|“||I've always said, you know, I'm unorthodox, and I said to hundreds of people, you know, I’m a little bit crazy, you know. I get a little crazy, you know what I mean?||”|
John T. Jamelske was born in Fayetteville, New York near DeWitt, a suburb of Syracuse, in 1935. His father was a watchmaker. In high school, he was very quiet and withdrawn and rarely even spoke a word with anyone. An academic underachiever, he liked history classes, but disliked math and stayed away from sports. After graduating from Morrisville State College with a degree in watchmaking in 1955, he had a few blue collar jobs and married a schoolteacher named Dorothy Richmond. They had three sons together, the first-born of whom died an infant. Though his whole family was aware of the existence of the bunker under the house, they were unaware that he used it as a dungeon. In 1988 (the same year he committed his first kidnapping), she became ill and died in 1999. In 1988, he convinced his father to invest in stocks. When he and his wife died, Jamelske received a sizable inheritance. He invested the money in real estate in California and Nevada, and by 2000 he had become a millionaire through his dealings. In spite of his fortune, he lived very frugally and was often seen collecting beer cans and bottles from trash cans for the deposit. At the time of his arrest, he had a collection of over 13,000 bottles in his possession (it was sold on eBay for $500 sometime after his conviction). He even made arrangements with libraries to save the food coupons included in subscription magazines for him. When the DeWitt area in which Jamelske lived was purchased and the other properties on the street were remodeled and improved, Jamelske simply built a tall wooden fence around his house instead.
Abductions, Arrest and Conviction
In 1988, Jamelske abducted his first victim, a 14-year-old Native American girl. He held her captive for over two years and returned her to her home in 1990. She didn't report what he had done to her to the authorities. In 1995, he abducted a Latino 14-year-old girl and kept her in his dungeon until 1997, when she was dropped off at her mother's apartment. Her family didn't report her kidnapping, though they spotted a man she identified as her abductor driving past their apartment for weeks afterwards. His next victim, kidnapped in 1997, was a 53-year-old Vietnamese woman. According to a later statement, Jamelske liked hearing her sing and placed a TV in the dungeon for her to use. She was reported missing by her boyfriend a few days after her disappearance, but the police had no leads. On May 23 the following year, he dropped her off at a Greyhound bus station with $50. Though she, unlike the previous victims, did report her abduction, the police, having no leads as to where she would have been held or who could have done it, the investigation led nowhere. The victim herself later stated they didn't even believe her and even accused her of making the whole story up.
Jamelske performed his next abduction in 2001. The victim was a Caucasian 26-year-old mother of two and was taken from outside her workplace. She was released after two months outside her mother's home, the address of which Jamelske hadn't been told. She later shared her experiences on Larry King using the pseudonym "Jennifer". Like the previous victim, she reported her abduction. She told the police that Jamelske's car was a tan 1975 Mercury Comet. They searched for the car and found one, but the owner was not responsible. In actuality, the victim got the make and color right, but its year was 1974. Jamelske's final victim, a 16-year-old African-American girl he named "Meikka", was abducted in October, 2002. She managed to befriend him (an investigator later described it as Stockholm syndrome) and he apparently took a special liking to her, even allowing her upstairs into his home, though he sealed all possible exits to keep her from escaping. The next year, he even felt confident enough to take her out, even going bowling with her at least once. On April 3, he went to a karaoke bar with her and, though people thought they were an odd couple, wasn't caught. On April 9, he brought her along when he went to a bottle redemption center to hand in bottles he had collected. She managed to convince him to let her use a phone to call a church and ask for its service times. When she was alone, she called her sister and told her where she was and what had happened to her. Within minutes, police arrived and arrested Jamelske.
When they went to his residence, they uncovered his dungeon. One of the walls had the words "WALL OF THUGS" written on it, a detail "Jennifer" had mentioned when she reported her kidnapping. The Onondaga Sheriff's Office brought in a mobile command center, ground-penetrating radars to search for buried bodies and evidence technicians to examine the junk scattered all over the dungeon. Though no bodies were found, the investigators found several old issues of magazines and hundreds of folders filled with old bills and receipts. Above the entrance to the dungeon hung a crucifix and the words "PEACE TO ALL WHO ENTER HERE" were written underneath it. The dungeon contained a bathtub in which the victims were bathed with water from a garden hose. There was also a crude toilet made of a pail and an aluminum frame chair, a bed made of two blue cloth chairs and a calendar in which one of his victims had made notes of her daily actions. Jamelske thought that he wouldn't be seriously punished for his actions, thinking they at best accounted as unlawful imprisonment and that he would only do some community service or some brief jail time. Ultimately, he made a plea bargain and pled guilty to five counts of kidnapping. As part of it, his possessions were sold off and the money divided between his victims. He was sentenced to 18 years to life, a sentence he is currently serving. He won't be eligible for parole until 2021, by which time he will be 86 years old.
Jamelske targeted women, often runaways or people he thought wouldn't be missed. Their ages varied between 14 and 53 and all five were of different ethnicities; prosecutors later credited this to him being a compulsive hoarder. He would cruise around in his car looking for potential victims. When he found one he thought wouldn't be missed, he would approach them and convince them to get into his car using some simple ruse. He would then take them to his house and force them into his dungeon, where they would be bound, stripped and held captive one at a time. He would keep them in a state of fear with lies such as that he was part of an underground sexual slavery network. He would make them keep a diary in which they marked the days they were bathed ("B"), brushed their teeth ("T"), and were raped ("S" for "sex").
After several months, during which time they would be raped repeatedly, sometimes daily, Jamelske would drive them to some location of their choice blindfolded and simply let them go. Presumably to avoid leaving behind evidence of rape, he would avoid sexual contact with his victims during the days before they were released.
Note: The real names of Jamelske's victims have not been made public. The below names are their pseudonyms. The dates denote when they were abducted.
- October 1988: "Kirsten", 14
- March 31, 1995: "Michelle", 14
- August 31, 1997: "Tina", 53
- May 11, 2001: "Jennifer", 26
- October 2002: "Meikka", 16
On Criminal Minds
- Season Two
- "North Mammon" - Jamelske was mentioned by Reid when the team talks about abductors who prepare "nests" in which to hold their prisoners captive. The mention is accompanied by a flashback in which Jamelske (portrayed by an uncredited actor) walks around a captive (portrayed by Jessika Aerin Hughes) who is strapped into a chair while idly writing in a notebook.
- Season Five
- "Cradle to Grave" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Jamelske appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Robert Reimann - Both were serial rapists who had sons with their wives (although Reimann's first son died before his birth), abducted women, and kept them in dungeons in their homes where they would be restrained and raped repeatedly.