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Retiree Pleads Guilty in Sex-Slave Case

Man admits holding five women captive in below- ground dungeon. One who fled alerted police.

June 11, 2003|From Associated Press

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — A retired handyman pleaded guilty Tuesday to holding five women captive as sex slaves in an underground dungeon, two months after one of the victims escaped and made a frantic phone call that led to his arrest.

John Jamelske, 68, pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree kidnapping.

Under a plea deal, Jamelske could serve 18 years to life. Each count carried a maximum penalty of 25 years to life in prison.

"He's been very agitated and remorse-stricken. He's been very troubled at times over the past several weeks," said J. Michael Forsyth, Jamelske's lawyer.

When asked whether Jamelske knew that what he had done was wrong, Forsyth said, "It took a while for him to come around to that realization."

Jamelske has been held without bail since he was arrested April 7 on charges of holding a 16-year-old girl hostage for nearly seven months in a two-room concrete bunker he built 3 feet under the backyard of his suburban Syracuse home.

The bunker was linked to his home by a steel door, hidden behind empty bottles and cans, that led to a series of crawl spaces and doors, officials said.

A 4-foot ladder leads down to the first chamber, which was furnished with a refrigerator, a small tub, a portable hospital toilet chair and a bucket.

The second chamber had a microwave oven and a piece of dirty foam that was placed on top of plastic bread crates to serve as a bed. There was one chair.

The bare concrete walls in the second chamber were covered with graffiti -- some from the victims, said Rick Trunfio, an assistant district attorney.

Even now, weeks after being opened, the dungeon retains a stale, moldy smell.

"You can understand why the victims thought they would die down here," Trunfio said during a media tour of the underground rooms. Authorities said they will destroy the bunker.

The 16-year-old girl was able to sneak a phone call to her sister when Jamelske took her out in April to run an errand after six months of captivity, police said.

In a whispered call, she told her sister that she was being held captive and raped. The call led police to a weathered, blue, ranch-style house, hidden behind a wall of 20-foot evergreens and fenced off from neighbors.

After Jamelske's arrest, police identified four other women who said they had been abducted and raped by him dating back to 1988.

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