Northeast Times

‘Dungeon’ hearing: 3 face trial, 1 doesn’t

Linda We­st­on and two co-de­fend­ants will be tried on charges re­lated to the base­ment-cap­tives case. But the judge dropped charges against a fourth.

The Ta­cony home where four men­tally ill in­di­vidu­als were held cap­tive.

A Phil­adelphia judge has dis­missed crim­in­al charges against a man ac­cused of help­ing to im­pris­on five men­tally chal­lenged adults in a Ta­cony apart­ment build­ing in Oc­to­ber to steal their So­cial Se­cur­ity checks.

But Mu­ni­cip­al Court Judge Patrick Dugan ordered three co-de­fend­ants in the case to stand tri­al for kid­nap­ping, as­sault, theft by de­cep­tion and re­lated of­fenses.

Dugan’s rul­ing fol­lowed a lengthy pre­lim­in­ary hear­ing on Monday and Tues­day dur­ing which one of the vic­tims, 31-year-old Ed­win San­ab­ria, re­coun­ted how lead de­fend­ant Linda Ann We­st­on and her co-de­fend­ants ma­nip­u­lated him, ab­used him and took his in­come over a 10-year span as they traveled from state to state with nu­mer­ous oth­er dis­abled people.

We­st­on, 51; her boy­friend Gregory Thomas, 47; her daugh­ter Jean McIn­tosh, 32; and Ed­die Wright, 50; led the vic­tims from Phil­adelphia to Texas, Vir­gin­ia and Flor­ida, then ul­ti­mately back to Phil­adelphia to keep the in­come-steal­ing scheme go­ing, ac­cord­ing to San­ab­ria.

Yet, San­ab­ria’s testi­mony at times also painted Wright as a vic­tim of We­st­on and her fam­ily, who some­times ordered the man they called “Pas­tor Ed­die” to live in the same squal­id con­di­tions as the cap­tives.

In dis­miss­ing the case against Wright, Dugan re­portedly said that he “can­not in good con­science hold Mis­ter Wright for tri­al.”

San­ab­ria told the court that Wright slept with four vic­tims in the dark, damp and soiled util­ity base­ment of an apart­ment build­ing at 4724 Long­shore Ave. for about 10 days after We­st­on and Thomas had led the group to Philly from West Palm Beach, Fla. De­scribed by po­lice as a “sub-base­ment,” the room ad­joins a lar­ger base­ment be­neath the sev­en-unit apart­ment build­ing.

McIn­tosh was rent­ing a second-floor apart­ment and, in co­oper­a­tion with the oth­er de­fend­ants, kept a fifth vic­tim cap­tive in her closet, au­thor­it­ies claim.

In the util­ity base­ment, We­st­on re­moved all the light bulbs from their fix­tures and wrapped a chain around the latch on an in­dus­tri­al-style door so that the vic­tims could not open it from the in­side, San­ab­ria said. She chained one male vic­tim to a boil­er pipe and sup­plied them with a single buck­et to use as a toi­let.

The room meas­ures about 14 feet by 8 feet and be­came known as “the hole” to San­ab­ria and the oth­er vic­tims.

The non-res­id­ent land­lord, Tur­gut Gozloveli, dis­covered the make­shift dun­geon on Oct. 15 when he went there to in­vest­ig­ate com­plaints of bark­ing dogs. He called po­lice, who found one wo­man and three men, along with a poodle-size dog named Joe, be­hind the chained door.

“The smell was un­bear­able. It smelled like death,” Of­ficer John Murphy, of the 15th dis­trict, test­i­fied. “It smelled like hu­man fe­ces, an­im­al fe­ces, body odor, all of that.”

In court, San­ab­ria fur­ther re­called how Wright was the only one of the base­ment oc­cu­pants al­lowed to go out­side in the day­time. We­st­on al­legedly used him as a driver and to man­age the oth­er vic­tims.

Wright would bring food to the cap­tives once or twice a day, San­ab­ria said. Meals usu­ally con­sisted of small por­tions of beans, rice, noodles or oat­meal.

