The Lee Kaplan who owned a house on a leafy street in Cheltenham Township 13 years ago was clean-shaven and so put off by behavior he considered immoral, he once threw a plumber out for cursing, according to his then-next door neighbors.
Kaplan, now charged with sexual assault after police found 12 girls living in his current Bucks County home, looks nothing like the man who owned a house next to Dave and Sherri Kushin from 1994 to 2003, the couple said in an interview Tuesday.
"He was not a mountain man, like now," Dave Kushin said at his home of 40 years in the Melrose Park section of Cheltenham. "He was born again. But not Christian. He was a born again Jew, a Jew for Jesus."
After Kaplan bought the house in the 1000 block of Stratford Avenue for $110,000, he and his wife at the time worked hard to rehab the old house, the Kushins said.
The couple said they didn’t like how Kaplan treated his now ex-wife, Virginia.
"He worked her like -- what is it -- an indentured servant," Dave Kushin said. He added, "I just chit chatted with him from time to time."
“He was a mashugana,” he said. “He rubbed me the wrong way.”
Kaplan never lived in the house, the Kushins said. Instead, he rented it to groups of students attending a nearby university.
“He turned it into a frat house,” Sherri Kushin said. “There were 15 people living there at one point.”
Kaplan eventually sold the Stratford Avenue home for $250,000, more than double what he paid nine years earlier.
Investigators have yet to say what happened between 2003 and the last few years. Somehow during that time, Kaplan became the burly, bushy-bearded man police arrested last week inside a cramped Feasterville home that a FedEx deliveryman described as smelling "like cat piss."
Answers won’t come quickly, District Attorney Dave Heckler said last week after Kaplan’s arrest.
At least one of the 12 girls found inside his home allegedly lived there the last four years, according to the initial criminal complaint. Now 18, she gave birth to two children by Kaplan. Her parents, an exiled Amish couple from Lancaster County, allegedly told police they "gifted" their daughter to Kaplan after he bailed them out of bankruptcy.
Kaplan and the parents, who NBC10 isn't identifying to protect their daughter's identity, are each jailed on $1 million bail. The parents have told police the other girls in the house also are theirs, but Heckler said there are no documents readily available to prove that claim.
Lancaster County news outlets have reported that the couple and Kaplan met in the early 2000s, around the time Kaplan sold the Cheltenham property. The reports indicate the parents actively sought ex-communication from the Amish community, and became born again Christians.
All 12 children are now in the custody of Lancaster County protective services.
Kaplan, 51, graduated from Cheltenham High School in 1982. His senior yearbook photo shows off dark curly locks that covered his ears, and a thin, patchy mustache. His neck stretches from his jaw line to a white collared shirt, accompanied by a dark tie and pinstriped suit befitting an a cappella singer.
The senior class photos are ordered by birth date and grouped by zodiac sign. Above the photo of Kaplan, whose birthday is Nov. 6, reads in large, bold font:
One of Scorpio’s specialties is secrets
Detectives haven’t said how long all the girls allegedly were kept by Kaplan inside his house in the Feasterville section of Lower Southampton. The criminal complaint indicated the oldest girl, the 18-year-old, said she arrived at the house when she was 14. One of her children is believed to be three years old. A message left for the Lower Southampton police director was not returned Tuesday.
Most neighbors in the working-class neighborhood said they recently became suspicious of Kaplan, who allegedly told nearby residents that he lived alone. One resident said she saw Kaplan walking around holding one of the girls’ hands.
Police said that during their raid they found some girls in the basement of the house, among an elaborate miniature train setup. An EBay business, called The Brass Caboose, is registered to his house at 428 Old Street Road. The FedEx deliveryman for the neighborhood told NBC10.com on Monday that he had no idea anyone else lived in the house.
“He'd come to the door with no shirt on, that big beard,” Brandon Cragg said. “It kind of stunk in there, I thought, like cat piss. I thought he was a hoarder."
The home’s overgrown front-yard grass and its repugnant smell inside contrast sharply with the well-manicured exterior of the Northeast Philadelphia rowhouse belonging to Kaplan’s ex-wife, Jacqueline Albrecht.
Blooming flowers and a freshly cut lawn are accentuated by a newly lacquered, wood fence at the corner rowhouse on Glenview Street in the Mayfair section of the city.
Albrecht wasn't ready to answer questions about her ex-husband Tuesday afternoon as she arrived home from work.
“I just can’t talk right now,” she said politely when a reporter asked about Kaplan. “I just can’t talk right now.”
Dave Kushin, the former neighbor in Melrose Park, said he never would have associated Kaplan with the man he saw in the news all weekend.
“You never know what makes someone snap,” he said. “That’s a big change.”