10 kids removed from woman charged with enslaving disabled

  • Article by: MIKE NEWALL, ALLISON STEELE, MARK FAZLOLLAH and JENNIFER LIN , Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Updated: October 18, 2011 - 11:09 PM

Police commissioner: "This is a very complicated case. This is a very sad story. It makes no sense.

PHILADELPHIA - Police on Tuesday night removed 10 children and teenagers who had been in the care of Linda Ann Weston, the woman charged this week with enslaving four mentally disabled adults in a Philadelphia basement, and said the group showed signs of abuse and malnutrition.

Among the group was Beatrice Weston, 19, a niece reported missing in 2009.

Investigators are trying to find the parents of the children, and police said two of the children may be related to one of the adult victims kept in the basement. Others may have been kidnapped.

"This is a very complicated case," Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said. "This is a very sad story. It makes no sense. When you look at the kids, the psychological trauma is pretty apparent. It's some of the worst things I've ever experienced."

Police took some of the 10 -- ranging in age from 2 to 19 -- into custody in front of the apartment building where the basement dungeon was discovered.

The revelations came as authorities in at least four states -- Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia and Texas -- were trying to piece together the path and alleged crimes of Weston and two accomplices.

"This is a long-term case. It'll take some time," Ramsey said. "I wouldn't be surprised if we find other things along the way."

The four adult victims were found on Saturday after a landlord at the apartment house discovered them and two small dogs behind a locked steel door. The adults, ranging in age from 29 to 41, lived in the fetid boiler room without light or bathrooms.

Police have since discovered that Weston had identification documents for as many as 50 people, leading them to suspect she has been running a wide-ranging fraud operation for years.

Weston and two men -- Gregory Thomas, 47, described as Weston's boyfriend, and Eddie Wright, 49 -- have been charged with kidnapping and related offenses. Each is being held on $2.5 million bail.

Meanwhile, grim details emerged of the captives' lives.

One of them, Darwin McLemire, 41, had been confined to a closet by Weston for almost a year in a house in West Palm Beach, Fla., according to a police affidavit. He was found chained to a boiler pipe in the Philadelphia basement.

McLemire told police he met Weston in Florida last October and moved in a few weeks later. Weston took his identification cards and papers, shut him in the closet and sometimes beat him, he said.

Weston chained McLemire to the boiler pipe so he wouldn't "walk away," according to one of the other victims.

Another of the captives, Herbert Knowles, 40, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, said Weston had been taking his Social Security checks since he met her in Norfolk, Va., in 2008. He had not received his medication or seen a doctor in years, he told investigators.

He lived with Weston and Thomas in Florida and Texas, and "was routinely locked in closed room or basements," according to the affidavit.

Police said Weston and Thomas had two teenage children who traveled with them from Florida. The teens told investigators they did not know that people were locked inside the boiler room.

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