Elizabeth Goodwin was on a Memorial Day getaway in 2019 when she got a FaceTime call from her son Sam. He was in Syria, nearing the end of a yearslong quest to visit all 193 countries in the world.
Mr. Goodwin, a one-time college hockey player from St. Louis, had a plane ticket back to Missouri the following week, in time to take a seat at the Stanley Cup Final to see his St. Louis Blues play the Boston Bruins.
He held up his phone to give his mother a panoramic view of a Syrian roundabout that surrounded a towering statue of former President Hafez al-Assad. Ms. Goodwin later said she heard someone shout at him, and her son say. “I’m talking to my mom.” Then the line went dead.
It would be weeks before Ms. Goodwin and her family would learn what happened: How her 32-year-old son had taken a wrong turn and ended up in the basement of a Syrian prison, a place where he could hear the screams of prisoners.
Mr. Goodwin’s disappearance thrust his Midwestern family into the life-or-death world of hostage negotiations, prompting them to seek help from FBI agents, the Vatican, Middle East intermediaries, a cagey Russian emissary and Syria authorities skeptical Mr. Goodwin was anything but a spy.