Under the bookcase was a carpet, which covered a concrete slab and a trapdoor. It was the entrance to a narrow tunnel, dug into the foundations of a house in a suburb of New York City. And at the end of the dark tunnel lay a tiny bunker, 6ft by 7ft... ...where Katie Beers was held prisoner...
It was 28 December 1992. Two days before Katie Beers’ 10th birthday.
To celebrate, she’d gone with family friend John Esposito to an arcade near where she lived with her godmother Linda.
But at the arcade, Katie had gone missing. There one minute, vanished the next.
John was devastated, certain the girl had been snatched.
Then, later that day, Linda got a voicemail from Katie.
‘Aunt Linda, a man kidnapped me and he has a knife,’ she cried. ‘Oh no! Here he comes right now!’
No-one knew who the man was.
Officers suspected John Esposito himself, who lived just doors down from Linda and husband Sal Inghilleri.
Katie had sometimes played in Esposito’s backyard.
But security cameras showed him arriving at the arcade. Alone.
He’d lied about taking Katie there. Why?
Esposito was known to the police for sex offences he’d committed years before.
Police searched Esposito’s home, but found nothing.
They looked into Katie’s family, too.
She’d never known her dad. And her mum had left her in the full-time care of Linda and Sal when she was just 3 months old.
Linda and Sal were distraught. They wanted Katie home safe and soundas soon as possible.
For the police, though, the investigation hit a brick wall…
Until, 17 days after Katie Beers’ disappearance, when John Esposito turned up at the local police station and confessed to being the kidnapper.
He took the police back to his house, showed them the secret entrance to his hidden bunker, which police had missed when searching his home.
In there, Katie was chained to a wall. Her only light came from a tiny TV set at the end of the mattress on which she sat.
From it, the sound of Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You…
Katie Beers would never listen to that song again.
At last, though, she was safe.
Katie told police how Esposito had snatched her, forced her into the dungeon, and made her leave that voicemail for Linda.
He’d kept her on a diet consisting mostly of after-dinner mints.
And repeatedly raped her.
But no matter how hard Katie pleaded, Esposito wouldn’t let her go.
He’d told Katie he loved her, had built the bunker especially for her. It’d taken him years.
He’d even fantasised about marrying the 10-year-old, starting a family with her.
Throughout her captivity, Katie had hardly slept.
She’d been terrified that once her eyes closed, Esposito would take a photo of her ‘looking dead’, send it to police, and the search would be called off.
Eventually, Esposito must have realised he’d never be able to marry Katie. Or maybe his conscience had got the better of him.
Either way, he’d confessed.
Police were amazed by Katie’s strength and courage.
But, for Katie, it was nothing new. She’d had to be strong all her young life.
Calmly, she told the police how her godmother Linda treated her like a slave.
Linda would make her clean and tidy, and fetch cigarettes from the local shop.
Katie didn’t have her own bed. Instead, she slept downstairs on the family’s sofa.
And that made her vulnerable to Linda’s husband Sal.
Most nights, Sal would creep downstairs while Linda was asleep and abuse Katie.
‘Sex abuse was my normal,’ she said.
Sal Inghilleri was arrested and in 1994, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for sexually abusing Katie.
He never apologised for his crimes or showed any remorse over them.
In 2009, he died in jail following his arrest on a parole violation.
It was different for John Esposito. As soon as he appeared before a judge in 1994, he broke down.
‘My only hope is that someday, Katie will find it in her heart to forgive me,’ he said.
Convicted of kidnap, Esposito was sentenced to serve 15 years to life in prison. He later died there.
But now, Katie Beers had a chance… A chance to live a life free of abuse.
She was sent to live with a kind foster family.
She then went on to study Business Management at college.
There she met Derek. These days, Katie and Derek are happily married and have two kids of their own.
Katie holds down a tough job in insurance sales.
A brand new life. Although she’s never forgotten her old one.
In 2013, she published her autobiography.
In an odd way, the kidnapping helped me, she wrote. If it hadn’t happened,
I don’t even want to think where I would be.
But I would never have graduated high school, I would never have graduated college,
I might not even be here living today, with the road my life was bound to go down.
For Katie Beers, the time had come to move on.