It’s a winter day in Pennsylvania when schoolgirl Tanya Nicole Kach disappears from her suburban home. For years, the authorities search in vain, unable to locate the missing girl. Then, a decade later, Tanya walks into a local store, claiming to have been held captive in a nearby home.
Tanya was born on October 14, 1981, in Monongahela, a city located some 17 miles south of Pittsburgh, PA. Sadly, when she was just 11 years old, Tanya’s parents decided to separate. And as a result of this decision, her mother disappeared from her life. To make matters worse, Tanya’s father soon started living with his new girlfriend – a woman with whom his daughter did not see eye-to-eye.
For the next two years, Tanya struggled through an unhappy home life. In the meantime, she continued her studies at Cornell Intermediate School in McKeesport, PA. And there, when she was just 13 years old, she first encountered a man named Thomas Hose. At 37, he was 24 years older than Tanya and worked as a security guard at the school.
According to Tanya, she first met Thomas, whom she called Tom, when she needed to leave early from a class. Apparently, he stopped her to request her hall pass, and the two began chatting. In the older man, Tanya found someone whom she could trust and talk to about her troubles at home.
In return, Thomas listened to Tanya’s problems, giving her gifts of money and cigarettes. Then, after a few months, the pair took their relationship to the next level. According to Tanya, they had their first kiss on school grounds. In Tanya’s own words today, she was in love.
Soon, Thomas started trying to persuade Tanya to leave home and live with him instead. And on February 10, 1996, he succeeded. Still only 14 years old, the teenager left her father’s house and never returned. Worried, he reported her missing, and the authorities began searching for any sign of Tanya.
When the search turned up nothing, authorities printed Tanya’s photograph on milk cartons to raise awareness of her disappearance. However, no trace of the young girl could be found. Unknown to police, she was being kept captive in Thomas’ house, just two miles from her father’s home.
For four years, Tanya was allegedly kept against her will inside the home that Thomas shared with his son and elderly parents. But even though they were living under the same roof, Thomas’ mother and father apparently knew nothing of the teenager’s existence. Instead, she was kept a prisoner in a bedroom on the second story.
According to Tanya, she was kept in appalling conditions. Given a bucket to use as a toilet, she was only allowed to leave the bedroom on rare occasions. And with little stimulation, she was reduced to reading magazines and books to keep herself entertained. Sometimes, she would listen to the radio – wearing headphones so that she wouldn’t make a noise.
With little choice, Tanya survived on simple junk food and the occasional scraps. “Most of the time I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches along with a banana and a can of Faygo soda pop,” she was reported as saying. “Sometimes Tom Hose smuggled me leftovers from his dinner.”
In the same interview, Tanya described her life as an apparent captive in Thomas’ home. “About twice a week, in the dead of night, he led me down into a cellar with cold, concrete floors to take a shower,” she explained. However, despite the difficult circumstances, Tanya claimed to have accepted her life at first.
In fact, Tanya still believed that she was in a genuine relationship with her captor. “I thought I was in love and felt my sacrifices were a labor of love for Tom Hose,” she explained. But after a while, the ordeal became difficult to bear. Apparently, Thomas took Tanya’s virginity and made some perverted demands of the young girl, that in her words were “borderline violent.”
For four years, Tanya’s suffering continued. Then, she turned 18, and Thomas took a new approach to her captivity. Apparently, he began allowing her to leave the bedroom, eventually introducing her to his parents. However, he gave her the name Nikki Diane Allen and told them that she would be his live-in girlfriend.
With her new identity in place, Tanya began to enjoy a little more freedom than before. However, she claims that Thomas was still very controlling. Allegedly, he ensured her obedience by threatening to murder her and her family if she ever escaped. And strangely, no one recognized Tanya on her brief outings – despite her younger face having been splashed around the town.
Eventually, Tanya began shopping at JJ’s Deli Mart, a local store in McKeesport. There, she befriended the owner Joe Sparico, who grew concerned about the young woman’s seemingly abusive relationship with an older man. And slowly, Tanya began to confide in the Sparicos about her alleged ordeal.
At first, Tanya told Joe’s wife Janet about the circumstances that had led to her moving in with Thomas. Then, on March 21, 2006, she broke down. According to Joe, she confessed her true identity – and begged him to seek help. “I’m Tanya Nicole Kach,” she is reported to have said. “If you go to a website for missing children, you’ll see me there.”
Within hours, the police had arrived at Thomas’ home, relieved to finally locate the girl that they had spent a decade searching for. However, it wasn’t the end of Tanya’s ordeal. After her father collected her, the nation’s media soon descended on his home. Worse still, she found herself confronted by people who believed that she was to blame for her own disappearance.
Apparently, some locals doubted Tanya’s story, believing that she had willingly moved in with Thomas. And at first, it was unclear to some why the girl had taken so long to seek help. However, local police superintendent Charles Moffatt insisted that this was irrelevant and that Tanya was far too young at the time of her disappearance to have made such an adult decision.
In 2007, Thomas found himself in court facing charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and sexual assault. After pleading guilty, he was released on bail. “I think if the police believed [Tanya] was being held against her will or that she was physically abused, they would have charged him with kidnapping or abuse,” Thomas’ lawyer told The New York Times in 2006. “But they didn’t.”
Meanwhile, Tanya has tried – and failed – to sue both the school board and the police for failing to protect her. And in 2011, she released a book, Memoir of a Milk Carton Kid: The Tanya Nicole Kach Story, about her time in captivity. However, her father Jerry grew upset about his negative portrayal in print, and a new rift has opened up between the pair.