BURIED MEMORIES by Katie Beers and Carolyn Gusoff: A Page-Turner!

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It was one of the most bizarre cases in New York criminal history.

In December 1992, a very strange story broke on the evening news.  An adorable little girl named Katie Beers had allegedly gone missing from a game arcade in Long Island.  She made a phone call saying she’d been kidnapped by a man with a knife.  After that, the child vanished.

I had always been a fan of true crime stories, particularly ones written by retired members of the FBI, and knew that when a child goes missing, it doesn’t bode well if they’re not found within twenty-four hours.  Most of the time, abducted children are first raped, then killed.  Somehow, though, when I saw this child’s face on the news, I remember how forcefully I was hit with the feeling that this child was very much alive.  Still, the odds were against it, so I hoped with all my heart that she’d be recovered.

Incredibly, miraculously, seventeen days later, the police found the little girl alive.  For those who are too young to remember this story, fasten your seatbelts here.  She had been kept by a deranged family friend, John Esposito, in – get this – a dungeon that he had built underneath his house for the specific purpose of kidnapping her and holding her captive.  It was accessible only after moving a 200-pound slab then crawling through a tunnel.  Here’s a photo from the day the authorities removed the creepy thing from the ground:

 

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The sight of that bunker/dungeon’s retrieval has never left me.

I was very interested when I heard that Katie Beers, along with Long Island reporter Carolyn Gusoff, who had covered the story for TV news when it had occurred, were working on a book about the kidnapping.  I have to say, the resulting book, Buried Memories, is one of the best page-turners I’ve read in years.  It’s particularly interesting to have the two contrasting voices, of Katie and Carolyn, narrating each chapter.  While Katie was underground, Carolyn was all over Long Island, visiting the girl’s mother, who wasn’t raising her, her godparents, with whom she had lived until it came to light that the godfather, Sal Inghilleri, had been sexually abusing her, others who knew her and had a lot to say about the way she had been visibly neglected, the police in charge of the case, and Esposito, who had lawyered up.  He claimed to be the last man to see Katie before she was “taken” by the man with the knife.  That turned out to be a fabrication of Esposito’s own.  He forced Katie to make a tape saying that had happened when it hadn’t.  Then the creep went to a phone booth, called Katie’s godmother, and played the tape.

What I enjoyed the most about reading this book was finding out about Katie’s amazing savvy in dealing with one of the ghastliest criminals who had ever managed to fly beneath the radar and live loose among the populace.  Katie did not cooperate with her kidnapper in the least bit.  She was dragged into the hole beneath the maniac’s house kicking and screaming – literally.  She demanded to be sent home.  She would not tell the pervert the things he longed to hear when he tried to lead her, outrageously, to say she wanted to stay with him.  She didn’t, and she let him know it.  The few times the child did agree with the Esposito creep, it was only to tell him what she thought he wanted to hear in order to press her own advantage in an attempt to have him let her out.

Esposito chained Katie to the wall in his dungeon room.  Katie, at the age of nine, had the good sense to figure out how to get out of the handcuffs the creep locked onto her little wrists.  She could free herself in the dungeon, or at least,  have some freedom of movement in the two closet-like rooms where she was imprisoned under the 200-pound concrete slab, but she would pretend to be chained back up when she heard her tormentor coming.  She played around with the baby monitor Esposito kept in there to listen to her movements when he was upstairs.  She deliberately turned it almost all the way down when he wanted to test if cops, who kept going to his house since he was the main suspect, could hear her screams.  He wanted her to pose as if she was dead, then release the photo to the media.  Katie knew the police would stop looking for her if they thought she had died, so she refused.  She tried to keep herself awake so that the psycho wouldn’t sneak in while she slept and get such a photo.  There’s a whole lot more.  Ultimately, she began to feign sick to get him freaked out into letting her go.  All of these techniques the child used are well but sickly documented since this Esposito character had a voice-activated recorder in the room with Katie, and Carolyn Gusoff later heard the tapes.  His degree of premeditation makes me want to scream.  How a child of nine could have been so sophisticated in terms of thwarting a cretin with so perverted an agenda that he had spent a year building the dungeon just to imprison her is not only astonishing and commendable but awe-inspiring.  

Katie Beers, those were magnificent ploys – BRAVA!
Katie wanted to tell her story now was in the hope that it might help other children in similar circumstances – not just kidnapping victims, but ones who are living through family neglect or surviving sick pedophiles like her violent godfather, who wound up doing jail time – and died in prison.  To me, one of the most chilling passages in the book describes a neighbor who told Carolyn Gusoff she knew Katie was being abused by her caregivers but didn’t call the authorities because she had “problems with her own kids’ father.”  Any problems anyone might be having with the legal system or with child custody matters of their own have nothing whatsoever to do with picking the phone up and reporting a case of child abuse.  To have knowledge of an abused child and do nothing about it is reprehensible.  It makes you almost as liable for what’s going on as the perpetrators.  There’s no reason to stay silent.  Child abuse can be reported anonymously.  I’ve done it in instances where I knew there were children in trouble, and guess what?  I’m still standing!  If you see a child being beaten, as I did in my neighborhood, or realize a child’s caregiver has violent tendencies, even if you don’t see anything happening directly, don’t leave the situation to chance.  Pick up the phone and call your area’s child abuse hotline.   Let the story of Katie Beers be your inspiration to do the right thing.
Katie's rescue.

Katie’s rescue.

 

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8 responses to “BURIED MEMORIES by Katie Beers and Carolyn Gusoff: A Page-Turner!

  1. What a brave little girl. Where is she now? Reminded me of the house in Ann Arbor that was one of the stops for the underground railroad.. it was sort of behind our house and I knew the family. I wish I had asked to see it. The house was built in 1842 and is still a private residense (on Pontiac Trail). Something was just on the news about it and Black History month with a quick glimpse of the house. I googled it.

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  2. I saw her and her husband interviewed on TV. She’s as solid as they come. What an amazing woman and you could tell her husband adores and respects her completely. He said after he met her he googled her name and up came this story. He was shy to ask her if she was this Katie Beers, though he knew she was. The birthdate matched and the picture too.

    This Esposito was/is one sick puppy. Hate it that there are people in the world like him. Have you ever read The Collector, by John Fowles? It’s a story like this of a sick man who kidnaps a young woman and keeps her in a bunker. Freaked me out when I read it. This kind of thing is one of the worst things that could ever happen to someone. I know that I would never have had the moxie to survive like Katie did. Brava indeed!

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  3. Terrific review of a very memorable book…so happy to read that she went on to be a happy young woman with children of her own to love and protect & she is sharing her story in the hopes of inspiring other children/adult victims of abuse and/or neglect that they too can not only survive but thrive!

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