Anthony Gaitliff was attending a concert for the ska band Mighty Whitey when a bannister that he and other concert-goers were leaning on collapsed. The bannister was added on after the concrete parapet had been built, and so was insufficiently attached. Gaitliff and nine others plummeted to their deaths. Thirteen more were injured. The senseless and sudden nature of this tragedy was quickly overshadowed by another discovery shortly afterwards. If this freak accident had never occurred, Gaitliff’s home would never have been searched and a crime spree of decades uncovered.
Gaitliff grew up in Stone Creek, MI. A middle child, Anthony had never tried particularly hard in school. His older sister testified that he preferred time alone to socializing. As a young adult he passed through a series of odd jobs and at the age of twenty got a job with a construction firm. Aside from a drunk and disorderly charge, his criminal record was completely clean. There was nothing in his past that would have prepared the coworker who entered his house and found the basement fashioned into a miniature prison that held a group of frightened people
There were seven people in the basement, although the number fluctuated over the years. Stephanie Moore had been taken at the age of five, twelve years prior to discovery of the basement. She was under the belief that not only was Anthony her real father, but also the second coming of Jesus Christ who would one day marry her. She was the only abductee that Gaitliff had external connection to as he had participated in a civilian search attempt days after abducting her. Ian Driscoll had an IQ of 83, he’d been abducted from an adapted PE course while waiting for his older brother. The other prisoners had been abducted from various retirement homes across the state, all suffering from mental degradation with the exception of Victor Homme. Homme had been abducted from a veteran’s home and was missing both his right arm and leg.
Gaitliff had brought them to the basement under the pretext of saving them. He concocted an elaborate fantasy involving government death squads and the collapse of society. Gaitliff would stay away for days on end at times, returning with a fresh plot twist in the tale and food that the badly starved prisoners would need, all to increase the prisoner’s dependance on him. He would also deprive the prisoners of light, heating, and water when it amused him, concocting ever-elaborating stories about the outside world. When a prisoner died, Gaitliff would take the body to a construction site and entomb it in concrete or a sealed drum.
When the police breached Gaitliff’s homemade security system, the prisoners panicked and attempted suicide with a gallon of veterinary sedative kept for that express purpose. Gaitliff had ordered them to do so if ever discovered; however, in what was probably an intentional act of sabotage, the drug was diluted to non-fatal levels. After being detained into custody, the prisoners began self-harming and begging Gaitliff to save them. They showed all signs of sustained captivity: vitamin-D deficiency, photosensitivity, and claustrophobia.
Searches of Gaitliff’s house brought up a meticulously planned regimen for his prisoners. Gaitliff would engineer diversions months in advance and kept a running commentary on his prisoner’s mental states. He would regularly plan to pit them against each other for his own amusement. The police also found a journal beneath Gaitliff’s pillow, one that had been maintained daily for over twenty years.
The basement group had not been his first. The earliest entries in the diary detail his abduction of Helena Campana, a classmate of his whose disappearance had become a cold case. Gaitliff had prepared extensively in the year leading up to her kidnapping: digging a pit house out in an isolated area to keep her, studying her daily routine. His utter clinical detachment and fastidious planning led to Helena going overlooked even when search parties swept the area. This was also presumably where he learned the methods of search parties and utilized them for vicarious pleasure.
Gaitliff performed five more single abductions, always storing his victims in isolated holding cells completely under his control. His job at the construction firm meant he could easily get ahold of building materials in large quantities without suspicion. He began the habit of imprisoning multiple victims together, taking pleasure from their shared distress. The construction of his basement prison began with the declaration that he would create the ultimate experience—a “flock” to worship him. He would plot his abductions out weeks in advance, proud of himself for abducting riskier targets such as Stephanie Moore, whom he took from her own front yard.
The prisoners were held in custody as they underwent therapy. Because Gaitliff had programmed them with the belief that everyone and everything involved in the outside world was going to kill them, counseling for the prisoners met with mixed success. Stephanie Moore was reunited with her family and excitedly told them about her future matrimony to Jesus. Ian Driscoll refused to speak to his brother because Gaitliff had told him the elder Driscoll had been killed and replaced by an android double. The victims abducted from nursing homes decried their children and grandchildren as government-hired lookalikes, one man even going so far as to cut his granddaughter’s arm to prove she didn’t bleed human blood.
Anthony Gaitliff left many questions in his passing, the most troubling of which is what he would have done if he hadn’t died. The quality of his notes and the overall air of self-assurance indicates he never intended to be caught. He had maintained the basement prison for over a decade but notes showed an increase in scheduled interference, possibly indicating that he was growing bored of the experiment. There was a chance his behavior would escalate to the point of being caught by police, but his meticulous nature meant that such a discovery may have been years away. If Gaitliff had not fallen in the bannister incident, quite possibly all the basement prisoners might have died.
Or, not quite all.
As police combed the journal, they noticed one detail: there was no planned abduction of Victor Homme. Homme had gone missing from the veteran’s hospital, and he was indeed part of the group rescued from the basement, but there was no mention of him in the journal at all. What’s more, Homme escaped from custody before he could be questioned as police had underestimated his mobility due to his injuries. When asked about Homme, the other prisoners said that he often enforced orders that Gaitliff passed down, and that sometimes he had been allowed to go upstairs.
Anthony Gaitliff’s home has since been bulldozed, and the basement filled with cement. The surviving prisoners are in intensive deprogramming therapy and likely will be for the foreseeable future. Victor Homme is wanted for questioning, but so far has not been sighted.