From December 28, 1992 to January 13, 1993, Katie Beers was held captive by John Esposito in a secret underground bunker in Bay Shore, Long Island. On the second day of her captivity Katie celebrated her tenth birthday. 17 DAYS: THE KATIE BEERS STORY is the true story of the kidnapping and eventual rescue of Katie Beers. Before the kidnapping Katie was already the subject of a bitter battle between her natural mother, Marilyn Beers, and family friend and surrogate mother Linda Inghilleri. Mr. Herzog takes the reader into the minds of these women, and provides a fascinating tour of the little-known underworld of poor white Long Island, the world in which Katie Beers lived.
Excerpts from 17 DAYS: THE KATIE BEERS STORY
All excerpts Copyright©1993 by Arthur Herzog, all rights reserved.
Maybe, if he removed her hat, it was the short hair. Maybe he confused her with a boy. He’d seen a lot of young boys in his career, though hadn’t forced sex on them so far as is known. This time, however, he couldn’t help himself. His action wasn’t voluntary, but a compulsion. Maybe the gender of the child wouldn’t have mattered—he had to, like an addict has to have a fix. His brain circuits had been crossed. Most adults have no trouble distinguishing between parent-to-child, lover-to-lover relationships, but Esposito couldn’t. He was a pedophile, she was his miniature mistress, the embodiment of his fantasies, the template of his dreams.
He threw her on the bed and kissed her, hard. But, instead of returning his adoration, with a quick little tongue perhaps, Katie screamed her lungs out, the prelude to a crypt.
Esposito produced a square piece of wood, a rubber wheel mounted beneath it, like a dolly. The wood went on the floor and, over the wheel, he maneuvered the cabinet into the room, revealing a long, slanted space with a flowered rug on the floor. Under it was a layer of padding, which he also rolled back, and a sheet of brown linoleum he attached to the wall with Velcro strips.
Beneath lay a concrete block, all four corners keyed, fitting precisely into the carpentered frame. Katie must have gasped, as with a come-along (a block and tackle), Esposito hoisted the two hundred-pound slab, an eyehook set in the center. Weights steadied the slab as it rose. Beneath was a piece of laminated plywood also with keyed corners. He pulled it out, baring a shaft six feet deep.
Katie screamed and wrestled with the madman, scratching his chin and right hand, but she couldn’t offer much resistance as he push-pulled her inside and down a narrow, slanted flight of lumber ledges.
The shaft led to a barrel-like passageway, five feet long, only large enough for an adult to enter lying down. Esposito raised the first of three barriers, then a second, which he propped up, and a third, on which he used a battery-powered wrench. Then he must have shoved Katie into the catacomb.
Of concrete, lined in foam rubber and cork, crisscrossed with wires, the miniature hell, a rival of Dante’s except for the lack of flames, measured six by seven feet and was barely tall enough for Esposito to stand up in. A dim light burned in the ceiling. If she sniffed, like a trapped animal, the odor was dry. Her vision had to get accustomed to the semidarkness. There was creepy dark blue light from the closed-circuit TV on which Katie could see the yard outside, doubtless for Esposito to monitor the house’s front yard while he was below. The planning that had gone into this! Katie could make out a portable toilet equipped with black plastic bags, a radiator, a dehumidifier.
The box, bolted to the ceiling, measured three feet high, two feet wide and the seven-foot length of the chamber. Protesting, she was shoved up there. An air duct, for ventilation, protruded. It was attached by pipes to the exterior. Lined with foam for soundproofing, the loft had a pull-down bed. On the mattress were pillows, blankets, and sheets stained red. The alert girl noticed this and felt alarmed. Blood? Had somebody been a prisoner before her?
Long Island . . . could be divided into three parts, all different, and different among themselves. The diversity was astonishing.
East of New York City, abutting Queens and Brooklyn, you have Nassau County, itself a study. The largely Jewish Five Towns, or points as they are sometimes called—Woodmere, Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Inwood and Hewlett (called "You Let" by its inhabitants)—are studded with synagogues, wedding caterers, funeral homes. Bethpage is known as "bagels and pasta" because of its Jewish and Italian mix. Somewhere in the island’s middle is Levittown, former farming country, few trees, uniform homes on small lots, Archie Bunker country, to which people first escaped the overcrowding that is New York City. Wall-to-wall shopping malls on Route 27, the Montauk Highway, with all the usual stores and outlets—7-Eleven, Toys "R" Us, the familiar fast-food joints, gasoline stations—a real visual bore. Garden City is in sharp contrast. Laid out along lines suggested by planner Lewis Mumford, it is truly a model town.
To the north lies the gold Coast—Sands Point, Lloyd Harbor, Oyster Bay, and Oyster Bay Cove, with the median family income of $150,000; Cold Spring Harbor, with a famous scientific lab; Locust Valley, with a blueblood country club.
