Philly basement victims open up about captivity

Philadelphia police Sgt. Joseph Green stands in the dank basement room in Philadelphia where four weak and malnourished mentally disabled adults, including one chained to the boiler, were found locked inside Oct. 17, 2011.
AP Photo

PHILADELPHIA - After being rescued from a Northeast Philadelphia basement, Derwin McLemire said he was held captive for so long that he forgot what day it was.

"I got a birthday coming up Friday, and I didn't even know it was coming up," McLemire told CBS News station KYW-TV in Philadelphia. "I'll be 42 years old."

McLemire, of Florida -- along with Herbert Knowles, 40 of Virginia; and two Philadelphia residents, 29-year-old Tamara Breeden and 31-year-old Edwin Sanabria -- were found in the basement Monday after being held there for at least two weeks.

Police suspect Linda Ann Weston, 51, and two other suspects were keeping them in squalor while taking their Social Security checks. One victim said he met Weston through an online dating service.

(At left, watch a KYW-TV report)

"That was real dirty of (her). That was wrong," McLemire told KYW-TV on Monday. "I escaped one time to one of the houses 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."

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Breeden showed KYW-TV the injuries from the beating she said she and the three other mentally disabled adults endured inside a dark subbasement.

The victims say life has been tough with Weston. McLemire said that while in another state, one of Weston's pit bulls bit him in the ear.

"She wouldn't let me go to the hospital," McLemire told KYW-TV. "She wouldn't let me go to the doctor. She wouldn't let me do nothing."

Breeden has been reunited with some of her relatives. The four victims are now at a personal care facility contracted by the state.

The facility said they will now be able to have proper meals and proper medical care.

"I want to stay here for good," Breeden told KYW-TV.

Weston was charged Monday with kidnapping, false imprisonment and other offenses, with bail set at $2.5 million after her landlord stumbled upon the four adults, all weak and malnourished, in a dank, foul-smelling boiler room on Saturday.

Also charged were Eddie "the Rev. Ed" Wright, 50, whom Weston described as her boyfriend, and Gregory Thomas, 47.

Detectives 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. Philadelphia police are forming a task force to look into the case and trying to find as many as 50 more possible victims, based on the number of documents found, said Officer Jillian Russell, a department spokeswoman.

Weston has a criminal record. In 1983, a 13-year-old Philadelphia boy testified that Weston, his older sister, had beaten another sister's boyfriend with a broomstick and imprisoned him in a closet in 1981 after the man said he would not support the sister's unborn child. The man died of starvation weeks later.

After initially being ruled incompetent to stand trial, Weston began serving time in state prison on a third-degree murder charge on June 7, 1985. She was paroled on Jan. 15, 1987, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

She's now behind bars in another heinous scheme that echoes the earlier case.

Landlord Turgut Gozleveli discovered the victims Saturday morning after he heard dogs barking in the area. The door to the basement room was chained shut, but Gozleveli managed to get inside, lifting a pile of blankets to find several sets of eyes staring back at him. One man was chained to the boiler.

The crawlspace reeked of urine and was too shallow for an adult to stand up. There were mattresses, blankets, buckets for using the bathroom and 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 had the mental capacity of 10-year-olds, along with some physical disabilities, authorities said. One could barely see.

Philadelphia police soon arrested Weston at her daughter's apartment upstairs, along with the two other men.

"Without a doubt. This is just the beginning of this investigation," Lt. Ray 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.

"Talk about preying on the weak and weary," Evers said.