PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Three people were charged on Sunday with holding four mentally handicapped adults captive in a filthy Philadelphia basement, and two of the victims may have been held for as long as 11 years, authorities said.
The three men and one woman were likely victims of Social Security fraud, Philadelphia Police Sergeant Joseph Green said.
“They were abused physically and emotionally,” he said. “This is just a horror story.”
Arrested in the case was Linda Westen, 50, a convicted murderer, who allegedly held them captive while posing as their caregiver and cashing their disability checks, police said.
Westen and two alleged accomplices, a homeless man named Eddie Wright, 51, and Philadelphia resident Gregory Thomas, 48, were charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and other charges.
The four people were found confined in a small, dirty basement boiler room that contained a mattress with some bedding and a flat board with a pillow.
“There were a couple water bottles but no food or anything,” Green said. “There was a bucket they used to urinate in.”
Two of the captives were held for 11 years and referred to Westen as “Mom,” police said.
At least two of the victims traveled with Westen as she moved from city to city, they said. She had traveled to Texas and Florida, he said.
The other two had been with Westen since February, and all of them arrived in Philadelphia earlier this month, he said.
Green said Westen may have others in captivity but is not cooperating with the investigation, which was handled by local law enforcement, the FBI and the federal Social Security Administration.
After they were discovered, the victims were taken for “much needed medical attention” at area hospitals, he said.
They were moved on Sunday to a city-run shelter where they were receiving counseling and care, Green said, adding the “four complainants are doing well.”
Reporting by Dave Warner, additional reporting by Eric Johnson in Chicago; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst