An Abduction Leads to Happiness: The Story of Katie Beers

In late December 1992, Katie Beers became a household name after being abducted on Long Island. Just two days before her 10th birthday, a family friend lured Katie to his home and held her captive for 16 days. As she was locked away from the world, details of her life unraveled for the nation.

Katie Beers / John Esposito / Katie Beer’s Bunker / Katie Beers.
Source: Pinterest

By using her wits, she convinced her captor to set her free. Now, almost 30 years later, Katie has revealed that her abduction helped her have a better life. Katie got to start over after her escape, and she is sharing her harrowing story about survival and growth.

Lured With Presents

Katie Beers was two days away from her 10th birthday in late December 1992. She didn’t expect much for her birthday, but a family friend, John Esposito, told Katie he had presents for her. On December 28, 1992, she went to Esposito’s house to collect her gifts, but something went wrong.

A dated portrait of Katie.
Katie Beers. Source: Pinterest

When she got to his house, Esposito forced Katie down a narrow passageway into a concrete bunker under his garage. A 200-pound concrete trap door concealed the six-foot by seven-foot bunker. Inside, Katie was restrained with chains, and all she had was a mattress, TV, and a toilet. It was scary and dark.

A Message for Her Godmother

On the day of her kidnapping, Katie’s godmother, Linda Inghilleri, received a message on her answering machine. The message was from Katie, saying, “I’ve been kidnapped by a man with a knife.” Her godmother could hear the fear in Katie’s voice as she cried and said, “Oh my God! He’s coming back.”

A picture of young Katie at home.
Katie Beers. Source: Pinterest

The message ended there, and Inghilleri feared the worst had happened to Katie. The last person who had seen Katie was Esposito, but it was common for them to spend time together. Initially, Inghilleri didn’t suspect Esposito because he was a friend and acted like a “big brother” to Katie.

He Cried for Her

Two days after Katie’s disappearance, Esposito cried as he told his lawyer his version of the story. The day before her abduction, Esposito said Katie called him and left a message on his machine that she had saved him a piece of cake from her birthday party. Esposito called her back the next day.

A still from Esposito’s arrest.
John Esposito. Source: YouTube

On the day of her abduction, Esposito claimed that Katie begged him to visit her. He picked her up later that day and stopped at the toy store. Esposito said he bought Katie a troll doll and a Home Alone video game. He stated that he then took her to the video arcade.

They Had Been There Before

Katie had gone to the arcade with Esposito three times before her abduction. The two-story building was noisy and filled with video games and rides. Many parents dropped their children off to spend hours alone at Space Plex Arcade. Esposito said he thought it was fine to send Katie to get change by herself.

A photo of Katie’s bunker where she was held captive.
Photo by Dick Kraus/Newsday RM/Getty Images

Esposito claimed he went to the pinball game while Katie got change. After a few minutes, Katie hadn’t returned, and he couldn’t find her. He started searching for her when he was paged to the front desk. Inghilleri called to tell Esposito about the message Katie had left her.

Two Possible Suspects

On the evening of her kidnapping, Esposito was brought in for questioning. He was the last person with Katie, but he denied involvement in her disappearance. The police questioned him through the night, and his lawyer, Andrew Siben, believed investigators ruled him out as a suspect.

A photo of Sal Inghilleri sitting on Katie’s bed.
Sal Inghilleri. Source: Pinterest

The other suspect was Sal Inghilleri, the estranged husband of Katie’s godmother, with whom Katie lived most of her life. Sal had been arrested a few months earlier for sexual abuse charges and was free when Katie went missing.

Trouble at Home

As the search for Katie began, details about her home life came to light. As a child, Katie’s mother, Marilyn Beers, was unfit to care for her, so she went to live with Inghilleri and her husband, Sal. Katie’s biological father was absent in her life, so Sal was like a father figure.

A picture of Katie as a young girl.
Katie Beers. Source: Pinterest

While living with her godmother, Katie was treated like a “slave.” She was neglected, running around shoeless and performing household chores from age four. They made her wash laundry at a coin-operated place, but that wasn’t the worst of it.

