WASHINGTON PARK, Ill. – A teenager held captive in a house for more than three years before escaping with a relative's help initially went there voluntarily but wasn't allowed to leave when she wanted to go home, an Illinois police chief said Friday.
Washington Park Police Chief David Clark said the 19-year-old St. Louis woman bolted from the home Monday and told investigators her time in captivity included almost daily beatings and sexual assaults. One of those attacks resulted in a now-2-year-old boy rescued when a police SWAT team raided the home Thursday and arrested a 25-year-old man and his mother, Clark said.
The police chief said the three days between the teen's report and the raid on the home was largely spent substantiating her story. Clark also said investigators were working a separate sexual-assault case and lacked the manpower to go any faster.
No charges have been filed in the case. Clark wouldn't publicly identify the suspect, his mother or the teenager, citing the ongoing investigation.
He said investigators planned to have the child's DNA tested to determine whether the man is his father.
St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly, the county's top prosecutor, told The Associated Press on Friday that conditions in the home were "definitely deplorable."
Initial evidence suggests that "some of the details are consistent with what the young lady is saying, and I think there's something to it." he said. "We're still trying to figure out what the heck is going on."
Clark said the teenager met the man socially "through someone else when they were partying, and a relationship built," eventually leading to her visit of his home about the time she was reported missing.
"When she (soon) decided to go back to her parents, he wouldn't allow it," Clark said.
He said the man's mother helped detain the young woman and helped falsify medical records when she bore her son in the first year of her captivity. The teen told investigators the man and his mother coerced her into using a false name when giving birth to conceal that she was under-aged, Clark said.
The young woman has told police she repeatedly tried to escape the house, which is on Washington Park's busiest street and next door to a convenience store, just a half mile from a freeway. But her captor chased her down each time and forced her back to the home at gunpoint, Clark said.
Washington Park is a village of 4,200 people tucked on the edge of East St. Louis in one of Illinois' poorest regions. Known for its strip clubs and poverty, the community has grappled for years with corruption and violent crime punctuated by the 2010 shooting death of the village's mayor, John Thornton.
The village twice has filed for bankruptcy since 2004, the last time in 2009.
Neighbors told The Associated Press they had little reason to suspect anything amiss at the one-story bungalow on a parcel cluttered with trash, including a stack of six mildewing mattresses on a concrete slab surrounded by tall weeds. A child's car seat, baby stroller and car tires were nearby.
A neighbor, Lakeitha Smith, opened her front door a crack and told the AP that during the few times she saw the young woman outside, the teenager didn't appear bruised or traumatized. Smith said the man would step away from the home at times with the toddler, who "looked like a healthy baby," and often came to Smith's house, where he played with her 3-year-old son.
"They was like normal people," Smith said. "I really didn't know what was going on over there. I never knew it was something like that."