Family Found In "Virtual Prison" Of Filth

Raymond Daniel Thurmond, 36, is shown in a photo released Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008, by the Lavonia, Ga., Police Department. Thurmond was charged Tuesday, Aug. 12 with holding his wife and four children captive in squalor for three years inside their mobile home. Thurmond was charged with rape, child abuse and false imprisonment, said Bruce Carlisle, chief of police in Lavonia. (AP Photo/via Lavonia Police Department)
AP/Lavonia Police Department
When police finally searched the squat white mobile home where they say a man held his family captive for three years, the place was so filthy and bug-infested that one officer had to wear a gas mask and another refused to enter.

Thousands of roaches and other bugs crawled in and out of drawers, cupboards and furniture. Spoiled food littered the place, and a long-ignored plumbing problem left the floors rotten and mattresses moldy.

Investigators allege it was in this three-bedroom trailer in northeastern Georgia where Raymond Daniel Thurmond forced his wife and four children to live, allowing them to leave only once in three years. Even then, it was only fleeting: A two-hour Easter visit to his wife's parents' place in North Carolina.

"It was pretty much a virtual prison," Lavonia Police Lt. Missy Collins said Wednesday. "He controlled what they ate, what they did. He controlled pretty much everything."

Thurmond now awaits a bond hearing on charges of rape, child abuse and false imprisonment. He has asked for an attorney but one hadn't been assigned as of Wednesday afternoon. Franklin County jail officials turned down a request by The Associated Press to interview Thurmond.

The family moved to the mobile home park in August 2005, their place blending in among row after row of white trailers. He took a job at a nearby poultry plant. Neighbors described him as polite and quiet, although the park manager said the family was almost evicted because of late rent.

He had no police record, and at one point enrolled his eldest child in first grade.

Behind closed doors, however, police say Thurmond ruled the family with an iron fist. Sometimes, he'd fly into a rage and hit his children - ages 14, 13, 12 and 9 - with a steel-toed boot, Collins said. Other times, the children told Collins they would hear their father attacking and raping their mother in a bedroom.

"I asked, 'Did you go to help?' And they looked at me like it was the strangest question. Dad pretty much did whatever he wanted to do," Collins said.

People in this town of 2,200 about 90 miles from Atlanta are left wondering why it took so long to discover the dire situation - and why Thurmond's wife and children didn't leave sooner.

Lavonia Police Chief Bruce Carlisle said his officers found evidence that Thurmond may have locked the bedroom doors while he was at work each day, but he suggested Thurmond's wife may also have suffered from "battered wife's syndrome."

"The victims of this type of abuse, they're made to believe they're not worthy of anything, that this is what they deserve," he said. "It's amazing. They were not allowed outside. They were simply not allowed to go near the door. It all goes back to the control thing."

Police are awaiting the results of psychological tests to decide whether to charge Thurmond's wife, but Collins said she seemed to have slowly fallen under her husband's control.

She described her marriage as wonderful at first, but she steadily lost control, Collins said.

"I think it's just hitting her what she is going through," she said.

Thurmond's wife finally came forward after he told her he was leaving her for another woman and that he'd return every few days with food, Collins said.

The children, who are underweight and malnourished, are in government custody, and investigators describe them as shy, but not completely socially undeveloped. They didn't attend school except for the oldest for a short time.

Residents of the 100-unit park gathered at the Thurmond home after learning of the shocking news.

"We had no clue," said Sonya Savage, who has lived there for a year. "I never even knew he had kids in there."

The stench still lingered among the moldy mattresses inside.

"He was very respectable, very kind and very serious," said Alma Medina, the park's property manager, who lived three homes down. "You'd never imagine he would live like this."