CHICAGO, Jun 19 – A mentally disabled woman and her daughter were forced to live in an Ohio basement with snakes and pitbulls and were treated like slaves for more than two years, US prosecutors said.
The case came to light after the woman was caught stealing a candy bar and told police she’d rather go to jail than go home because her roommates “were mean to her.”
Three of her tormentors were arrested on human trafficking charges after a lengthy investigation.
“We are yet again reminded that modern-day slavery exists all around us,” said Steven Dettelbach, US Attorney for the northern district of Ohio.
“The victims in this case endured violence, threats, sub-human living conditions and other horrific acts.”
The charges come a month after three young women who had been held captive for a decade were discovered in a house in Cleveland, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of the small town of Ashland where the disabled woman was allegedly enslaved.
The woman, who was not named, was made to stay with repeated threats that her daughter — who is now five or six — would be harmed or taken away from her if she didn’t do as she was told, prosecutors said.
The woman and her daughter were initially forced to sleep on a cement floor in a locked basement room that also housed a roaming iguana.
They were repeatedly beaten, threatened with the pit bulls and the snakes and watched with a baby monitor to make sure the woman wouldn’t untie her daughter’s bound hands or sneak some food or water to the girl.
On at least three occasions the woman was badly injured so that she could get prescription pain killers for her roommates: Jordie Callahan, 26 and Jessica Hunt, 31.
They also shaved her head into a mohawk and wrote “slut,” “whore” and other derogatory words on her face and chest with a permanent marker at one point, charging papers said.
The girl was often kept bound and locked in a room and wouldn’t be let out to use the bathroom until her mother was finished with housework.
The lengthy list of chores included taking care of a menagerie that included a poisonous coral snake, a ball python and a Burmese python that weighed 130 pounds.
The mother was also forced to hand over her government benefit cards and was rarely given any of the money, prosecutors said.
The roommates withheld food from their captives as another means of intimidation, giving them only canned goods or what was left over after Callahan, Hunt and Hunt’s four children finished eating.
She told police she would regularly have to wait until 8 pm until she was permitted to give her daughter anything to eat.
When she complained that her child hadn’t eaten all day Callahan got a plate of food and gave it to a dog out of spite, prosecutors said.
The woman was given fruit and vegetables to feed the iguana but told her child couldn’t eat any of the fresh food in the house.
A number of witnesses — including one currently in jail — corroborated the disabled woman’s story, charging papers showed.
One witness described seeing Callahan drag the woman down the stairs by her hair and hold her face down in a mess made by one of the dogs.
Another witness told investigators that when she asked why the woman and her daughter were always in a stifling hot room Hunt told her “because they’re gross.”
“The streets are a lot safer with these folks locked up,” Ashland Police Chief David Marcelli said in a statement.
Also charged in the case was Daniel Brown, 33, who allegedly participated in the abuse and retrieved the woman after she escaped to her mother’s house by saying he was taking her out for ice cream.