It Was a Nightmare

The Inghilleris weren’t loving people. They abused and mistreated Katie while she lived with them. Sal also sexually abused young Katie on several occasions. They were supposed to take care of and protect her, but they put Katie in harm’s way.

A portrait of Linda Inghilleris.
Linda Inghilleris. Source: Pinterest

The Inghilleris allowed Esposito to be around Katie even after there were allegations that he abused Katie’s older brother, John. They didn’t find it odd that a man in his 40s was hanging around a bunch of children, which ultimately put Katie in a dangerous position.

Prepared to Survive

There were obvious signs of abuse, and Child Protective Service visited Katie’s home several times. Her teacher didn’t speak up even though she only attended school one or two days a week. Many people turned a blind eye, and it prepared Katie to survive her kidnapping.

A portrait of Katie during her school years.
Katie Beers. Source: Pinterest

When Katie found herself locked in Esposito’s bunker, she knew no one was coming to save her. No one had helped her before, so Katie realized she had to help herself if she wanted to survive. As she watched reports about herself on the small TV, Katie started to manipulate Esposito.

Asking About the Future

Katie did her best to get out of the bunker by asking Esposito about the future. She asked how she would go to school, work, marry, or have kids. He said he would teach her everything she needed to know and that he had enough money to support them.

A photo of the path to the underground bunker.
Source: Dr. Phil

Esposito also said that when Katie was 18, he would marry her, and they would have children. Katie believes that all her questions scared Esposito and made him worry about the future and how he would keep her captive for many years.

They Didn’t Hear Her

Because Esposito was a suspect, the police visited his home. However, they never heard Katie’s screams or attempts to bang on the padded ceiling of the bunker. A voice-activated tape hidden in the bunker captured Katie’s calls for help and pleas to be released.

An image of the bunker.
Source: ABC News

On the recording, she could be heard yelling, “Oh please, let me out!” Katie also cried, “Get me out of here!” Investigators who later reviewed the tapes heard the despair in her voice. Katie was scared, but no one could hear her screams.

He Confessed

After 17 days of holding Katie captive and sexually abusing her, Esposito went to his lawyer’s office and admitted, “I’ve something to tell you. I know where Katie is.” His lawyer, Sid Siben, immediately called the authorities, and Esposito led them to the bunker.

A still of Esposito escorted by police walking in handcuffs.
Source: ABC News

Until January 13, 1993, Esposito maintained his innocence. The police had questioned him for 18 hours after Katie’s disappearance. When police records revealed that Esposito was previously arrested for abducting a 12-year-old boy, he became a suspect.

He Planned This for a While

Esposito told the police that he had made the bunker specifically for Katie. In fact, she had been in the bunker before it was completed without knowing she would be held captive there. He had dug the hole for the bunker 18 months before the kidnapping.

A portrait of Katie Beers.
Photo by Matthew Peyton/Getty Images

As he built it, Katie and other children had played in the dirt evacuated by the bunker. Esposito was a general contractor, and his neighbors watched as he transformed his garage into a bungalow throughout the years. They didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary.

Everyone Was Shocked

When Esposito was arrested, his neighbors were shocked and sickened by the revelation. The neighbors saw him playing with children in his yard, swimming in the pool with them, and never saw coercion. Everyone thought he was a nice man.

An image of Esposito’s arrest.
John Esposito. Photo by Don Jacobsen

Esposito had never married and didn’t have children of his own, but the neighbors were never concerned for the children playing at his home. Anyone looking at this case from the outside would see an older man hanging out with children as a red flag.

Her Mom Reported Him

About a year before Katie disappeared, her mom, Marilyn, complained to the police about Esposito. She told them he had sexually abused her son for over seven years. Investigators looked into the complaint, but nothing came out of it. It could have put him behind bars much earlier.

A portrait of Marilyn Beers.
Marilyn Beers. Photo by John H. Cornell Jr.

Katie’s brother, John, said he doubted Esposito’s sincerity while police looked for his sister. He also confirmed that Esposito abused him. It exposed the mistakes made by police before and during the investigation because her kidnapping could have been avoided.

They Only Had One Clue

Until Esposito told his lawyer he knew where Katie was, the police only had one significant clue: the voice message left for Inghilleri. Investigators located a phone booth from which the message had been sent and realized the audio was pre-recorded.

