Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


The First

One of Jamelske's favorite pastimes was to cruise the city streets in his dilapidated 1975 Mercury. Even as a teenager, he was fond of driving aimlessly through wide boulevards of downtown Syracuse. "If I wasn't here," he later told a reporter, "I'd be out cruisin'" (July 17, 2003). On September 17, 1988, he was doing just that when he found a 14-year-old girl walking alone on South Geddes Street. "We were going to have sex... there was no doubt... we drove straight to my mom's house," Jamelske later said. Within minutes after he met her, Jamelske persuaded the girl to get into his car. He took her to his mother's home in nearby DeWitt. "The first day there was a chain and I put it around her ankle and I found a place to hook it," he told reporters later. "She didn't like that!" (July 16, 2003, Post-Standard). He threw his prisoner inside a deep well next to his mother's home where he convinced her that if she tried to escape, he would kill her family. "Well, I woke up in there and I didn't have any clothes on," the girl, who later identified herself as "Kirsten" on the Larry King show. "It was cold in there" (CNN Larry King Live). Though the girl was imprisoned yards from the house, there is no direct evidence that Jamelske's mother ever knew what was going on.

John T. Jamelske
John T. Jamelske

"I never considered anybody a kidnap victim," Jamelske later told the press. "To me, somebody that's kidnapped is, you pick out somebody who has money and you grab them and you say I'm going to kill them... if you don't give me a half-million dollars or something" (July 16, 2003, Post-Standard). But for Kirsten, that day in 1988 was the beginning of years of sexual abuse and humiliation. Jamelske made her keep a log of what was happening to her which included entries for each time they had sex as well as other activities while she was held captive. She had to record when she brushed her teeth and when she bathed. But over time, Jamelske also bought her gifts and pretended they had a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. Frightened by the strange man and forced to submit to his daily sexual assaults, Kirsten grew submissive and complacent.

"He controlled her by threatening to kill her brother," later said one law enforcement source to reporters. "The brother was just a little kid. How he knows what he knows, I don't know. He may have picked up his victims at random or he may have stalked them" (Fish). But the fear in the victim was very real. "He showed me a picture of my little brother saying that he was going to hurt him," Kirsten later said. "And he brought me a picture of my family and my house!" (CNN Larry King Live). Though Kirsten's family had reported her missing the day after she disappeared, cops were unable to find her. Eventually, she became one of the thousands of faceless runaways whose photographs appear in police departments all over America.

Jamelske's dungeon where he kept his victims
Jamelske's dungeon where he kept his victims

But Jamelske soon realized that each time he removed the girl from the well to have sex with her, he was exposing himself to risk. He decided that he needed a more secure facility to hold his victim. In 1989, he began construction on an elaborate underground concrete bunker on his property. He told neighbors that it was to be a bomb shelter. Because Jamelske was known as an eccentric, no one really thought much of the project. He brought in backhoes and other machinery to dig larges holes in his back yard. Concrete was poured into the ground to form two rooms that could be accessed from his garage. He installed heavy steel doors which he could lock from either side. But inside the rooms, there was no electricity, no bathroom facilities and no windows. The only fresh air would be what was piped in through an eight-inch tubing from the house above. In a few months, the construction was complete and Jamelske had his own private prison. In his twisted mind, he would be the warden, the keeper, the judge and jury.

In the summer of 1989, under cover of night, he brought Kirsten into her new home. He chained her leg to the floor and gave her a bucket to use for a toilet. Once a day he brought her food and eventually he allowed her to bathe a few times a month using a garden hose. For the next two years, the terrified teenager suffered through almost daily sexual abuse and psychological torture while Jamelske gloated over his new kingdom, smug with power, full of himself and looking forward to the satiation of his sexual perversions.

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