Missing woman often seen on streets
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For a woman said to have been hidden and held against her will for nearly a decade, Tanya Kach was visible to many in her neighborhood and downtown McKeesport during the past 10 months.
A few times, police officers working security at sporting events saw Miss Kach, 24, together with Thomas J. Hose, 48, a middle school security guard charged with sexually exploiting her as a teenager.
The woman, who vanished at age 14 in February 1996 only to reappear out of the blue last week, would go shopping on Saturday mornings at the Foodland on Fifth Avenue, one of the city's main thoroughfares. She was reportedly ferried to and from the store by a jitney in the company of an elderly woman.
She bought long-distance calling cards at the McKeesport Prescription Center, a pharmacy, and smoked outside with employees.
Miss Kach purchased Avon products, got her nails done at the home of a manicurist down the street, chatted with the mailman, walked around the neighborhood, gabbed with local kids, attended church and bought papers at a local deli.
Miss Kach was even introduced by Mr. Hose to Lt. Arthur Pero, the police chief's brother, while he was working security in uniform at a local bank in August.
"She said, 'Nice to meet you.' That was it," Chief Joseph Pero said yesterday. After Miss Kach re-emerged, his brother exclaimed: "You've got to be kidding me. I think I met her,'' the chief said.
The Tanya Kach disappearance was not some obscure case in McKeesport. Police officers were aware of it and continued to check on it over the years. They knew the basics, that Miss Kach was a teenage runaway in February 1996 and was never heard from again.
Miss Kach left home Feb. 10 wearing a brown leather jacket. Her father had the last contact with her at 8:30 a.m. that day, according to the missing persons report filed with McKeesport police. He did not report her missing until four days later and did not furnish a photograph, the report said. It could not be determined why.
Despite officers' familiarity with the case, they never made the connection that the petite woman with the light blond hair who accompanied Mr. Hose was the missing woman. When introduced, she used the alias "Nikki Allen."
Investigators claim that Mr. Hose kept Miss Kach in a home on Soles Street that they shared with his elderly parents and son Justin, who is now 22. However, there were no bars or chains. Instead, investigators said, there was a threat of death and the overwhelming influence of an authority figure.
"She never claimed she was held captive," Chief Pero said. "I think it was more of a mental thing. He used threats. If she left, [she thought] he would kill her, from what she says.''
Police said Miss Kach was initially restricted to an upstairs bedroom that she shared with Mr. Hose. Chief Pero said that at some point Mr. Hose's son stayed in the bedroom with them and slept on the floor.
Miss Kach was said to be forced to use a container as a latrine and hide in a closet.
Mr. Hose's attorney, James Ecker, would not concede that Miss Kach lived in Mr. Hose's house. When asked about police accounts that Miss Kach told them she'd shared a room with Mr. Hose and his son, he replied: "They can maintain anything they want."
Mr. Ecker did say that he has been in Mr. Hose's house and that the door to Mr. Hose's bedroom locks from the inside.
"The door that supposedly locked her in locks from the inside. I don't know how you could be locked in,'' Mr. Ecker said. "Those are things we'll have to establish.''
Photographs taken by police in the bedroom show a double bed covered by a striped crochet-type bedspread, wood-paneled walls decked with posters, a wood dresser with a lace runner and stereo speaker on top and a television on what appeared to be a stand near the door.
Baseball trophies sat atop the TV and a bucket sat on the floor beside it. Chief Pero said investigators took eight boxes of Miss Kach's personal effects from the room, including magazines, birthday and other cards she and Mr. Hose had exchanged, keepsakes, toiletries and clothes.
Police did not obtain a warrant but entered the house after obtaining Mr. Hose's written consent and speaking on the telephone to Mr. Ecker, the chief said. Mr. Hose was "nervous" but cooperative and showed Miss Kach's possessions to police, he said.
Last week, Allegheny County police said they believed Mr. Hose's parents were oblivious to Miss Kach's presence. It is not known whether Miss Kach ever attempted to escape. But the bedroom has two windows, and Chief Pero noted that someone intent on leaving could have thrown something through the windows to break them.
Miss Kach did not elaborate to police about what specifically she feared would happen if she did try to leave, Chief Pero said.
Up to last June, Miss Kach told police she "really didn't have any contact with anyone else,'' Chief Pero said. She told them she could move freely around the house, however, when Mr. Hose's family wasn't there. But she did not go outside.
When Mr. Hose and Miss Kach went out together, they hustled up and down the streets, and as they walked, Mr. Hose would sometimes put his arm or coat around her. Then they would disappear into the family home, which almost never had visitors.
Chief Pero said Miss Kach was allowed to leave the house on her own in June. She began making acquaintances. Her light blond hair -- which her attorney said she dyes and styles herself -- led them to give her a nickname.
"We called her Barbie," said Brian Brown, a 23-year-old who lives on Soles Street, a block away from where Miss Kach lived. He and pal Tim Moyer, 20, said they first met Ms. Kach about five months ago.
"She said [Mr. Hose] was real mean to her," Mr. Brown said.
At the Foodland, current and former workers who did not want to be identified said Miss Kach for some time had shopped in the grocery store with a woman they believed to be Mr. Hose's mother.
They usually shopped early Saturday mornings, the workers said. Miss Kach "would go around'' with the elderly woman, but also would sometimes play the state lottery at a machine in the front of the store.
In the last two or three weeks, the cashier said, Miss Kach came into the store to shop and displayed a ring to workers there. The ring was gold, with a center stone and other stones around it, the cashier said.
After the story broke about Miss Kach's re-emergence, one of the workers said employees of the grocery were stunned.
Sometimes, Miss Kach's attorney said, a former McKeesport policeman named Robert A. Sokol drove her around.
"Bob Sokol did drive her around during those last 10 months to various places," attorney Lawrence Fisher said.
Mr. Sokol has denied knowing Miss Kach. And Chief Pero said Miss Kach claimed to not have any interaction with Mr. Sokol.
But the chief said when police went to the house last week, Mr. Hose called Mr. Sokol on the telephone to seek a ride to his attorney's office because he doesn't drive, the chief said.
Mr. Sokol, a former candidate for mayor and district justice, was repeatedly accused of sexual offenses while a member of the police force in the 1980s. Some charges were dismissed and others were withdrawn. Mr. Sokol pleaded no contest to indecent assault on a woman in Renziehausen Park after prosecutors agreed to drop charges of rape and unlawful restraint. He was sentenced to 18 months of probation.
Mr. Sokol's ex-wife, Judith, has been charged as an accomplice in the case. Police have accused her of cutting and dyeing Miss Kach's hair and allowing her home to be used for sex between Miss Kach and Mr. Hose.
First Published April 1, 2006 12:00 am