Originally published 01/28/2013.
On January 23, 2013, a grand jury indictment of 196 counts was unsealed against five defendants accused of holding handicapped people captive from 2001 to 2011 to collect their Social Security disability benefits. The indictment charges that Linda Ann Weston, 52, was the ringleader of a group made up of herself, her boyfriend Gregory Thomas Sr., 49, Eddie Wright, 52, and her daughter Jean McIntosh, 33. Also charged is Nicklaus Woodard, 26, of West Palm Beach, Florida, with acting as ”enforcer” for Weston while she lived in that city.
According to authorities, six disabled adults and four children were kept against their will in ’subhuman’ conditions in basements, attics and closets over a period of ten years.
This case is the first time anyone has been charged with a hate crime–which carries enhanced sentencing–for targeting the mentally disabled.
United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Zane Memeger issued a statement saying, “‘Shocking’ does not begin to describe the criminal allegations in this case where the victims were tied up and confined like zoo animals and treated like property akin to slaves.”
Over 140 charges against Weston are fraud charges for stealing and cashing benefit checks.
The group, including both alleged perpetrators and victims, often moved between states. They had gone from Texas to Florida to Philadelphia, where they were in October 2011 when a landlord called police, saying he found four malnourished adults in a basement boiler room. One of them, said the landlord, was chained to the boiler. Law officers discovered four mentally disabled people in a six by ten foot room. They were believed to have been in that room for ten days, their only creature comfort a bucket in which to discharge bodily wastes.
Weston’s niece, Beatrice Weston, was found locked in a closet. ABC News reported that had “open wounds and scars” and that “a burn mark from a heated spoon was imprinted onto her skin.” Places in which her bones had been broken had healed over incorrectly and “her ankles showed signs of repeated shooting from pellet guns.”
Two children, ages 2 and 5, were in the home. Weston says they are hers but investigators are working to positively identify their parentage. According to ABC, “police said the 2-year-old was so malnourished it had the appearance of a 6-month-old.”
Memeger claims Weston used “cunning, trickery, force, and coercion” to persuade handicapped people to name her guardian. He asserts this scheme enabled her to collect roughly $212,000.
Her attorney, George Yacoubian, asserted that prosecutors have “over-reached for effect” and that the handicapped people willingly lived as “a family” with the accused.
During the time they lived in Texas and Florida, authorities allege Weston forced two female victims into prostitution and pocketed their earnings.
Weston is the only defendant charged with murder and eligible for the death penalty although prosecutors have not decided if they will seek it.
She is charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of two who died in her care. In 2005, Donna Spadea lived with Weston. Authorities allege Weston staged Spadea’s death to look like a drug overdose from voluntary drug use after imprisoning the woman in a laundry room and feeding her drug-laced food.
Maxine Lee, 39, lived with Weston in 2008 when she died of meningitis aggravated by malnutrition. At the time, her death was ascribed to natural causes. Fresh investigation led prosecutors to charge Weston with starving and drugging Lee. They assert Weston beat Lee with bats and sticks. Authorities allege that Weston and others forced Lee into a cabinet beneath a kitchen sink. When Lee broke the cabinet door, Weston forced her to strip naked, then locked her in an attic where Lee slept nude on fiberglass insulation. According to Philly.com, when Lee died in November 2008, Weston “allegedly directed the others to move the body to a clean bedroom and arrange the scene to make it appear to police that Lee died naturally in bed.”
Prosecutors call Jean McIntosh “her mother’s right-hand woman.” They allege Wright and Thomas confined, transported, and beat captives.
Authorities claim that as Weston’s “enforcer” in Florida, Woodard pistol-whipped and beat Derwin McLemire, threatening to shoot him for trying to escape. The indictment states that Weston ordered McLemire imprisoned in a closet where he was fed once a day. It also alleges that Weston forced McLemire to drink his own urine. At one point, she and co-conspirators allegedly turned a vicious pit-bull loose on him. The dog bit off half his right ear.
One of the four found in the Philadelphia boiler room, Edwin Sanabria, 31, testified before the aforementioned grand jury in December 2011. He said he never received his Social Security checks after he started living with Weston in 2001. He said she once put him in a closet that was then nailed shut. He also said he was forced into the cellar and chained to the boiler. “I used the bucket to go to the bathroom,” he testified. “Others used the same bucket.” When he and other captives tried to wash themselves, he testified they “used the same bucket we used to urinate in.” He recalled traveling from Florida to Philadelphia where he and others were consigned to the cellar.
Police officer John Murphy testified to what he found after the landlord called police. “The stench in the room and on their person was unbearable,” he said.
Murphy testified that Derwin McLemire was chained and the landlord cut the chain.
During this grand jury testimony, Weston, Thomas, Wright, and McIntosh were in court. Only Jean displayed emotion, shaking her head, talking softly with her attorney, and weeping when Sanabria testified.
In 1983, Weston was convicted of third-degree murder. She bashed the head of her sister’s boyfriend with a hammer, then locked him in a closet where he starved to death. She served four years in prison.
That conviction forms part of the basis for lawsuits filed in September 2012 by niece Beatrice Weston, who was placed in Weston’s custody at ten years old. The niece is suing Weston, the City of Philadelphia, and the caseworker who suggested she be removed from her mother’s care and placed with Aunt Linda. Weston applied for guardianship of the child during a feud with Beatrice’s mother.
According to the now 20-year-old niece, Weston forced her into prostitution and regularly beat her, leaving the multitude of scars on her body police found when they raided the apartment. Beatrice Weston says her aunt failed to send her to school as a child. Her lawsuit asserts that Philadelphia city workers received complaints that Weston held children captive but failed to adequately address those complaints.
Weston’s adult son, Joseph McIntosh, told reporters that she abused her own children. When she was released from prison, she successfully petitioned to have her children returned to her care. He admits that he and his siblings wanted to live with her but says, “We didn’t know about her background. [The Department of Health Services] knew about her history. They knew who she was but they still released us into her custody – all of us at a young age.” Although his sister Jean McIntosh is accused, he says, “I feel as though she also is a victim.”
Joseph claims his mother took custody only to receive welfare checks. He says she forced him to live in a cellar for a year to prevent his running away. She fed him noodles and beverages laced with sedatives so he was too weak and/or groggy to protest or leave. In 1998, when he was 16, she ordered him out of the basement to do laundry. When he took clothes outside to hang on a line, he jumped over a fence — and kept going.
Joseph escaped on the 4th of July. Exhilarated by his freedom, he attended a free Boyz II Men concert. He was soon living the life of a homeless person in a park, which was not quite as bad as the horrible home he had fled. He earned small amounts of cash by helping people carry groceries to their cars at a shopping mall. He was thin, dirty, and wearing ragged clothes when his cousin, Yvette Baxter, took him in. When Baxter tried to get him admitted to a high school, police detained her as Weston had reported that Baxter had kidnapped Joseph. As cops handcuffed Baxter, Joseph told them his mother had beaten him. A school principal phoned Weston and asked her to come to the school but she did not. Police went to her home to question her but she was gone.
A DHS worker determined that Joseph should stay with Baxter. “She treated me like her son,” he recalled. Today he works at a McDonald’s as an assistant supervisor. He believes that, with Baxter’s help, he has overcome the abuses he suffered. “I came up out of it,” he says.
It can only be hoped that similar help might aid others to positive adjustments. It can also be hoped that the full truth of this case will be determined in a courtroom and justice served for all concerned.
Sources on following page.