NEW YORK (AP) _ For nine children in a squalid apartment in a poverty-ravaged section of the Bronx, authorities said, home meant their own private hell where they were raped, sodomized or beaten.

Herman McMillan, 42, who was arrested at the apartment along with his 34- year-old wife, Frances, said he had buried two infants less than half a mile away and made vague references to a third missing child, police said. Police began digging Tuesday, and planned to continue today.

Police said they believed the missing children were born in the apartment and did not survive more than a month. ''We have no reason at this point to believe they were killed by the parents,'' Deputy Chief Joseph DeMartino said.

McMillan was charged with rape, sodomy, incest, sexual abuse, assault, reckless endangerment and endangering a minor. Mrs. McMillan was charged with assault and endangerment.

The six boys and three girls rarely emerged from the filthy three-room apartment, where beatings were administered with fists or sticks and the children sometimes had their heads held underwater, police and neighbors said Tuesday.

''There were 11 people living in a darkened apartment with little access to the outside world,'' said DeMartino. ''They only knew this way of life. ... They were recluses. The husband would come and go occasionally. The wife remained in the apartment. The children remained in the apartment. They did little or nothing.''

''The oldest children suffered most from the sexual abuse and the younger children from physical abuse,'' he said. Apparently, only the oldest girl had ever been to school, he said.

Police and city welfare officials went to the apartment on May 25 after neighbors complained that the children, ages 4 months to 16 years old, were being neglected. The arrests Monday followed three months of delicate questioning of the children, authorities said.

Neighbors said McMillan never spoke and ignored greetings as he came and went.

Freddie Santana, who lives next door, said that if any of the children looked out the kitchen window, the man in the apartment ''would grab them back and used to hit the kids and beat them.''

McMillan, originally from North Carolina, did occasional work as a laborer and received $554 a month from Social Security, DeMartino said. Mrs. McMillan came from Connecticut.

The apartment where they lived for 3 1/2 years was dark and filthy, strewn with dirty clothes and newspapers. ''No electricity ... windows covered with dirty rags and sheets and the children appeared frightened and dirty,'' DeMartino said.

DeMartino said that although the apartment building was a known drug location, there was no evidence of narcotics in the home.

As the McMillans were led from the police station Tuesday, reporters asked if they beat their children. ''No,'' they each answered.