crimesider

Pa. Couple Allegedly Hid Their Five Children, Ages 2 to 13

Row house where Louann Bowers, 33, and Sinhue Johnson, 45, allegedly kept their five children hidden. (AP)
Pa. Couple Allegedly Hid Five Children From Society
Row house where Louann Bowers, 33, and Sinhue Johnson, 45, allegedly kept their five children hidden. (AP)

YORK, Pa. (CBS/AP) Police in the south-central Pennsylvania city of York are trying to figure out how and why the parents of five children - ranging in age from 2 to 13 - kept them hidden, without a shred of evidence that they even existed, while living for years in a dilapidated row house with no heat, running water or electricity.

Louann Bowers, 33, and Sinhue Johnson, 45, were charged with five felony counts of child endangerment after detective Dana Ward Jr. tracked down the secretive family at a hotel outside York using an anonymous tip that was reported to a child welfare agency.

Bowers ran away from "a very chaotic household" when she was 16 and "didn't want to be found," said attorney Ronald Gross.

York County Children and Youth Services initially became aware of the family through anonymous tips in 2003 and again in 2007, but police claim Johnson refused to cooperate with caseworkers.

The agency received another anonymous referral in 2009 from someone who claimed to be a member of the family and who had seen the children. Following that tip, the agency reportedly contacted Johnson again, but he still would not cooperate, according to court documents.

The latest incident led caseworkers to obtain a court order that granted them authority to enter the squalid residence where the family supposedly lived, but by the time they arrived the family was gone.

According to Ward, the children, three girls and two boys, were found hiding in a hotel bathroom. They appeared unkempt and left with the investigators without uttering a word.

"They did say that they were not permitted to talk about the family or the living conditions," Ward said of the children. The lack of cooperation from the children and both Bowers and Johnson has stifled the investigation.

"There are still a lot of unanswered questions from our end," said Ward, "because no one will talk to us."

Ward said it seemed that all seven family members lived in a single room on the second floor of the family's row house, but neighbors say they never saw them - not even once.

Years of living undetected with no schooling, no immunizations or evidence of medical care has adversely affected the siblings who are now living in foster homes, according to Ward.

"Some of the children suffer health and vision issues, Ward wrote in an affidavit. "None of the children are at their expected education levels, and there are possible mental health issues."

Bowers' attorney claimed the children were home-schooled, but the detective said he could not find any evidence to support that. Parents of home-schooled children are required by law to register with the district in which they live, provide evidence of immunizations and follow approved curricula.

Since their discovery, the children have been vaccinated and the older ones were enrolled in school.

Bowers and Johnson are scheduled to appear in court Friday. They are both being held in York County Prison.