Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Into the Dungeons

When they returned the next day, police brought axes, lights, trucks and dozens of officers to assist in the search. A mobile command center from the Onondaga Sheriff's Office was brought in to coordinate the massive operation. Special ground penetrating radar was used to search for bodies. Teams of evidence technicians began to sort through the unbelievable mounds of junk that Jamelske had accumulated over the years. Any of it could be considered evidence. Thousands of photographs were taken of the premise.

Onandaga police car
Onandaga police car

Inside the home, Jamelske maintained dozens of metal filing cabinets that were stuffed with papers, calendars and business records. He had collected hundreds of issues of old magazines, such as Popular Mechanics and Popular Science, from the 1930s and 1940s that were carefully arranged by dates. Hundreds of manila folders contained old phone bills, oil bills, receipts from grocery stores, gas purchases, car repairs, everything imaginable. "Anything that man ever did in his life was in those filing cabinets," said Detective Schmidt. "It was amazing!" But it wasn't until investigators gained access to the depths of the concrete dungeons that they realized how demented John T. Jamelske really was.

On the morning of April 9, as a virtual army of reporters gathered outside the home along Highbridge Road, detectives prepared to enter Jamelske's underground prison. The mobile command center from the sheriff's office parked at the end of the driveway. Armed with a search warrant and led by Detective Jack Schmidt, the group descended the nine steps down into the entrance of Jamelske's concrete bunker. Above the door, a small crucifix hung by a single nail. Next to it, the words, "PEACE TO ALL WHO ENTER HERE," were written in paint. The team had to crawl through a narrow three-foot opening until they could enter the first of the larger rooms.

They saw the words, "HATE" painted in red and on the opposite wall, the words "READY TO RUCUSS, SO BRING ON THE PAIN" were splashed on the wall in deep crimson (Fish). The room was damp, airless and had a sickening smell. It was frighteningly quiet and for the first time, police understood that even if the victims screamed as loud as they possibly could, their cries could not have been heard from outside. In the center of the room, a dingy, stained bathtub sat on top of a raised wooden deck. It was the place where the victims were forced to bathe using a garden hose. An aluminum frame chair with no seat was positioned over a pail; a crude toilet that was used to further degrade the captives. A clock radio sat on top of a filthy portable refrigerator.

In the second room, a grimy mat of foam was placed over plastic bread trays. All the women used this as their bed. The mat had remained unchanged for years. "The room where they slept is really a creepy place," later said Assistant District Attorney Rick Trufino to a newspaper reporter. "It's a nasty looking place. It's dank. It's dark. Without any light in there, it must be a scary place" (Fish). Two blue cloth chairs were positioned next to the makeshift bed and several newspapers were strewn on the damp floor. The chairs sat on top a two foot by four foot piece of ripped indoor outdoor carpeting. Everything in the cell was rancid and moldy.

On one of the walls, a giant peace symbol had been hastily painted in red. Other portions of the wall were marked with graffiti that the victims themselves had written during their captivity. An old microwave oven sat on top of a tiny wooden table. A yellow extension cord ran out from a hole in the top of one of the walls. Next to the wire, an eight inch aluminum hose pumped in warm air from Jamelske's house furnace.

County jail where Jamelske was held
County jail where Jamelske was held

Police photographers snapped hundreds of photographs of the dungeons while Schmidt and Bragg continued their search. They saw dozens of graffiti phrases scribbled on the walls. Police also found a calendar apparently used by one of the victims. On each page it had the markings, "B", "S" or "T" written on the dates. Investigators later discovered these letters were made by the victims who were made to record each date they had sex (S), bathed (B) or brushed their teeth (T).

As for Jamelske, he remained locked up in the county jail in downtown Syracuse. But his explanation of his activities over the previous 15 years had investigators bewildered. He refused to accept responsibility for his actions and tempered his admissions with protestations that some of the girls "benefited" from their captivity.

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