Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sex Slaves: The Psychology of Mastery

Codger's Dungeon

John T. Jamelske
John T. Jamelske

In 2003, 67-year-old John T. Jamelske was arrested in New York and charged with kidnapping a 16-year-old girl. As the investigation intensified, shocking details emerged of even more kidnappings. Jamelske had allegedly grabbed five women at different times, holding them captive in his Upstate dungeon near Syracuse and forcing them to endure repeated sexual assaults. Besides assaulting them, Jamelske starved them as well, allowing them to eat the barest amount just to keep them alive. The conditions in which they lived were dirty and disgusting.

The homemade dungeon beneath Jamelske's house was equipped with chains for holding his captives down so he could force them into relations whenever he wanted. Because he relied on Viagra to not only induce arousal but also keep it for long periods, Jamelske became quite a pest. His youngest victim was only 14, and a captive's imprisonment could run anywhere from a few months to three years. He videotaped what he did, increasing their humiliation.

Jamelske was apparently one those "quiet guys" who fled into a world of fantasy as he grew up. Attaining a university degree, he married and had three children. As he aged, his need for control increased, as evident in his extreme penny-pinching and unwarranted berating of other people. Investing in land, he became a millionaire, but then shut out the rest of the world by building a tall fence around his home.

Hidden entrance to Jamelske's dungeon
Hidden entrance to Jamelske's dungeon

In 1988, Jamelske was cruising around when he spotted a young girl walking alone. He picked her up and took her to his mother's home with the full intention of having sex. Then he decided to just keep her, so he chained her into an abandoned well and said he would kill her brother if she tried to escape. Because he wasn't asking for ransom, he did not consider what he'd done to be an illegal kidnapping, although it was. He kept this frightened girl chain up as a sex slave for two years, forcing her to keep a written record of each encounter. Like the pathetic character in The Collector, Jamelske tried to create the illusion that they were in a relationship.

Eventually, he built an underground bunker. While he ensured there could be no escape, he failed to include anything for his victim's comfort, except a pipe for fresh air. When he finally decided to let her go, he took her to Nevada and then sent her home by plane to Syracuse. While she was reunited with her family, she told them nothing of what had happened to her.

Jamelske continued with four more young women, but three of them, once free, did tell their families or the police. Still, it was difficult to find him, because they did not know where they had been taken. All they could report was that their abductor had been an older white male with a birthmark on his forehead.

The fifth girl, only 16, proved to be Jamelske's undoing. He picked her up in 2002 and subjected her to the same treatment as the others, but the girl, "Melinda," apparently befriended him. As a result, she gained more privileges, including going with him on outings and using a real bathroom. But when she was in public, she never asked anyone for assistance, although she did manage to phone her sister to let her know she'd been kidnapped. Soon the police picked them up and arrested Jamelske.

When detectives entered the musty dungeon to look around, they found the smell repugnant. But certain items indicated to them that they'd finally apprehended the man who had kidnapped at least two other girls.

Jamelske insisted he'd done these girls a favor by keeping them captive; it had been for their benefit. However, the statements his victims made in court about how scarred they still were from their ordeal contradicted him. He received a sentence of 18 years to life.

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