Then comes Suffolk, the second-largest county in New York with a population of 1.4 million and a budget of $1.7 billion. Despite areas of affluence, Suffolk is largely middle and lower-class, with the highest concentration of AIDS outside New York City. Pockets of deep poverty also exist. Suffolk tried to ban plastic, banned detergents for a while and put the Shoreham nuclear power plant out of business. It is environmentally liberal but politically conservative—an odd mix. Some of it has been ghettoized by unscrupulous realtors who wouldn’t show houses to blacks in white areas. Brookhaven has a particle accelerator. Some towns are pretty, like Blue Point, Sayville, Bayport; others—like Coram, formerly famous for rugs—decidedly not. This is big hair country—the women tease it up—and, on the south shore, it’s a boating haven where houses stand by canals. Babylon, Bay Shore, Patchogue, Speonk, Wyandanch, Ronkonkoma—this is Suffolk.
But another Suffolk exists, the third part of Long Island, so different and detached from the rest that some want to secede and form the new county of Peconic, tiny in population but large geographically. At Riverhead the land mass parts. The North Fork is farmland, ending at Orient Point with the ferry to Connecticut across Long Island Sound. The South Fork includes the Hamptons, much ballyhooed for ocean beaches, big houses, and glitz, although as on the rest of Long Island, the contrasts can be startling.
For Esposito to make his complicated descent, requiring more than twenty maneuvers, took between five and ten minutes. The groan of the battery-powered wrench on the inner door announced his arrival. He’d visit twice a day with food, soda, water, and sometimes a wet towel—his fairy princess had to be kept clean. He had a canister of chlorine down there.
He had been with the cops all the previous night and most of the day as they installed the telephone surveillance system until Siben & Siben forced them to move to the main house. At some point that afternoon Esposito entered the crypt to find Katie out of the box.
Nononono, you mustn’t.
I can’t stay up there.
You must! You have to stop screaming.
This time after he’d forced her back into the box, he’d placed a chain around her neck and locked it with a padlock. The chain was attached to the wall. How she must have envied Aladdin’s magic carpet.
Esposito continued to insist he did his little guest a favor by protecting her, but the retrieval question still hung. Perhaps only suicide could resolve the issue. But in a sense, he’d outwitted himself; he alone could find a way into the labyrinth, which he carefully closed when he went down.
Marilyn quit school at seventeen, lived in New York City a few years, then returned to her parents’ ten-room house on Higbie Drive. Among other things, she drove a cab. Marilyn’s bra size (when she wore one) was forty-six triple D, and her fellow drivers called her "mamou" because of her mammaries, of which she was proud and would lay on restaurant tables in a low-cut blouse. Marilyn had a serious car accident but her breasts, acting like air bags, saved her from hitting the windshield.
One fare Marilyn picked up in her cab was Linda Butler and they became close friends. Both liked to shop, hang out at bars, smoke cigarettes, and eat. Five feet six, pretty and curvaceous, Linda could have had a crack at a modeling career if she’d lost ten or fifteen pounds, but declining that, she worked as a babysitter and in factories and a kennel. She’d wanted to be a nurse’s aide but couldn’t stand the sight of blood. She, too, had dropped out of school.
In 1975, Marilyn gave birth to John Beers. At the time, she would not admit who the father was. Her father, Stu, a disciplinarian, had served as father figure to the boy.
Marilyn got pregnant again by a man she claimed she didn’t know—a pickup at a bar, she said. There was no one to bring mother and infant home from Bay Shore’s Southside Hospital, so they took a taxi. The Beerses’ house lacked baby supplies and Marilyn was without money to buy them, so a neighbor helped. Another contributed a used carriage.
Linda had wearied of some of Marilyn’s habits—her abrasiveness toward her parents and fascination with the occult, Stephen King, and Ouija boards—and the two hadn’t been in contact in several years when they ran into each other at a Bay Shore shopping mall.
Marilyn asked, "Did you know I had a baby?"
Linda said she knew. That same day, she stopped at the Beerses’ ramshackle house to see the infant. "Katie, two months old, was in a beat-up blue carriage. No crib, no toys. I knew that baby would need me," Linda rhapsodizes, memory colored perhaps by the disputes with Marilyn over Katie that came later.
That same day—the Higbie Drive house was close to Linda’s rented place—Marilyn wheeled the baby over. She said she hadn’t been able to sleep. "She was on welfare. I told her to sleep at my place, but she didn’t like to sleep in someone else’s bed and she went home. She called to ask if Katie could spend the night. The next day and the day after that she still wasn’t well and I kept the baby. Katie started needing clothes and I sent to Marilyn’s to get them. That was how it started. I was making candies to sell so I could stay home. A week went by...."
Marilyn’s recollection was somewhat different. Goo-goo eyed about the child, Linda asked if she could keep her for a couple of months, and Marilyn agreed. "I always knew where she was and I always knew she was taken care of."
