WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - A web of kidnapping and abuse accusations have raised new questions in West Palm Beach.
Investigators are tracking every movement of suspects accused of shackling disabled people in a Philadelphia home. And with every shocking story, fresh claims have risen about the actions of those suspects when they lived in our community.
Several properties in West Palm Beach may have been rented by the suspects, according to West Palm Beach Police.
Two of the properties are less than a mile apart.
Investigators say a home on 44th Street and an apartment building on Broadway Investigators are two of the four properties that may have been rented at one time by suspects Linda Weston, Gregory Thomas, Eddie Wright and Jean McIntosh.
Those suspects are accused of locking away at least five mentally disabled people in a Philadelphia home and stealing social security checks.
Former neighbors here claim they witnessed abusive behavior. "Greg brought one of the guys out and threw him down to the ground and beat him," says neighbor Vernicka Clarke.
And the missing West Palm Beach teenager who was found with one of the suspects' sons is still in police custody.
No word on when she is expected to be back.
AP STORY BELOW:
By Patrick Walters, Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Detectives re-interviewed witnesses, sorted through tips and examined evidence Thursday as they tried to piece together a more complete picture of what police describe as a horrific Social Security fraud scheme in which four people locked disabled adults in a squalid basement.
As more details of the suspects and the victims emerge, the probe could expand in almost any direction and there could be more arrests and more charges for the existing suspects, police Lt. Raymond Evers said.
"We're looking at everything possible that they could have done," Evers said. "The investigation is going to lead in a lot of different directions. You've got to follow it."
Some of the victims are described as a mentally challenged man chained to a basement boiler, a disabled woman with her teeth knocked out, a malnourished niece with burn marks and pellet gun wounds and a 2-year-old the weight of an infant.
The suspects may have been taking in the downtrodden and disabled for their Social Security checks, police say, then holding them captive in wretched conditions without enough to eat or drink.
The four adult victims found locked in a Philadelphia crawl space Saturday have the mental capacity of 10-year-olds. One said he had met the woman accused of being the ringleader, Linda Ann Weston, through an online dating site. Weston and three others, including her daughter, are charged with kidnapping, assault and other charges, with her bail set at $2.5 million.
It's unclear how Weston met the other disabled adults, one of whom may have borne several children in recent years. They were treated at a hospital and then moved to a social services agency.
Eight children and four young adults linked to the defendants have also since been taken into protective custody after they were found at various locations around the city. They include the 19-year-old niece, Beatrice Weston, who was left locked in a closet in recent days, according to police.
All eight children have been placed into foster care, said Alicia Taylor, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Human services. Police are still working on getting DNA tests for the youths, ages 2 through 17.
"We will make sure that they all receive medical treatment and that they get psychological evaluations as well," Taylor said.
Beatrice Weston may be the same niece who, according to neighbors, lived with Weston, co-defendant Gregory Thomas and the couple's four children in northeast Philadelphia from about 2003 to 2005. Neighbors called police and the city's child-protection agency after hearing the adults scream and curse at the youngsters, whom they said could be found outside at 6 a.m. and late at night. They also thought they heard them being beaten.
Nothing seemed to have been done, the neighbors said. After about two years, the family was forced out for unpaid rent, the neighbors said. The next tenant kept getting Social Security statements mailed to the house for Weston, Thomas, victim Tamara Breedon and others.
Police went to the address to check on a report of a missing person involving another victim, Herbert Knowles. The current resident said she didn't know anyone by that name. There is no indication there was any follow-up by police.
The defendants — Thomas, 47; co-defendant Eddie "the Reverend Ed" Wright, 50; and Weston's daughter, Jean McIntosh, 32 — are scheduled to have their first court hearing next week. Weston's lawyer has not returned calls for comment. It's unclear if the others have attorneys.
Weston, along with a sister, were convicted of murder in the early 1980s after locking the sister's boyfriend in a closet for weeks until he died of starvation.
Meanwhile, authorities in Virginia confirmed