HARRISBURG, Pa. – Five children and two disabled women were locked in a basement cell, fed meager food and rarely allowed to bathe, by a couple facing criminal charges over their care, authorities said.
The couple were paid $9,000 a month to care for the seven.
The unlit 4-foot-by-5-foot cinderblock cell was called the "toy room," according to a police affidavit.
One of two 14-year-old boys spent more than 20 hours a day there, sleeping on a concrete floor with only a blanket, authorities said. Others were sometimes locked into the cell as punishment, police said.
The five boys, two of whom have disabilities, were adopted by James and Stephanie Dickinson starting in 1998. All seven were removed from the Dickinsons' home last October while police investigated.
Dickinson, 61, and his 57-year-old wife were charged Tuesday with false imprisonment, recklessly endangering others and endangering children's welfare. Stephanie Dickinson also was charged with witness intimidation.
Police described three of the children and both adults as having "mental/physical" disabilities. The boys ranged in age from 6 to 15. The women are in their 50s and were placed with the Dickinsons in 1992 and 1995.
Breakfast for the seven consisted of peanut butter sandwiches and dinner was a crock pot meal prepared by Stephanie Dickinson, including a dish known as "doggie dew stew," police said.
Only two of the victims were allowed to shower about once every week or two. The others would wash or be washed in the basement sink. Two older boys took care of everyone when they were not in school, according to police. During the day, one of the women was in charge.
The seven victims had unsupervised access to prescription medications and rat poison, and one of the older children was forced to empty the basement's portable toilet daily by hauling a bucket upstairs, according to the affidavit.
The Dickinsons' house rules kept the seven from the basement refrigerator without permission, required them to drink water from the sink, limited radio and television to Christian stations, banned going outside without permission and punished noisemaking with spankings using a spatula or wooden paddle, police said. In general, they were not allowed upstairs.
During a supervised visit the Dickinsons were allowed after the five boys were placed in foster care, Stephanie Dickinson allegedly told the 15-year-old boy that "he needed to make things right, that if the family got broken, it would be his fault and he would have to deal with the weight of that on his shoulders."
The Dickinsons remained in custody Wednesday in lieu of $500,000 bail each. A court spokeswoman said they were not represented by lawyers.