Girl held captive reportedly lured with arcade trip

AN OUTING THAT ENDED IN TERROR

January 17, 1993|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,New York Times News Service

BAY SHORE, N.Y. -- Katie Beers' voyage through the tra doors of a man's twisted mind began as a lonely girl's dream outing: a birthday shopping expedition for the kinds of things her family never bought her, followed by a trip to the video arcade.

But John Esposito, the man who the police said would become her jailer, added a bonus gift to the Barbie workout tape and a Treasure Troll doll Katie had chosen: a Home Alone 2 Super Nintendo video game. "It was an offer no 10-year-old could refuse," said Detective Lt. Dominick Varrone of the Suffolk County police.

The trip to the Space Plex video arcade in Nesconset on Dec. 28 never happened.

Instead, the police said, Mr. Esposito, who was arrested last week, lured the child to the garage apartment behind his home, where they played the video game he had just bought her. Then, they said, he made a sexual advance that Katie resisted. He shoved the child, kicking and screaming, down an elaborate chute and through a tunnel beneath his garage, shutting her in a kind of suspended tomb and threatening to tape her mouth shut.

Thus unfolded a 16-day ordeal of darkness and terror for Katie Beers that would lay bare a troubled family background marked by neglect and possible sexual abuse and result in one of the most intensive police investigations in Suffolk County's history.

All the while, Katie was under their very noses, concealed beneath a 200-pound slab of concrete that her loudest screams couldn't penetrate. The account of her captivity was pieced together from interviews with the police, FBI agents and court records, as well as a police videotape of the vault hidden beneath Mr. Esposito's garage.

It was drizzly and gray and about 1:30 in the afternoon when Mr. Esposito picked Katie up that Monday from Linda Inghilleri's white bungalow-style home on a tree-lined street of Bay Shore. They left for the sprawling Toys R Us nearby with Katie's wish list in hand.

Mrs. Inghilleri was Katie's godmother and a childless friend of Katie's mother, Marilyn Beers. Mrs. Inghilleri had largely raised Katie from the age of 2 months until she moved in with her mother last year, and took care of her on occasional weekends after that.

Mr. Esposito could pick Katie up only from her godmother's house; Mrs. Beers had forbidden him to see the children after Katie's brother, John, accused the contractor of molesting him, and after Mrs. Beers learned that his claims of belonging to the Big Brothers organization were bogus.

But Mr. Esposito remained a friend to Mrs. Inghilleri. He had bought Katie a Barbie doll dream house for Christmas, which Mrs. Inghilleri had hired two boys to assemble while Mr. Esposito took Katie shopping that day.

After leaving the Toys R Us, Mr. Esposito took Katie to a 7-Eleven convenience store. It was about 2 o'clock. A surveillance tape later showed the balding, middle-aged contractor at the girl's side as she paid for a Slurpee with a $5 bill and carefully deposited the change in her small handbag.

They then went back to the garage apartment behind Mr. Esposito's brown shingle home on Saxon Avenue to play the video game. It was then that he approached Katie, who resisted him. The police would not say where he had kept Katie while he went through the elaborate steps required to open the secret chamber: unscrewing four bolts, wheeling a built-in bookcase filled with liquor and stereo equipment from the wall, lifting the layers of carpeting, padding, linoleum and plywood from the floor, and rigging a winch to lift the concrete slab from the floor.

At some point that day -- the police would not say exactly when -- Mr. Esposito forced Katie to cry into a tape recorder that she was being chased by a man with a knife.

Three hours after he left Mrs. Inghilleri's house, as Katie was locked in his underground bunker, Mr. Esposito called the police and Mrs. Inghilleri to report the girl missing. He sobbed: "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," upon telling Mrs. Inghilleri her goddaughter had disappeared. About 45 minutes later, the phone rang again, but she could not make it to the phone in time.

From her wheelchair, she could hear Katie screaming into the answering machine: "I've been kidnapped by a man with a knife, and oh, my God, here he comes."

Katie spent her 10th birthday, Dec. 30, shut in the underground chamber Mr. Esposito had built under his garage, beyond a series of tunnels and doors so secret that investigators admitted they probably could never have found them alone.

When she got there, Katie saw stains on the bed, and later worried that some other child might have been been trapped there before her and never heard from again. The walls were lined with cork for soundproofing, and a second layer of foam soundproofing lined the padlocked box, which measured 2 feet by 7 feet by 3 feet. The young girl spent most of her captivity there.

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