Katie speaks during an interview.
Katie Beers. Source: ABC News

A detective on the case said he believed Katie was coerced into making the recording. Esposito used the recording to throw the police off his trail. Investigators figured out that he and Katie were never at the arcade that day, and his initial story was a lie.

She Didn’t Go Home

When Katie was rescued, authorities finally intervened in her life. Due to the severe neglect and abuse by Katie’s mother, godmother, and her godmother’s husband, Katie was placed in foster care. Her mom wanted to regain custody of Katie, asking a judge for her daughter to be returned immediately.

An image of Katie sitting in the backseat of a car.
Photo by Daniel Goodrich

Marilyn’s lawyers and Suffolk County agreed that Katie would stay in foster care for three weeks while the Suffolk County Family Court determined who would get custody of Katie. Her mom was able to visit frequently during those three weeks.

A Stable Environment

The county sheriff, Patrick Mahoney, trusted Katie’s foster family because he had worked with her foster father for years. Her foster mom was also adopted as a child. Katie’s foster family wanted to provide her with a stable family environment and show her love.

A photo of Katie after her rescue.
Katie Beers. Source: Newsday

Katie was thriving in her foster home and entered a new school. The principal of her new school said, “If folks would just leave her alone, she would be on the road to recovery.” A psychologist interviewed Katie and her mother before their court date.

Protecting Katie

Authorities opposed returning custody to Katie’s mom because she had neglected her daughter and allowed her abuse. Her godmother also fought for custody of Katie, but the family court dismissed Inghilleri’s petition, ruling she had no case because she was a “legal stranger” to the young girl.

Katie speaks during a conference.
Katie Beers. Photo by Alejandra Villa

Inghilleri argued, “Stranger? I loved Katie when no one cared about her; before her name was in the headlines.” She claimed she was “pushed aside” and said she would keep fighting for custody. However, Katie was sexually abused and neglected in Inghilleri’s home.

He Took a Deal

Initially, Esposito was charged with six counts of kidnapping with intent to terrorize and commit sexual abuse. The prosecution didn’t see an opening for a plea bargain, but that changed to spare Katie from having to testify in front of Esposito.

A mugshot of Esposito / A photo of Katie Beers today.
John Esposito, Katie Beers. Source: Pinterest

Although Katie said Esposito sexually abused her, the allegations were not brought up at Esposito’s trial. He pled guilty to kidnapping, and the three counts of sexual abuse were dropped so Katie wouldn’t have to testify. However, he had to hear her written statement.

A portrait of Katie Beers.
Source: Newsday

During his sentencing, Esposito cried as Katie’s statement was read to the court. She wrote that he made her “feel dirty” and that he should “go to jail for as long as he can” for holding her captive. Esposito said he held her captive to help her escape her dysfunctional home.

He Thought He Was Helping

In July 1994, Esposito was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He denied that he was a “monster” and told the court he thought he was helping Katie. He said, “I believe in my mind that I was in some way going to help Katie, but I hurt my family and Katie.”

An image of Katie’s missing poster.
Katie Beers. Photo by John H. Cornell Jr.

In her statement, Kate said, “Even though I’m safe now, I still worry all the time. I worry someone might hurt me.” She also shared that if another child is being abused, they should go to the police and be brave like she had to be.

Another Abuser Convicted

In addition to Esposito’s sentencing, Sal Inghilleri was charged with two counts of sexual abuse and two counts of endangering the welfare of a minor. The initial charges were filed in October 1992, but the case wasn’t pushed until after Katie was rescued.

A photo of Katie during an interview at home.
Katie Beers. Source: YouTube

The judge issued a restraining order barring Sal from any contact with Katie. He faced up to 14 years in prison, serving 12 years. Sal was paroled in 2006 and arrested a year later for violating parole and failing to inform authorities that he had changed his address.

Confessing Before Death

On September 4, 2013, Esposito died in prison hours after a parole hearing. It was reported that he died of a heart attack, and before his death, he made a major confession. Esposito admitted that he “inappropriately touched” Katie during her captivity.

