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Three charged after four found chained in Philadelphia

Three people - including a woman who served eight years in prison for starving to death a man held in the closet of her North Philadelphia apartment in 1981 - were charged Sunday with holding four mentally challenged adults chained in the cellar of a Tacony apartment house for weeks in an alleged scheme to steal their Social Security checks.

Three people - including a woman who served eight years in prison for starving to death a man held in the closet of her North Philadelphia apartment in 1981 - were charged Sunday with holding four mentally challenged adults chained in the cellar of a Tacony apartment house for weeks in an alleged scheme to steal their Social Security checks.

The alleged ringleader, Linda Ann Weston, 51, served eight years in the starvation death of Bernardo Ramos, 25, after he refused to support her sister's unborn child.

Also arrested was Weston's boyfriend, Thomas Gregory, 47, of North Philadelphia, and Eddie Wright, 49, a homeless man who neighbors said called himself a reverend.

All three were charged with criminal conspiracy, aggravated assault, kidnapping, and related charges. But investigators said Sunday they expected more charges to be filed in a criminal scheme that stretches back at least a year and reaches to Florida and Texas.

All three were awaiting a bail hearing Sunday night.

The victims - three men and a woman ranging in age from 29 to 41 - were treated for malnutrition and put in the care of mental-health officials. Police said they were being interviewed with the help of mental-health experts.

"What went on was pure evil," said Lt. Ray Evers, a Philadelphia police spokesman.

Police said they were alerted to the imprisoned people by the landlord of the apartment house at 4724 Longshore Ave.

On Sunday, that landlord, Turgut Gozleveli, said hechecked out the basement of his Tacony apartment building three times last week after a neighbor complained of suspicious people coming and going.

On Thursday, he said, he noticed some furniture in the dank cellar had been moved. On Friday, he found a dog dish. On Saturday, the ceiling lights wouldn't turn on - the bulbs were missing.

The landlord followed the sound of a barking dog down three steps to an old coal room, where he unwrapped a rusted chain linked around the door handle. He shined his flashlight into the tiny dirt-floored space.

"There were two little dogs and blankets," Gozleveli said. "And from the blankets, people's faces just started coming up."

The malnourished adults - lying in their own filth in the 10-by-15-foot room - could not answer him, Gozleveli said. One man's left ankle was chained to a boiler pipe. There were bathroom buckets, but no food except a container of orange juice.

The captives, all severely mentally challenged, Gozleveli said, looked like "they did not know what world they were living [in]."

"It was terrible," he said. "Something I never expected to see in my life."

Police said that since arriving in Philadelphia about Oct. 3, the four had been chained in the cellar and fed once a day.

One of the men, believed to be from Texas, may have been held against his will for more than a year, police said.

Weston, who investigators said also had a home in Palm Beach, Fla., and her two alleged accomplices drove north to Philadelphia, possibly fleeing authorities in Florida, police said.

"This may just be the top layer of what they're doing," Evers said.

Police are working with the FBI to track the path of the three suspects and the captives.

Neighbors said the group arrived in an SUV in which the four alleged captives were held in the rear.

Weston's daughter and son live in the apartment house. Police said they are cooperating with the investigation and have not been charged.

One neighbor, Danyell "Nicky" Tisdale, said that Weston occasionally took the victims out to the SUV and would make them ride in the back.

Last week, she said, Weston had a Sunday flea market, selling clothes on the sidewalk with the help of the four victims, bossing them around.

Tisdale said one victim, dressed in a trench coat, asked, " 'Are we going to get paid for this?' "

Tisdale said she approached Weston to introduce herself but Weston brushed her off.

"She always had a mean look on her face," Tisdale said. "You'd try to speak to her but you'd be afraid because she looked so mean."

Another resident said that she saw the man in the trench coat going into the cellar area but that she did not know people were being held there.

Nothing seemed amiss, she said, although the apartment hallway became infested with flies about a week ago.

Contact staff writer Mike Newall at 215-854-2759, mnewall@phillynews.com, or @MikeNewall on Twitter.

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