loma man was being held in County Jail on Thursday in connection with the kidnaping of the daughter of a retired McDonald’s Corp. executive.

Sarah Zien, 26, of San Diego was abducted Tuesday morning and rescued unharmed Wednesday afternoon, San Diego police spokesman Bill Robinson said.

J. C. Aler, 56, a friend of the Zien family, was in jail on suspicion of kidnaping for ransom, a jail official said. No bail has been set.

The incident shocked the Zien family, which has known Aler socially for two years and his wife, Kay, for 20 years, said Lois Zien, Sarah’s mother.

“He was a fine gentleman, just charming, always very polite,” Lois Zien said. “We’re just so grateful that everything turned out all right. And we’re grateful to the FBI and the (San Diego Police) detectives. They couldn’t have done a better job. They handled it beautifully.”


Police detectives from the robbery and criminal intelligence units handled the investigation. An FBI spokesman was unavailable for comment.

Lois Zien said her husband, James, who has been ill, and her daughter were emotionally exhausted by the 28-hour incident and not available for comment.

“He’s not a well man, and this has been, well, it’s been as rough as you can get,” she said.

Police said the kidnaping occurred about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday when Sarah Zien was walking from her car to Busco-Nestor Studios, 2670 5th Ave., a portrait and commercial photography studio where she has a summer job.

The kidnaper, who wore a disguise, gave her a note saying her brother Peter and father had been kidnaped and that her brother would be killed if she did not come along, Zien’s mother said.

The kidnaper, who demanded a ransom of $400,000, called Zien’s parents at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday and made several more calls using taped messages. Police and FBI investigators set up a command post in the Ziens’ downtown condominium and tapped the phone lines to monitor the kidnaper’s calls.

Zien was taken to an unknown vacant house, possibly in El Cajon, where she was chained to a toilet and left overnight, her mother said.

Wednesday afternoon, Zien persuaded her kidnaper to take her to an El Cajon drugstore to refill a prescription. At the store, Zien managed to call her parents, who called police, and she slipped into a store office until El Cajon police officers arrived and arrested Aler in the parking lot shortly after 1 p.m.

It was not known whether the kidnaper was armed.

Lois Zien said police and FBI investigators told her the abduction appeared well-planned.

“The police thought from the beginning that it was one person. They said it seemed well thought out, sophisticated because of the tapes and the language he used,” she said.

She said her family has no plans to change its lifestyle or routines as a result of the kidnaping.

“We were shocked. Nothing like this has ever happened to us. You just never know where this kind of thing can happen,” she said. “I guess, if people are going to do it, they can do it anywhere. Where can you be safe? It shows how vulnerable anyone is.”

Aler owns Industrial Plastics & Assembly Corp., 1308 N. Magnolia Ave. in El Cajon, police said. No one from the company was available for comment. Aler was an attorney from Texas who did not practice law in San Diego, according to Lois Zien.

She praised her daughter, who she said is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, for engineering her escape. The younger Zien is fluent in several languages, is studying for a master’s degree and is considering a career in linguistics, her mother added.

James Zien played a major role in McDonald’s advertising in the early years of the fast-food restaurant chain founded by the late Ray Kroc.

The Ziens, who have lived in Wisconsin and Minnesota, lived in La Jolla for 19 years before moving to downtown San Diego.