A photo of Katie with her baby girl.
Katie Beers. Source: Pinterest

He said his attorney advised him not to admit to anything more than kidnapping, but “now I realize that was a mistake. I shouldn’t have listened to him, so yes, I did touch her.” Katie was happy that he finally admitted to it but sad that Esposito minimized what he put her through.

Katie Moved On

Katie’s foster family later adopted her, and Esposito and Sal’s convictions closed two terrible chapters in her life. She stayed out of the spotlight for many years while she healed and led a normal life. Katie started going to therapy after her kidnapping.

A photo of Katie Beers with her husband and kids.
Katie Beers’ family. Source: Pinterest

The district attorney worried that camera crews had followed Katie to school. While the public wanted to know that she was doing well, they needed to consider the young girl’s rights. The DA said it was time to leave Katie alone and let her be a normal child.

She Was Resilient

When Katie met the DA, she told him that she knew what the days were during her captivity despite being locked in a dark box. She said she had a television and used her watch to keep track of the date and time.

Katie tells her story during an interview.
Katie Beers. Source: ABC News

Everyone who spoke to Katie noted that she was resilient and wise beyond her years because of the experiences she endured. She flourished in her new home. The DA said Katie was healthy, eating well, and soaking up love “like a sponge.” She also wanted to write a memoir.

A Normal Life

Katie said her life with her adopted family was “awesome.” She got an education and earned a degree in business management. For most of her life, she didn’t speak publicly about her experiences until the 20th anniversary of her kidnapping.

A picture of Katie during a charity event for missing kids.
Katie Beers. Source: Facebook

She married and had two children and released a memoir called Buried Memories in 2013. She moved to rural Pennsylvania and started working as an insurance agent. It took her some time, but Katie was finally ready to open up about her story and tell the world what really happened.

She Went Back to the House

When Katie and her now-husband were dating, she took him to the house where Esposito held her captive. She showed him the two-story garage and the area where the bunker once was. Katie said, “I wanted him to understand everything because it’s who I am.”

A photo of Katie smiling at the camera.
Katie Beers. Source: Pinterest

She didn’t try to hide her past from her husband because he Googled her when they met for the first time in college. He never judged her or questioned Katie about her past until she was ready to talk about it.

Cutting Ties to the Past

After the abduction, Katie’s foster family became the family she had always wanted. She had four siblings, and her foster father gave her away at her wedding. Her children also call her foster parents grandma and grandpa. They were better parents than her mom could have ever been.

A dated picture of Katie with her foster family.
Source: Pinterest

While healing, Katie cut ties to her earlier life. She occasionally talked to her mom, but only about the highlights of her life. Katie said she told her mom when she was pregnant, had a baby, and wrote a book, but never went into much detail with her.

It Saved Her

Although it was an awful experience, Katie said the kidnapping saved her. She explained, “If the kidnapping hadn’t happened, I don’t even want to think about where I would be. I would have never graduated high school; I would have never graduated college.”

An image of the hole where Katie was held captive.
Source: ABC News

Katie feels she might not have been alive today because of the road her life was “bound to go down.” The kidnapping gave her a chance to restart her life with a family that could actually love and care for her. It helped her escape the abuse and neglect.

Plans for the Future

In 2008, reporter Carolyn Gusoff approached Katie to follow up on her life. Gusoff covered the case when it happened in the early ‘90s. Instead of an interview, Katie suggested they write a book together. It was right around the time of Esposito’s first parole hearing.

A portrait of Katie Beers.
Katie Beers. Source: Pinterest

Katie told her dad she wanted to write a memoir, and the opportunity presented itself. She found the experience helpful to deal with the trauma she suffered and put it to rest once and for all. Katie also shared her plans to become an inspirational speaker.

Reacting to Other Cases

In November 2021, Cleo Smith, a four-year-old Australian girl, was found safe after disappearing for 18 days. The news stirred up emotions for Katie and other kidnapping victims. Inside Edition approached Katie for a comment.

A photo of Cleo Smith at the hospital.
Source: BBC News

Katie said, “I’m so grateful that she had a happy ending.” She shared that remaining hopeful in a harrowing situation is crucial for survival. Katie concluded, “Once you turn to being negative, you’re not going to be able to survive.” It’s always hard to hear about other kidnapping victims.