Three people have been charged after the discovery of four malnourished mentally disabled adults in a locked Philadelphia basement room.
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 disabled adults chained in the cellar of an 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 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.
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 stretched back at least a year and reached to Florida and Texas.
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The alleged 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, who police said were helping with interviews.
“What went on was pure evil,” said Lt. Ray Evers, a Philadelphia police spokesman.
Police said they were alerted to the basement by Turgut Gozleveli, landlord of the apartment house in the Tacony neighborhood in northeast Philadelphia.
On Sunday, Gozleveli said he had checked the basement three times last week after a neighbor complained of suspicious people coming and going.
He said Thursday, 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 because the bulbs were missing.
He followed the sound of a barking dog down three steps to an old coal room, where he unwrapped a rusted chain from around the door handle and shined his flashlight into the tiny dirt-floor 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, he said. There were bathroom buckets, but no food except a container of orange juice.
The four, 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 their alleged victims.
Weston’s daughter and son live in the apartment house. Police said they were cooperating with the investigation and had not been charged.