PHILADELPHIA - Ten young people are in protective custody in Philadelphia after police linked them to the earlier discovery of four mentally disabled and malnourished adults found locked in a basement.
Authorities are looking into the relationships between the youths, the victims and three defendants charged in the case.
Linda Ann Weston is accused of preying on the four adults and locking them in a basement crawlspace in northeast Philadelphia. A landlord found them Saturday, weak and malnourished.
The juveniles, who range in age from 2 to 19 years old, were taken into custody Tuesday. They are receiving medical evaluations.reports.
(At left, watch a KYW-TV report)
Two of the children could belong to one of the adult victims, Tamara Breeden, KYW-TV reports.
"That's a possibility," said Philadelphia police Capt. Jack McGinnis. "We have had some information through some interviews that two of them may be. I don't want to say they are until we found out."
Police spokesman Lt. Raymond Evers says the 19-year-old is Weston's niece.
"She appears to be severely malnourished and looks like she's probably been beaten over a large portion of her life," McGinnis said.
Authorities suspect Weston and two others were keeping the four mentally disabled adults in squalor while wresting control of their Social Security checks.
Police say evidence uncovered in the case so far suggests the alleged theft scheme involved more than just the four captives.
Weston was convicted of murder when in 1983 her 13-year-old brother testified that she had beaten another sister's boyfriend with a broomstick and locked him in a closet. The man died of starvation weeks later.
It's not clear from court records how much time Weston spent in prison.
One victim said he met Weston through an online dating service.
"That was real dirty of (her). That was wrong," Derwin McLemire told KYW-TV on Monday. "I escaped one time to one of the house that we used to live in, of hers, and I didn't get away so they got me."
He and two others told the station they had been on the move for about a year with their alleged captors, traveling from Texas to Florida to Philadelphia.
"They moved them around," Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said Monday after examining the boiler room-turned-dungeon inside a small apartment house. "Whenever it looked like people knew what was going on, they moved."
The landlord found the victims Saturday morning after he heard dogs barking in the area. He found the door to the foul-smelling room chained shut. Inside, Turgut Gozleveli lifted a pile of blankets to find several sets of human eyes staring back at him. One man was chained to the boiler.
Philadelphia police soon arrested Weston at her daughter's apartment upstairs, along with two other men.
Detectives also found dozens of ID cards, power-of-attorney forms and other documents in the apartment, suggesting the alleged theft scheme involved more than just the four captives.
"Without a doubt. This is just the beginning of this investigation," Evers said Monday. "She's been out of jail for a period of time, and we think she's being doing this for quite some time."
Exactly how long, how much money the scheme brought in, precisely how the disabled were deceived, and how many people in all were victimized are still unclear, investigators said. The FBI has joined the investigation.
Weston was charged with kidnapping, false imprisonment and other offenses, with bail set at $2.5 million.
Also charged were Gregory Thomas, 47, whom Weston described as her boyfriend, and Eddie "the Rev. Ed" Wright, 50.
"Talk about preying on the weak and weary," Evers said. "You can't get any lower than this person."
The three remained jailed Tuesday and couldn't be reached for comment. A lawyer for Weston didn't return telephone calls seeking comment.
The victims, a woman and three men, were found in a crawlspace that reeked of urine and was too shallow for an adult to stand up. There were mattresses and blankets, but the only food found was a container of orange juice. The adults shared their space with three dogs.
Gozleveli called police, suspecting they were squatters, then watched as officers and ambulance workers helped them up the steps to the street in a working-class section of the city's Tacony neighborhood.
The victims, ages 29 to 41, had the mental capacity of 10-year-olds, along with some physical disabilities, authorities said. One could barely see.
Neighbors said the defendants and their alleged captives had arrived in an SUV from West Palm Beach, Fla., about two weeks ago, though it does not appear the victims spent the entire time in the basement.