PORTAGE, Wis. – Small-time scam artists on a cross-country crime spree. Lesbian love affairs. Torture and murder.
Police, court documents, family members and others tell a story of a group of twenty-somethings and their children who spent the last two years crisscrossing the country, writing bad checks and stealing identities before allegedly graduating to murder.
It sounds like some sick horror movie, but it was all too real in Portage, where police finally caught up with the band of drifters accused of killing one of their own and torturing the dead woman's son nearly to death.
Prosecutors say Michael Sisk, 25; his girlfriend, Candace Clark, 23; Felicia Mae Garlin, 15; and Michaela Clerc, 20, all had a hand in the death of Felicia Garlin's mother, 36-year-old Tammie Garlin, whose body police discovered in a shallow grave behind the group's rental house in Portage, a town of 8,000 about 40 miles north of Madison.
All four also are charged with torturing Tammie Garlin's 11-year-old son, whipping him, scalding him with hot water and locking him naked in a closet.
The boy's sister, Felicia Garlin, and mother, Tammie Garlin, took part in the torture before the group turned on Tammie Garlin, burning her and forcing her into the closet with her son, according to the criminal complaint filed Wednesday.
Clark told police Tammie Garlin died June 4 and the group, including Garlin's daughter, buried her. A medical examiner said she apparently was strangled.
Clark faces 23 warrants in Henderson, Ky., said Sgt. John Nevels of that city's police department.
Nevels said Clark lived with a woman named Ruth Porter in 2004 after Clark got out of jail that year. She was in for identity theft and forgery, jail officials said.
Clark stole a check book from her and wrote 22 forged checks, he said. Clark also stole a gun and a computer, which police recovered at a pawn shop, Nevels said.
Sisk was living with his grandmother, Bennie Jean Loveless, outside Henderson.
He met Clark on the Internet, Nevels said, and it appears they fled Kentucky in 2005, he said.
They went to Colorado together, where they ran scams, including stealing cars and identity theft, said Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger.
Josh Guajardo said he rented a house to Sisk and Clark in Grand Junction, Colo., in August 2005. That October the couple threatened to call the health department if he didn't let them out of the lease, he said.
After they left, Guajardo found they'd built an altar inside the house with a sign that said something about a witch, a candle, and a prayer on the wall behind it.
"I didn't care, I wanted them out. I would have paid them to leave," Guajardo said.
Sisk pleaded guilty last year to stealing a car and possessing a stolen credit card in Colorado. A judge gave him probation and work-release privileges in jail, but Sisk never returned to jail from his job and is still wanted in Colorado, Hautzinger said.
Clark also is wanted in Colorado for failing to appear in court last October for allegedly writing bad checks and stealing a car, Hautzinger said.
Meanwhile, in Florida, Clerc and Tammie Garlin were in a lesbian affair, authorities said. They split up last year, Portage Police Detective Lt. Mark Hahn said.
Clerc met Candace Clark online and fell in love with her, even though Clark stole Clerc's personal information and money from her bank account, said Cynthia Martell, Clerc's mother and foster mother of Clark's 2-year-old daughter.
"(Clark) turns (her victims) over to her way of life, and then she dominates them," Martell told the Portage Daily Register.
Hahn said Tammie Garlin and her children returned to the home she had shared with Clerc, with Clark now in the mix.
They traveled to Colorado to help Sisk, Hahn said, while Martell had custody of Clark's children.
In September 2006 Clark persuaded Martell to hand over the 2-year-old girl, according to a sheriff's report from Lake County, Fla.
They traveled to Maine, and eventually Wisconsin.
Police learned they were in Wisconsin in March after Clark filed income taxes under Porter's name and had the return sent to a hotel in Wisconsin Dells, Nevels said. They'd already moved on when police got to the hotel, Nevels said.
Detectives said they rented the home in Portage in February. That's where police acting on a tip from Florida on the abducted 2-year-old found them last week.
Milwaukee FBI spokesman Doug Porrini said his agency plans to review whether it should get involved.
Tammie Garlin's sister, Lisa Aliva of Savannah, Tenn., said she and her sister were born in Tennessee but grew up in Florida. She said her sister was a good mother and Felicia Garlin and her brother always seemed to get along. But she hadn't seen her sister for over a year.
"She was a good mom. If she ever gets anything, she would give it ..." she said, breaking up. "I still can't believe she's gone."
The Associated Press called lawyers for the four defendants seeking comment. David Geier, Clark's lawyer, said he was not yet familiar enough with the case to comment. The other three did not return messages.