Is it something in the water of the Sound? Or maybe floating in the air off the Hamptons?
Long Island, once the refuge of moneyed New Yorkers fulfilling suburban escape fantasies, suddenly appears to be the nation’s No. 1 breeding ground for made-for-TV movies.
Just when all three networks are done with Amy Fisher and her alleged paramour, Joey Buttafuoco, there’s another, even more bizarre story--a 43-year-old family “friend” who allegedly kidnaps 10-year-old Katie Beers, then keeps the child chained in a subterranean cell for more than two weeks.
During her ordeal a birthday passes, another sad milestone in a life that already had more than its share of tragedy. Within a day of Katie’s release, talk of made-for-TV movies was under way.
“With the proper management, this kind of movie could take Katie out of the squalor she is living in and make her self-sufficient,” predicted attorney Eric Naiburg, who helped put client Fisher’s story on the small screen.
Katie’s kidnaping also follows the highly publicized case of the state’s former top judge, Sol Wachtler, another Long Islander.
This is relaxed, suburban living?
“Are you asking if it’s something in the water? That’s a loaded question,” said Barbara Kelly, curator of Long Island Studies at Hofstra University.
“In these two (Fisher and Beers) cases, out of 2 million people living here, you’ve got 10 people who are somewhat bizarre,” she said. “That’s not a bad record.”
Katie was the subject of a custody battle between her godmother and her mother, who reportedly was punched in the face by her son during the search for her missing daughter.
Family friend John Esposito allegedly kidnaped Katie and concocted a story about her disappearance from a video arcade before finally surrendering and leading police to her after 16 days.
Where was she?
In an underground cell beneath Esposito’s garage, where she watched--on closed circuit television--as police searched the house above for her.
No one could hear her screams.
Kelly, a Long Islander herself, said the media attention generated by these cases was evidence that they were not run-of-the-mill Long Island occurrences.
“The very fact these become stories is because, generally, things like this don’t happen,” Kelly said. “They stand out in contrast to the norm. It’s not normal to do these things.”
Speaking of not normal, Wachtler, a well-known Republican and former chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, was mentioned as a gubernatorial candidate until his arrest for repeatedly threatening his ex-lover, 45-year-old socialite Joy Silverman.
He was forced from the bench and remains under house arrest--where else?--on Long Island.
In terms of actual violence, Long Island lags well behind neighboring New York City. It reported 80 homicides in 1992, nowhere near the city’s 1,900.
But how many of the Big Apple’s criminals made “Donahue” and “Geraldo”? Which brings us back to the original question.
“What is it about Long Island?” asked “Geraldo” senior producer Jose Pretlow. “Maybe they ought to check the water out there.”