John Thomas Jamelske (born May 9, 1935), also known as the Syracuse Dungeon Master, is an American serial rapist-kidnapper who, from 1988 to his apprehension in 2003, kidnapped a series of women and held them captive in a concrete bunker beneath the yard of his home in DeWitt, a suburb of Syracuse, New York.
Jamelske was born and raised in the DeWitt area. He graduated from Fayetteville High School in 1953. In September 1959, he married Dorothy Richmond, a schoolteacher with whom he had three sons. At this time, he worked at Acme Market and other grocery stores. Later he started working in a series of blue-collar jobs, as a handyman and carpenter.
In October 1988, Jamelske abducted his first victim, a 14-year-old Native American girl. He held her captive for over two years, and she had turned 17 by the time he released her. Jamelske compelled her to his will by threatening violence against her younger brother. She made no attempt to report to authorities after Jamelske released her.
In either 1995 or 1996, Jamelske abducted a 14-year-old Latina runaway whom he lured under the premise of paying her to deliver a secret package. The girl willingly walked into his bunker (which he called "the dungeon") and Jamelske closed the door behind her. Eventually Jamelske put a blindfold on her and drove her to her mother's apartment and dropped her off. Although he also threatened her family, she went to the police with a description. Because of her previous drug use, they questioned the credibility of her story and dropped the investigation shortly after.
On August 31, 1997, Jamelske kidnapped a 53-year-old Vietnamese woman off the street. She was a foreign refugee who spoke little English. He forced her into his car and took her to an abandoned house, where he raped her. Then he tied her to a stack of flattened cardboard boxes and drove her to his house. He raped her daily while holding her captive, and also forced her to fulfill various menial tasks for him. He released her on May 23, 1998 at a Greyhound bus station with $50. She reported to the police that day, but nothing came of it. She claimed that the police did not believe her, but Syracuse Police spokesman Sgt. Thomas Connellan stated that they investigated all leads, none of which panned out.
On May 11, 2001, Jamelske offered a ride home to a 26-year-old white woman walking in downtown Syracuse while on LSD, which the woman accepted due to the poor weather. Jamelske took her back to his bunker, where he raped her daily. When she resisted, Jamelske inflicted cigar burns on her, from which she developed an abscess on her lower back. Jamelske also manipulated her with claims that he was actually part of an underground slavery syndicate, of which the police were a part.
The victim wanted to write home to her parents letting them know she was alive, and while Jamelske did agree she could only do so in stating that she was in a drug rehabilitation clinic.
Jamelske raped each of his victims and inflicted cigarette burns on them. After the discovery of the dungeon, police also found several video recorded entries with at least one woman on the tape. In the tapes, the viewer can see Jamelske dancing, singing, and also exercising with the woman. He prefaced each rape with a Bible study, in which after a review of a certain passage and discussion he would then begin to rape the victim.
In October 2002, Jamelske picked up his final abductee, a 16-year-old African American runaway from Syracuse.
On April 3, 2003, Jamelske felt confident enough to take the girl out to karaoke at a local bar. Emboldened by this success, he then took her on another public outing, where she slipped away from him long enough to phone her sister. The girl's sister checked the caller ID and dialed the number back, which turned out to be a bottle return center located in Manlius. The older sister persuaded the employee who answered the phone to call 9-1-1. The employee in turn called her boss, who was working at a local pet store several blocks away, telling him that Jamelske—who was scheduled to visit him at the store shortly—had apparently kidnapped a young girl and had been raping her. After Jamelske and the girl had made their visit and left, the boss immediately called the police; Jamelske was tracked down and arrested shortly thereafter.
Jamelske pleaded guilty to five counts of first degree kidnapping, and is currently serving a term of 18 years to life. Part of his guilty plea agreement was that his assets would be sold off and divided among his victims. In a prison interview with MSNBC, Jamelske said that he should not be punished for what he did and that, once arrested, he had thought he would at the most spend a couple of days in jail, pay a fine, or perform community service. He said that his lawyers had to spend many days after his arrest to make it clear to him that taking women and holding them in a dungeon is kidnapping.
In 2004, MSNBC produced episode 12 of their MSNBC Reports series subtitled "Sex Bunker" on the Jamelske case, periodically rebroadcast several times a year as part of their "doc block" documentary marathons.
The case is also covered in the book True Stories of Law & Order: SVU: The Real Crimes Behind the Best Episodes of the Hit TV Show by Kevin Dwyer and Juré Fiorillo.