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Cheerleader rescued from 250-pound captor

By
FRANK THORSBERG

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- An attractive high school cheerleader was abducted and held captive in a church attic for four months by a shoeless 250-pound man who permitted her to raid the church icebox and watch television at night, police said Friday.

Leslie Marie Gattas, pretty 15-year-old brunette daughter of businessman George Gattas, was rescued late Thursday at Christ United Methodist Church when she and her abductor ventured from the attic for their nightly visit to the church pantry.

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Her unidentified abductor escaped. Authorities said the man apparently originally planned to make ransom demands for the girl, whom he did not harm, but for some reason never got around to it.

The girl was abducted from her bed the night of Nov. 18, herded into the family car and taken to the church loft and tied up, she told authorities. Her abductor then took the car back to the home and returned to the church, where he had lived among the heating ductwork for the past nine months.

She told authorities they hid in the attic by day, but at night would crawl down into the church, watch television, play board games, and feast from the church icebox. They also used the laundry and bathroom facilities at the church.

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Police Director E. Winslow Chapman told a news conference that notes appealing for help had been found in a church bathroom Feb. 14th, 16th, and March 3.

He said police searched the attic, accessible only by two ladders leading from the organ chambers, but found nothing. 'We were within two feet of where she was being held, down behind a large duct pipe in the rafters on top of some insulation,' said Chapman.

Rev. Jerry Corlew, senior minister at the church, said the girl and her abductor were discovered after church maintenance workers set up a watch to try to find out who had been stealing food, money and other items from the church premises over the past few months.

Thursday night the maintenance workers heard a noise in the church and went to investigate. They found Miss Gattas and her abductor, and a tussle ensued.

'During the struggle he (the abductor) released a physical hold he had on her,' said Chief Police Insepector A. L. williams. 'He escaped on foot from the church and was last seen by the employes of the church going toward Poplar (Avenue).'

Corlew said the abductor 'was very muscular and very powerful. I had one very muscular man who wrestled with him at first and it was only when they hit him with some clubs that they were able to overpower him.'

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The suspect was described as a 250-pound white man in his mid-40s. The man had no shoes, but was wearing pants and had a shirt tied around his waist when he struggled with the maintenance workers, police said.

'I talked to her (Miss Gattas) and she's in amazingly good shape,' said Rev. Corlew. 'She was distraught, of course, but very, very happy. She was very scared of this man. She was very scared to try and escape. She was afraid she'd be hurt.'

The girl's father said she told him she had not been mistreated by her abductor. 'She's home. She's Safe and she's well,' Gattas said. 'Our household is elated. We're just thankful to God.'

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