The only time the cap­tives were per­mit­ted out­side “the hole” was when they bathed in the lar­ger ad­join­ing base­ment. Wright would dump the waste buck­et, which they used to hold bathwa­ter, San­ab­ria said.

San­ab­ria, whom Murphy de­scribed as the most com­mu­nic­at­ive of the vic­tims, of­ten stumbled when asked in court to re­con­struct de­tails of his dec­ade-long odys­sey with We­st­on.

“I don’t re­mem­ber everything be­cause we were mov­ing place to place,” he said.

He first met We­st­on in 2001 when one of the oth­er vic­tims in­tro­duced him to her. By that time, We­st­on had already served sev­er­al years in pris­on for an earli­er murder con­vic­tion in­volving the beat­ing death of her young­er sis­ter’s es­tranged boy­friend.

Un­der ques­tion­ing by As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Erin O’Bri­en, San­ab­ria said he moved in­to We­st­on’s North Philly res­id­ence on the very day that he met her be­cause he “had nowhere else to stay.” We­st­on soon had him sign his So­cial Se­cur­ity be­ne­fits in­to her con­trol. The checks amoun­ted to $674 a month.

Dur­ing the en­su­ing 10 years, San­ab­ria traveled with what he con­sidered his ad­op­ted “fam­ily” to Texas, Vir­gin­ia, Flor­ida and Phil­adelphia. The group stayed in apart­ments, houses and at least one trail­er, liv­ing in Texas for at least two sep­ar­ate stints and re­turn­ing to Phil­adelphia at least twice, San­ab­ria said.

In po­ten­tially con­tra­dict­ory testi­mony, San­ab­ria agreed that he vol­un­tar­ily joined We­st­on and the oth­ers each time they moved and that nobody “forced” him to go with them. Yet, he fur­ther ex­plained, if he ever wanted to exit the usu­ally crowded or con­fined spaces in which he was kept, he first would have to “ask per­mis­sion” from We­st­on.

He tried to es­cape from her once, but she found him and re­turned him to the group, he said.

While in West Palm Beach, Fla., San­ab­ria said, they lived for a while in a house they called “the little man­sion,” where We­st­on put him in a closet and nailed the door closed.

It was in that house that San­ab­ria says he saw We­st­on beat two fe­male vic­tims with sticks, bats and a chain, while he saw Wright beat the wo­men with his hands and an ex­ten­sion cord.

San­ab­ria fur­ther test­i­fied that be­fore mov­ing to Flor­ida, he stayed with We­st­on, Thomas, Wright and sev­er­al oth­er vic­tims in Killeen, Texas, where he was locked in the at­tic of a house with two wo­men, who also were men­tally dis­abled. One of the wo­men later died while in We­st­on’s care in Vir­gin­ia.

In an­oth­er beat­ing in­cid­ent, San­ab­ria said, We­st­on swung a met­al broom handle at one of the fe­male vic­tims, but he stepped between the wo­men and took the blow on his chest. He still has a large scar from the cut he re­ceived.

We­st­on, Thomas and Wright al­legedly drove San­ab­ria and four oth­er vic­tims to Phil­adelphia in early Oc­to­ber and im­me­di­ately went to the Long­shore Av­en­ue build­ing where McIn­tosh had earli­er moved. 

The only one of the vic­tims not forced in­to the base­ment was We­st­on’s own niece, Be­atrice We­st­on, au­thor­it­ies claim.

Dur­ing testi­mony on Tues­day, the 20-year-old We­st­on re­called how she was locked in McIn­tosh’s closet on Long­shore Av­en­ue and that her aunt had forced her in­to pros­ti­tu­tion. The eld­er We­st­on would bring men to her and force her to have sex with them. The eld­er We­st­on would col­lect the pay­ment.

Linda We­st­on has also been charged with pros­ti­tu­tion-re­lated of­fenses.

A tri­al date has not been set. All three re­main­ing de­fend­ants re­main in jail in lieu of bail. ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or wkenny@phillynews.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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