PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Police said on Tuesday they were investigating whether a convicted killer arrested for kidnapping four mentally challenged adults to steal their Social Security checks may have as many as 50 victims.
Linda Ann Weston, 51, was one of three people arrested after four malnourished victims were found locked in the basement of a Philadelphia home over the weekend.
More than 30 years ago, Weston was convicted of starving to death a 25-year-old man in her apartment in North Philadelphia and, after her sentencing in 1985, served eight years in prison, authorities said.
An investigation triggered by the discovery in a filthy basement on Saturday of four captives, each with the mental capacity of a 10-year-old child, raised questions about the widening scope of the crime.
About 50 identification records have been found in the home, including Social Security numbers and paperwork to authorize power of attorney, said a police spokeswoman.
The FBI joined the investigation which has determined one of the victims found Saturday is from Virginia and presumably had to cross state lines to get to Philadelphia. Kidnapping is a federal crime if a victim is taken across state lines.
“The allegations are that it’s a horrific crime,” said Special Agent J.J. Klaver.
The four victims were found by the building’s landlord during a check of the building whose second-floor apartment had been rented by a relative of Weston since October 3.
One victim was chained to the furnace in the building’s basement, and the others were locked in a room with no bathroom.
“They had buckets instead of a toilet,” a police spokeswoman said.
“(The landlord) called 911 right away, and police responded to that address,” she said.
The malnourished victims were taken to nearby Frankford South Hospital and were in stable condition, police said.
Arrested with Weston were Gregory Thomas, 47, of North Philadelphia, and Eddie Wright, 50, who is homeless, police said. The three were charged with criminal conspiracy, aggravated assault, kidnapping, criminal trespass, unlawful restraint and false imprisonment.
A resident of the two-story tan stucco building in the working class neighborhood of Tacony said she had no inkling of the horrors beneath her first-floor apartment.
“I didn’t know anything about it until I saw it on television,” said Jennifer Brady, mother of three.
A neighbor who lives across the street, Jennifer McCrink, 35, out for a stroll with her child, said she did not know the new tenants.
“I couldn’t believe it happened right here,” she said. “Horrible.”
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jerry Norton