Up in flames



Kimberly Antonakos was beautiful and she knew it. The 20-year-old daughter of a rich Greek-American family, know that in New York, wealth and beauty could buy a good time, and in the late winter of 1995, she was concentrating on living life to the full. During the day she studied business management at New York University, at night she was out until the early hours, clubbing and partying with a succession of handsome boyfriends.

When she dated someone and it didn't click — when she realised that she wasn't in love — she would swiftly move on. She wanted to have fun, to be in control, and some men couldn't handle that. They couldn't accept rejection from a woman. One who couldn't was Jay Negron, a 22-year-old out-of-work waiter, who had been dumped by Kim after a passionate affair lasting two months. "I hope we can still be friends," she had said when she gave him his marching orders, but Jay Negron would not forgive so easily. He loved Kim Antonakos, and had hoped to marry her. She was the best thing that had ever happened to him. Now his future had disintegrated, he was left with a lonely longing which would turn to cold hatred.

A few weeks later, Kim had forgotten about Jay Negron. She did not know that waiting was only a front for his real job. Nor could she have imagined that when she set out in her new white Honda at 11.30pm on March 1 — Ash Wednesday — for a Manhattan dancing club, that she would never see the light of day again. It was after 2.30am when Kim Antonakos returned alone to her apartment on New York's 87th Street, a three-roomed flat bought by her father and with its own basement garage with an automatic door.

She slowed down and activated the garage door which slowly opened in front of her. She hadn't noticed that two men had climbed out of a parked car and were now running towards her. As Kim drove the car into the garage, the men slipped in on either side as the door automatically closed. Kim switched off the engine and opened the car door. She had no idea she was not alone.

The heavy garage door muffled her screams from the outside world, but forensic tests later showed that Kim had fought fiercely as the men dragged her out of the car and on to the garage floor. Her attackers then bound Kim's mouth and eyes with two-inch wide sticky tape, trussed her with rope and threw her into the boot of her own car.

She was then driven out of New York into the neighbouring district of Queen's and carried into an empty basement of East 81st Street where she was robbed of her money and jewellery and, her eyes and mouth still taped, thrown into the corner of a damp outhouse. Kim was to be left there in freezing conditions without food or water, for the next three days.

Meanwhile her kidnappers were busy on the phone. Next morning Kim's father, millionaire Tommy Antonakos, found eight identical messages on his answerphone. If he wanted to see his daughter again, he must arrange to pay her abductors $100,000. Tommy Antonakos went to the police and within hours a major hunt was in progress. Hearing the news on TV, the kidnappers panicked. Their plot had failed. Tommy Antonakos had made it clear he had no intention of paying the ransom. The kidnappers decided to cut their losses and let Kim go. But it was to be another two days before they returned to the  basement on East 81st Street. At midnight on March 4, three of the gang returned to the basement. It had been snowing and the temperature in the outhouse was three below freezing when a flashlamp was shone on the huddled figure in the corner.

Kim Antonakos was apparently dead. A combination of suffocation, shock and hypothermia appeared to have resulted in a lonely agonising death. Now her killers had to decide what to do with the body. They agreed to burn the building down. An hour later they had soaked the basement in petrol and set fire to it. The full horror of the situation would only be revealed later when the body was subject to forensic examination.  Kim Antonakos was not dead when the house was set on fire but was in a hypothermic coma from which she probably would have recovered. Now she died helpless in a blazing hell. Now the tragedy was headlines across America and hundreds of well-wishers attended Kim's funeral on Staten Island. Jay Negron was also among the mourners, welcomed by the family who knew how he felt about Kim. 

As she hugged him, Kim's mother, Marlene, told him: "It will be all right..." And Tommy Antonakos added: "We'll get the guys who did this." "Yes we will," Jay Negron told her. "And when we do I want a crack at them." But no one could have dreamt just how Jay Negron intended to assist the murder hunt. A week later he went to Manhattan detective headquarters and told Lt Rob Ferino that he had been involved in the kidnapping and wanted to turn state evidence in return for leniency. "I was just there. I didn't kidnap Kim or hurt her," he claimed. "I would have let her go if I could, but the others wanted the money." Once Jay Negron started to betray his friends he found it hard to stop. The ringleaders, he said, were Josh Torres and Nick Libretti, violent crooks specialising in fraud and extortion.

The day Torres and Libretti were rounded up, Negron was given a false name and driven to a hideout 80 miles from New York. He needed to be alive and well if he was to testify as the state's major witness. In fact he survived safely to take the stand when the case opened in New  York in November 1996. He claimed that Torres had told him about the kidnap plot three weeks before it happened, that Torres and Libretti had snatched the girl and that Torres had torched the house.

His evidence largely decided the case. Josh Torres was jailed for 100 years and would not be eligible for parole until he was 85. Libretti was jailed for 58 years without the chance of parole. And Jay Negron, who betrayed his friends, got two years in an open prison in New York State. He was freed in under a year. Every day Tommy Antonakos still visits his daughter's grave on Staten Island and tells her the latest news. At Christmas he decorates the grave with a lighted tree. He says he will never forgive the men who took away his daughter. "I hope they will suffer every day of their lives," he said recently. "I hope every day is a nightmare — the same sort of nightmare they gave my daughter. "The difference is that they will wake up..." (Willard Roper/Tony James Features)

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Why do you have a picture of some chick from the 50s up instead of using one of the many available actual pictures of Kim?



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