In 1988, Sal Inghilleri, though only thirty-five, suffered a major heart attack and, though forbidden to work, he repaired cars in driveways and operated a tow truck. The Inghilleris moved a good deal, always within a tight radius from Higbie Drive, and in 1989 they were evicted from a house for nonpayment of rent. With Linda at the Beerses’ so much fussing over Katie, she and Sal decided to move there so Linda could take care of the girl full-time instead of just on weekends. Sal objected because of the house’s condition—a pigsty, he called it—but when it came to her goddaughter, Linda’s will was indomitable, and in April they arrived.
The house was infested by termites—Sal had to replace a support beam—and holes gaped in the walls. The whole place needed to be painted. The water heater broke. Because of leaky plumbing, the living room ceiling caved in, sheetrock almost hitting Sal. Linda was a clean person and endeavored to scrub the floors, but the very old stove, the piles of garbage she and Sal carried out, roaches, and dog feces defeated her. Light-headed, dizzy, drinking copious Cokes, in fact suffering from diabetes, though she didn’t know it, Linda retreated with her dogs to an upstairs bedroom where she had a telephone, a toaster oven, and bathroom.
With Linda ensconced, Sal busy with cars—he repaired them in the driveway—and darts, Helen, largely helpless, Little John palling around with his buddies, and Marilyn seldom home, Katie ran free.
Cab drivers knew her by sight, several told me. They’d pick her up when she phoned—she always had the fare—to be taken say, to a shopping mall, though that did not seem to happen frequently. It was true that neighborhood children, forbidden by their parents to visit the Beerses, dubbed her "Dirty Katie" and "The Cockroach Kid," which embarrassed her, and "Cinderella." Her several caretakers sent her on endless missions to the strip mall around the corner for pizza, M & M’s, and cigarettes—everyone in the house smoked heavily. Some claimed Linda would bang on the bedroom floor when she needed an errand, but Linda says she only tried to quell the blare from the radio of John Beers and his friends.
For local merchants Katie was a regular. Linda said she only did chores when she wanted, and she was paid. She dragged bags to the Q.T. Laundromat when she could hardly reach the coin slot, but a woman who worked there would help fold the clothes and provide free coffee, which Katie brought home. "Streetwise, a little rough around the edges, but a normal, good kid," a merchant described her. She shopped at Grand Union and, as late as 10:30 P.M., at Ziegler’s Delicatessen, whose owner observed, "She’s smarter than most kids twice her age. The reason is she’s been on her own so long."
One day in 1990, Helen Beers had some $342 of groceries in shopping carts, but realized her check would bounce. Katie called Linda, who told her she’d put money in Helen’s account, but Katie couldn’t make her bewildered grandmother understand. Agitated, Helen sat on a bench for several hours, until the store summoned the police, who found Katie hiding outside and took them home. The police, having looked around, notified Child Protective Services (CPS), which arrived to interview the family. Linda, who says she’d summoned the agency before on the house’s disrepair but saw nothing come of it, refused to speak to the caseworker.
The caseworker retreated, and that, in the manner of bureaucracy, was that.
The attention it’s begun to get in recent years almost leads one to believe that pedophilia—adult sexual attraction to prepubescent children—is a new phenomenon. Partly because of available federal research money, dozens of books on the subject have been published, and more than a thousand articles in scholarly journals. "Child sex abuse" and "dysfunctional family" have become virtual cliches. In my Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, published in 1965, "pedophilia" doesn’t even appear.
The topic, moreover, is usually treated as if humans are the only species that engage in sexual behavior between adults and nonadults and that the practice is confined to Western industrial societies. All three notions have been proven false.
As time went on Esposito began to earn good money with Cacoperdo, $80,000 a year, Cacoperdo says, and, without a wife or children, he had plenty to spend. Before he was twenty-one he bought a kid a $500 dirt bike and at Rose’s house he put in an above-ground swimming pool and a basketball court. The yard was always filled with children. ("He might then have been a psychological pedophile," Fishkin notes. "That is, no attempt at sex with children of whom he was genuinely fond, and enjoyed and shared their love of childhood activities and pleasures.")
In 1970, when John was twenty-one, catholic Charities of Long Island introduced him to Billy Umlauft, eight, for whom he served as an older companion, taking him bowling and to baseball games, buying him gifts, including a TV. The arrangement delighted Billy’s mother, and the boy could hardly wait until the next visit. More than two decades later, Umlauft continued to be grateful to Esposito.
But a pedophile is attracted to early stages of development—lack of pubic hair, puffy cheeks, large eyes, the quality of budding, and the helplessness—and Billy matured. Nature fated their relationship to end. In 1977, scouting for a new boy, Esposito was arrested at Sunset Mall in Massapequa.