NBCPhiladelphia.com - Justin Pizzi
Four mentally challenged adults were held hostage in the basement of a Philadelphia Apartment.
Four malnourished mentally disabled adults were found chained to a boiler in a locked Tacony basement room that was too small for an adult to stand up straight in and also reeked of waste from the buckets they used to relieve themselves, Philadelphia Police said Sunday.
And one of the people accused of abusing them reportedly served time for a 1983 murder conviction.
Linda Ann Weston, 51, who was described as the ringleader of the alleged abuse, served four to 10 years for murder, cops said.
Police didn't immediately have details about that past conviction.
Weston and 47-year-old Thomas Gregory, both of the 2500 block of N 29th Street, and 49-year-old Eddie Wright, who is homeless, allegedly kept the disabled adults in horrid conditions, cops said.
Officers were investigating a report of squatters in a building on the 4700 block of Longshore Avenue Saturday when they found three men and a woman in a 15-by-15-foot room behind a steel door that was chained shut.
The sub-basement room they were in called to mind a Cold War-era bomb shelter and contained a makeshift bed, mattress and sheets, said Officer Tanya Little, a police spokeswoman.
“It was horrible,” she said Sunday. “The space was very tiny and confined.”
Weston, Gregory and Wright were charged with aggravated assault, kidnapping, conspiracy, false imprisonment, reckless endangerment and related charges, cops said.
Police are investigating the possibility that the suspects were trying to make money through access to the victims' Social Security or disability checks, Little said. It wasn't clear how they knew the victims.
The 29-year-old woman and the men, who are 31, 35, and 41, have the mental capacity of 10-year-olds, police said. They were taken to a hospital for treatment. Little said the victims appeared to have no physical problems other than malnourishment.
They are now in custody of the state being fed and taken care of.
The three suspects are behind bars.
“It's heartbreaking that people can do such horrifying things to other people,” Little said.
Getting information from the victims was difficult due to their disability, police said. But the victims apparently were brought to Philadelphia about 10 days before they were found. They had apparently been in West Palm Beach, Fla., and before that in Texas, she said.
In fact, West Palm homeowner Jeff Rouse says that Weston, Wright and 10 others lived in his beach house and an adjacent duplex during their time in Florida.
Rouse says the house was stripped of wiring, windows and plumbing before he evicted them. He says they were living without running water when they moved out.
Authorities say the suspects could face federal charges for allegedly crossing state lines with the victims.