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'Silence of the Lambs' handyman 'held women captive in concrete bunker'

A wealthy suburb in New York state has been shaken by a kidnapping and rape case that echoes grisly scenes from the film The Silence of the Lambs.

Young girls were allegedly held captive in a concrete bunker for periods of up to two years. Police in DeWitt, a suburb of Syracuse, arrested a well-known eccentric and handyman on charges of multiple kidnappings, rape and sodomy. They later discovered two small concrete bunkers beneath his garden where his victims were allegedly held captive. John Jamelske, 67, was captured when he took the unusual step of allowing a girl he had apparently been holding for six months to accompany him to a local shop. The girl telephoned her sister.

Three other women subsequently came forward alleging that they also were taken hostage by Mr Jamelske over a period beginning in the late 1980s. After releasing them, he threatened to kill them if they went to the authorities, police said. One said she was held for two years.

Officers searching his home found numerous pictures of young, naked women, some chained to a wall, prompting fears that he may have had many more victims. "At this point, we don't know what else to expect," said the Onondaga County sheriff, Kevin Walsh. "In my 40 years in law enforcement, I've never seen something so bizarre." Police said a passage from Mr Jamelske's basement led to two small, windowless rooms. One contained a bath that could be filled from a hose and a chemical toilet. The door to the entrance was concealed by hundreds of beer bottles.

His lawyer, Michael Forsyth, has been contending with comparisons of scenes from The Silence of the Lambs, in which a character held women captive in a dungeon. "The impression may be given that this was a 'Silence of the Lambs' scenario," he said. "But I think authorities will find out it's not that kind of case."

Locals are asking why the police failed to uncover Mr Jamelske's activities sooner. He was allegedly careful to pick girls who were runaways or known drug addicts, with low credibility. "He didn't go to a shopping mall and grab a teen from her friends," said William Fitzpatrick, the Onondaga County prosecutor.

"He chose people he knew would not be missed."