Real People Stories

The Boy in the Box

UPDATED 03/10/2003 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/10/2003 at 01:00 AM EST

All his adult life, Martin Andrews had tried to put the horror behind him. Then, last summer, the phone rang. The caller, a reporter, told Andrews that Richard Ausley, the man who 30 years before had kidnapped him when he was 13, imprisoned him underground in a box and raped him repeatedly over the course of eight hellish days, was scheduled to get out of prison. Andrews knew the time had come to fight back. "I wanted to see that Ausley never did this again to anyone," he says. "He changed the course of my life."

This time Andrews, 43, has the upper hand. Thanks to his tireless efforts over the past eight months, the Virginia state legislature has voted to fund a civil confinement program designed to keep the most dangerous sexual predators, like Ausley, off the streets even after they have served their time. "It's not very often that you get a chance to make a difference," says Andrews, a computer repairman who lives in North Miami, "to pay back what you owe God for saving you."

Andrews was abducted on Jan. 11, 1973, while walking to a convenience store from his family's home in Portsmouth, Va. Ausley, a 33-year-old boatyard worker, pulled up in a blue van and asked for help moving some furniture. Andrews obliged, unaware that Ausley was out on bail on a sodomy charge involving a 14-year-old boy and was on parole for the 1961 abduction and sexual assault of a 10-year-old. "He was very friendly," recalls Andrews. "He told me everyone called him Pee Wee." The affable facade vanished, however, after Ausley, armed with a knife, drove the teen 20 miles away to a deserted logging road. There he forced Andrews into a buried wooden box, roughly 4 ft. by 4 ft. by 7 ft., which became a torture chamber.

Ausley assaulted the boy repeatedly. Though terrified, young Andrews did his best to keep his spirits up. "I was determined he wasn't going to break me," he says. "I cried to God to save me." On the eighth day Ausley said he was leaving, abandoning his captive chained inside the box. By sheer luck Andrews heard some passing hunters and managed to push up the lid and yell for help. "He was chained to the back, lunging to get out like a trapped animal," recalls one of the hunters, Louis Sweezy, now 72, a retired Navy master chief who lives in Suffolk, Va. Andrews's frantic family was relieved to have him home alive, but also heartbroken at the toll his torment had taken on him. "I wasn't sure it was my brother, and not just because of how he was bruised," says his sister Jennifer Lewis, 41, who works for a sporting goods company. "There was an emptiness in his eyes."

Ausley, who turned himself in a few days later, was convicted and sentenced to nearly 48 years in prison. Meanwhile, Andrews tried to build as normal a life for himself as he could—and to a remarkable degree he succeeded. He finished high school in North Carolina and eventually moved to South Florida. He later got into computer repair and became active in a local Presbyterian church. In 1980, while at a nightclub, he met Mark Levy, now 54, who has been his partner ever since. The two share a three-bedroom home in North Miami.

Andrews told none of his friends about his past, and even now many of them marvel that anyone so cheerful and seemingly untormented could have been the victim of such cruelty. "He's amazingly gentle," says Virginia Johnson, a member of the Miami Shores Presbyterian Church, where they are both elders. "You will not find a kinder, more compassionate human being." Even Levy was kept mostly in the dark. "I knew something had happened, but we never really discussed it," says Levy, who works as a stagehand. "I figured when the time came he would tell me."

Yet when Andrews learned that Ausley, now 63, might be released this April, he was galvanized into action. Ausley has served 30 years, but under Virginia's old parole laws, which have since been discarded, 17 years were taken off his sentence. Andrews discovered that the only way to stop him from going free was a process called civil confinement, under which certain violent-sex-crime felons are evaluated and then can be held indefinitely in special treatment facilities until they are deemed safe for release. Like 15 other states, Virginia already had confinement statutes on the books but had never used them because of the expense of setting up such programs. Andrews, undaunted by economic arguments, began telling his story to lawmakers and media outlets in the state until pressure built to supply the money. Says H. Morgan Griffith, the majority leader in the Virginia House of Delegates: "His having the courage to come forward put this issue on the front burner."

Ausley recently wrote Andrews to apologize for his past "inappropriate behavior and poor judgment," which Andrews says read like "a form letter." A bit to his surprise, the campaign against Ausley has provided Andrews with a kind of catharsis. On Jan. 26 he returned for the first time to the site where he had been confined—and found some consolation. "When I was in the box, there was a huge tree that had fallen outside it," he says. "Now there is not much left of it. I could see the earth had gone on, and so had I."

Bill Hewitt
Linda Trischitta in North Miami and Linda Kramer in Washington, D.C.

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