CHEVELLE McGill was thrilled back in 2008 when neighbor Linda Ann Weston told her that she could adopt a 2-year-old girl whom Weston called her own.
McGill cared for the girl she called "Little L" for a few months in her rowhouse on A Street near Westmoreland, in Kensington, waiting for Weston to file adoption papers.
" 'Yeah, yeah, we'll get it done,' " Weston told her, according to McGill.
Then, shortly before Christmas, Weston packed up her belongings and disappeared, McGill said. A little later, Weston's daughter, Jane McIntosh, showed up at the McGills' home and told them that she was taking the toddler to a birthday party and would return.
She never did.
"We waited and waited, but we never saw Little L again," Chevelle McGill said.
Now McGill and her husband, Robert, are worried that Little L is in danger.
"I just want to know where she is," McGill told the Daily News last night, as she looked longingly at the toddler's face on a video she'd filmed. "I have to know she's all right."
But when it comes to Weston, nothing is right. She is accused of stealing Social Security checks from four people she hardly fed and locked in a fetid, sub-basement dungeon in a Tacony apartment building.
Relatives say that she beat her siblings and forced them to have sex with each other or prostitute themselves.
Prosecutors have charged Weston, 51; McIntosh, 32; Weston's boyfriend, Gregory Thomas, 47; and Eddie Wright, 50, with aggravated assault, kidnapping, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment and related offenses.
Over the years, Weston moved so often that even close relatives couldn't keep track.
McGill and her husband, Robert, told the Daily News yesterday that Weston lived in a two-story, scuffed white rowhouse on A Street for about five months in 2008. They said that she resided there with Thomas, eight children who she said were hers, two Hispanic girls, a Hispanic boy and Maxine Lee, who was in Weston's charge.
The McGills said that they didn't see signs of a monster lurking inside Weston. "When we first met, she was a nice lady," Chevelle McGill said. "We never saw the evil side to her."
Weston often asked Chevelle McGill to babysit Little L, and McGill grew to adore the girl. At 47, she'd raised five children. Now that they were grown, she wanted to care for a baby again.
"We fell in love with the baby and the baby fell in love with me," McGill said.
One time she asked Weston about a bruise she saw on Little L's leg. Weston told McGill that she didn't know how she got it.
As Little L spent more time at the McGills', she didn't want to go home. "She never wanted to leave us," Chevelle said. "Every time Linda came to get her, she'd cry. She never wanted to leave my arms. So Linda asked if we'd like to adopt her. I asked her if she was going to do everything legal and she said, 'Yes.' "
So Little L moved in with the McGills, and Chevelle McGill doted on her. "You could tell she was a little behind," Chevelle recalled. "She wasn't talking. She didn't know her ABCs or her colors. She wasn't developed. We taught her how to talk."
The McGills videotaped Little L in her playpen, teaching her to say, "I love you."
"Who couldn't fall in love with a face like that?" Chevelle asked.
When McIntosh pulled up to her house in a car with Florida license plates in late 2008, McGill had already bought Little L toys and a lacy white dress for Christmas.
They don't know where Little L spent Christmas that year. "We were devastated," she said.
Since news reports last week exposed Weston's alleged savagery, the McGills now wonder how many lies Weston told and how many people she might have hurt.
"One day she told us she had a man in the basement," Chevelle McGill said. "We laughed at her and said, 'Yeah, right.' But I guess maybe she did.
"Now I believe there was a man in the basement," Robert McGill said. "When I was in my basement, I heard strange noises coming from there. You could tell something was going on in there. I just didn't know what."
They saw Maxine Lee often sitting in the living room of Weston's home and thought that she was related to Weston somehow. "You could tell Maxine was off a little bit," Chevelle said.
The McGills were horrified to recently learn that Lee died shortly after Weston moved from A Street to Norfolk, Va. She was 39. The Medical Examiner's Office in Norfolk ruled Lee's death natural, listing the cause as acute bacterial meningitis, with malnutrition as a contributing factor. Norfolk police are re-examining the case.
Sometimes the McGills saw Weston walking in the neighborhood with one of the two Hispanic girls who lived with her. "She said they were part of the family," Chevelle said.
"One day in the summertime she took one of the girls around the corner, and I seen when they came back, the girl was fixing her clothing," Chevelle said.
McGill asked Weston if something was wrong.
" 'We just went to the store,' " Weston told her, she recalled. "But they looked like something was going on."
"You could tell they had secrets, lots of secrets," Robert McGill added.
Now they wonder who Little L's parents really are.