HOUSTON — Four men found living in "deplorable conditions" in a Houston garage on Friday told police that they were being held captive after being lured by promises of food and cigarettes so that their captor could cash their public-assistance checks, authorities said.
Three of the men were malnourished and taken to a hospital after being discovered by officers responding to a 911 call about the home, Houston police spokeswoman Jodi Silva said. Sgt. Steven Murdock described the living conditions as like a "dungeon."
Investigators were still trying to determine how long the men lived there, but they said it may have been weeks.
Silva said the men told investigators they were forced to live in the garage — which included just one chair, no bed and a possibly malfunctioning air conditioner — so their captor could cash their assistance checks. She said the men were "given scraps to eat."
"They clearly stated to us they were being kept against their will," Silva said.
Silva said one person has been detained but no charges have been filed. He apparently did not live in the house, she said. Four women were also found living in the house, three of whom appeared to have mental disabilities, Silva said. She described the other woman as a caretaker. Unlike the garage, she described the living conditions inside the home as more normal.
A neighbor called authorities Friday morning expressing concern about men in the house in North Houston. Murdock, the police sergeant, said at least one of the men is a military veteran. He described them as malnourished and "almost invalids," saying they lived in "deplorable conditions."
Alberta Ewing, whose brother lives next door, said the men looked "very weak" and were hauled out on stretchers by paramedics. She said one of the men had approached her asking for help just weeks earlier during a Fourth of July gathering, but that she didn't take him seriously because he wasn't crying and she couldn't get him to explain further.
"He said, 'Could you help me?'" Ewing recalled. "I said, 'What's the problem?"
Neighbors said they occasionally saw the men sitting outside. Virginia Rogers, who lives five houses away, said she greeted them with a wave when she drove by.
"I'm shocked," Rogers said. "I'm baffled. I didn't have a clue."
The men were found in a working-class, residential neighborhood of one-story, brick homes. Harris County property records show the home was built in 1969 and is about 1,400 square feet.
Police were going in and out of the house's bright purple door and black gate Friday afternoon, removing evidence as neighbors stood outside watching.
A portion of the block was cordoned off with police tape.