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6 Children, 4 Teens in Captives Case

Among the group, police found Beatrice Weston, 19, niece of alleged captor, reported missing in ’09.

A view of conditions in the subbasement room in Tacony where the four mentally challenged adults had been held captive. (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer)
A view of conditions in the subbasement room in Tacony where the four mentally challenged adults had been held captive. (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer)Read more

Police removed 10 children and teenagers Tuesday night who had been in the care of Linda Ann Weston, the woman charged this week with enslaving four mentally challenged adults in a Tacony 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 H. Ramsey said Tuesday night. "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 about 5:30 p.m. in front of the Longshore Avenue apartment building where the basement dungeon was discovered.

Police found Beatrice Weston in the city's Frankford section. Police said she had "old injuries and new injuries."

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 Saturday after a landlord at the apartment house on the 4700 block of Longshore Avenue 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 new 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 West Palm Beach, Fla., house, according to a police affidavit. He was found chained to a boiler pipe in the Tacony 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.

Weston also has a daughter, 32, who has lived in the Longshore apartment house for two years with her own young children, according to Turgut Gozleveli, the building's landlord.

She told investigators that she knew Weston and Thomas had "extra" people living in the basement and that her mother took their checks and cashed them. She said Weston took three of the four victims to Texas, then to Florida, because police were investigating them. The daughter has not been charged by police.

Weston's 34-year-old son also lives in the building and has not been charged. He said Tuesday that he was estranged from his mother and did not talk with her much since she arrived in Philadelphia earlier this month.

Ramsey has created a task force to prioritize the case. The force, which consists of detectives from the city's Northeast Detective Division, will devote its time to following various leads, including tracking down Weston's post office boxes and addresses.

The investigators also are looking for the owners of the identification documents that were found in Weston's possession when she was arrested.

One victim, Tamara Breeden, was reported missing by her family in Philadelphia in 2005. Knowles, too, was reported missing by family.

On Tuesday, police also located a 15-year-old girl who ran away from Florida in August and met up with Thomas' son in Philadelphia. That girl is not a victim in the scheme, they said, and her parents are making arrangements to get her.

Weston served prison time for killing Bernardo Ramos, 25, whom she starved to death in 1981 in a closet of her North Philadelphia apartment.

Before moving to Norfolk in 2008, Weston lived with several women in a house in Killeen, Texas, near Fort Hood, about 60 miles north of Austin. She had rented two houses in that city, jumping from one to another, each time with the management company suing her.

It was a pattern that she repeated in North Carolina, Florida, and Philadelphia.

Knowles was last seen Nov. 7, 2008, in Norfolk not long after he met Weston. Knowles had been deemed independent, said a Norfolk police officer, and was able to live on his own, but got regular checks from a caseworker. By early December, investigators learned that his Social Security checks were being sent to a Rutland Street address in Northeast Philadelphia.

When police went to check out the address, they found a dead end.

Anna Rotondo, who has rented the house on the 7200 block of Rutland Street for seven years, said she received mail for years for Knowles, Weston, Breeden, and Thomas. The mail included quarterly statements from Social Security, she said, but no checks.

The Social Security Protection Act of 2004 generally bars people who have been imprisoned for more than a year from becoming representative payees, those who cash someone else's check. Yet a 2010 report by Social Security's watchdog found that staff members do not perform background checks to determine if payees have criminal records.

The report from the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General said that people who apply to become payees are supposed to answer a question on whether they've ever been convicted of an offense and imprisoned for more than a year. But the report noted that the agency recognizes that self-reporting of such information "is not always reliable."