N.Y. girl, 10, found alive in a dungeon in family friend's house

January 14, 1993|By New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- Katie Beers, the little Long Island girl missing for 16 days, has been found alive in a secret dungeon at the home of the family friend who had reported her missing.

Though frightened by her bizarre ordeal, the 10-year-old girl appeared to be in good health.

The family friend, contractor John Esposito, 43, told his lawyer yesterday, "I got Katie," then led police to the heavily fortified chamber 10 feet beneath a detached two-car garage behind his Bay Shore home.

The victim apparently had been kept in chains during at least part of her captivity and "was overwhelmed and extremely happy" to be free, Suffolk Police Lt. Dominic Varrone said.

Police believe she had been imprisoned in the 6-foot-by-7-foot and 6-foot-high dungeon -- which had a bed, a toilet and television -- since Dec. 28, when Mr. Esposito reported her missing.

Katie, who has been caught in a tangled web of warring relatives and friends since she was born, watched news accounts of her disappearance, Lieutenant Varrone added.

Suffolk police officers have been stationed in Mr. Esposito's house since the girl disappeared, in case she called the house, but Mr. Esposito was free to come and go.

Police officers believed that his nightly trips to his garage to provide Katie food were related to his contracting business, which he operates from his home. The garage also served as a separate living area.

Lieutenant Varrone said that it was unclear whether Katie had been chained the entire time, but that a chain was found in the bunker.

"She tried to escape," he added. "She banged and hollered," but the underground prison was concealed by a portable bar and stereo system, a rug and a 250-pound concrete slab.

"The only possible way this person could have been found would have been through a partial demolition of the building," Lieutenant Varrone said.

Led by Mr. Esposito, the rescuers reached the bunker by descending a 10-foot ladder and slipping through a narrow passageway that opened onto a locked door.

"Katie?" one of the rescuers called out.

"I'm here," came a faint little girl's voice.

"When she came out, there was this sweet 40-pound child," said Mr. Esposito's attorney, Sidney Siben, who was present for the discovery. "We were all overjoyed."

Referring to Mr. Esposito, Katie said, "Hello, Uncle John" as she emerged from the bunker.

Laura Stone, a neighbor, said she saw Katie as she left the house with police. "She was waving happily like the president walking on down the road," she said.

In order to get food to Katie each day, Mr. Esposito had to pull away the portable entertainment system and rug and hook a block-and-tackle lift to hoist the slab away.

Mr. Esposito, who was convicted 14 years ago of unlawfully imprisoning a 12-year-old boy, was arrested and was to be charged with kidnapping when he is arraigned today, police said.

His lawyer said he also expects Mr. Esposito to be charged with sexual abuse. "My client is obviously a disturbed man," Mr. Siben said.

Katie was taken to a hospital in the company of child-protection workers, where police said the extent of her physical and emotional trauma will be assessed.

Mr. Esposito had told police he took her to play games at an arcade in Nesconset and that she disappeared after going to get change.

Police say they now believe there was never a trip to the arcade, and that Katie was imprisoned when her mother allowed Mr. Esposito to take the girl shopping for the video "Home Alone."

Katie's mother, Marilyn Beers, and her godmother, Linda Inghilleri, with whom she had been staying, gave Mr. Esposito permission to take her even though a year ago both were warned that he might be a child abuser.

Ms. Inghilleri criticized police for not letting her see Katie before she was taken to the hospital. "This is a rotten thing to do to me," she said.

"I'm glad the girl is safe and found, and in one piece," added Ms. Inghilleri's husband, Sal. "As far as Esposito, all I will say about him is, I hope he gets what he deserves."

Marilyn Beers and the Inghilleris have been engaged in a battle for Katie's custody and affection over the past two years. Sal Inghilleri said the custody dispute is the reason why Marilyn Beers has filed false charges that he sexually abused Katie in October 1991.

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