Neighbors say for years they raised concerns about a Pennsylvania man accused of sexually assaulting a teenager whose parents allegedly "gifted" her to him when she was 14. She is the oldest of one dozen girls found living in Lee Kaplan's Bucks County home.
Officials, acting on a tip Thursday, found Kaplan at his Feasterville home, along with girls ranging in age from 6 months to 18 years, police said. One girl, now 18, told police she and Kaplan have a 3-year-old child and a 6-month-old child, according to investigators.
Many of the girls slept on blow-up mattresses in the basement of the 51-year-old man's home.
Jen Betz of Feasterville said she had long felt that "something isn't right" at Kaplan's overgrown home. Betz said she called child protective services because she was concerned about the young girls she saw outside the house, which she said had boarded windows and high weeds.
"They're so sad and fearful every time I see them. That's what made me call," Betz said Saturday. "I've been telling my husband for years 'Something isn't right, something isn't right.'"
"He doesn't talk much. I tried joking with him, but he'd just stare at you with a blank face," said Brendan Cragg, a FedEx driver who's been delivering packages in the neighborhood for the last 10 years.
"I thought about him all weekend," Cragg said. "I wish looking back I would have said something."
Denise Horst, said she saw the girls often.
"I've ridden by this house (and) I've seen young girls, various ages of children, dressed mostly in Amish clothing," Horst said. "Often afraid... he'd come out of the house, the male would come out, they'd go running into the house."
She said she also saw that one of the young girls was pregnant.
"I was wondering what was going on," Horst said. "It looked like these girls were scared."
Another neighbor, Bob Greenfield, said Kaplan seemed "weird" and he now wishes that he also had called authorities.
"You knew something was wrong," he said. "It makes you feel bad. If I had said something a while ago, they would have come earlier."
Still another neighbor, Kevin Rihl, told NBC10 he went to police with concerns over the Old Street Road home.
"I asked my neighbor 'what is the deal with these girls?'" said Rihl. "Me and my neighbor decided we're going to the police, enough is enough, something's fishy."
A police source told NBC10 that Rihl made a complaint in April 2015 but investigators weren't allowed into the home.
"Why didn't this happen a year ago?" asked Rihl standing outside the home.
Robert Hoopes, director of public safety for Lower Southampton Township, told NBC10 police received several calls over the years about the house from concerned neighbors, yet none of them suggested child abuse.
"We didn't get the child abuse calls," he said. "If it was a child abuse call we would've responded naturally."
Kaplan, who was previously married, faces charges including statutory sexual assault, unlawful contact with a minor and aggravated indecent assault. He remained jailed Monday unable to post $1 million bail. Preliminary hearings for Kaplan and the parents of the teenage mother were continued to early August.
When police entered Kaplan's home Thursday, "all the children were running around," Lt. Krimmel said. "Some were hiding. They were well-behaved, but scared."
Krimmel said officials are trying to verify who the parents of the other children found at the home are. The teenager's parents told police the other nine girls in the house were their children, but no birth certificates or Social Security cards could be located to confirm that, officials said.
"They purport to be the parents of all the children, but I don't know if we believe them," Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler said.
Heckler said he could not say how long the children had been at Kaplan's house.
Heckler said the parents of the girl Kaplan is accused of assaulting told investigators her family was going to lose their farm until Kaplan "came out of the blue and saved them from financial ruin."
Authorities allege in an affidavit that the girl's father told an officer he gave his 14-year-old daughter to Kaplan after researching the legality of such an action online. NBC10 isn't identifying the parents to protect the identity of their daughter, who is a victim of sex assault.
Kaplan bought the 3-bedroom, 1 bath home in 1988 according to county real estate records.
Police say they found homework and instruments in the basement of the home, suggesting the children were home schooled. Heckler said the girls apparently did not attend school and it was unclear if they had ever been to a doctor. They appeared to be in good health and showed no visible signs of trauma. On Monday police brought out violins from the home after the children asked for them, according to officials.
"They were living down in the basement," said Hoopes. "They were hiding in the chicken coop. In the basement there's an elaborate train set up. By elaborate I mean tens of thousands of dollars' worth of trains on platforms."
NBC10 discovered that Kaplan made thousands selling model trains through an eBay business he ran out of his home called "The Brass Caboose."
Authorities say cases of canned food, a chicken coop, garden and a greenhouse at the property also suggested a self-sufficient lifestyle.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the 18-year-old girl's parents were born into the Amish faith, but renounced it amid a long fight with community elders, according to a federal lawsuit they filed in 2009 against their former church. The lawsuit, which was dismissed later that year, said they operated a metalworking business on their property.
All 12 of the children were together in protective custody in Lancaster County, said Heckler. Social workers with expertise in the Amish culture are also assisting them.