A Municipal Court judge has issued a far-reaching gag order in the Tacony “House of Horrors” case as authorities continue to investigate the possibility that additional victims may have suffered while in the care of lead defendant Linda Weston.
On Nov. 2, Judge Marsha Neifield ordered prosecution and defense attorneys, along with the five named victims and potential child witnesses, not to speak publicly about the case outside of court.
Such orders typically are rare in criminal proceedings and pertain only to the attorneys in selected high-profile cases. However, the House of Horrors case has been the subject of intense and ethically questionable news media coverage since Philadelphia police announced the Oct. 15 arrests of Weston and co-defendants Gregory Thomas and Eddie Wright.
Weston, 51, and Thomas, 47, both of the 2500 block of N. 29th St., are girlfriend and boyfriend, while Wright, 50, home address unknown, was a traveling companion of the couple, police said.
Weston’s daughter, Jean McIntosh, 32, of the 4700 block of Longshore Ave., was arrested on Oct. 19.
All four defendants are accused of imprisoning four mentally challenged adults in the basement of the apartment building where McIntosh lived so that the defendants could collect the victims’ Social Security and disability benefits. Weston is also charged with kidnapping and abusing her teenage niece.
The four adult victims were undernourished and forced to live in squalor, police said. They were locked inside a small, damp and dirty utility cellar with a few pads for beddings and a bucket for a toilet.
After police discovered and rescued the victims, they were taken to a private facility specializing in assessment and care for the mentally disabled. One television news crew controversially accessed the facility, interviewed victims and broadcast the footage, although police had earlier said that the victims have the mental capacity of young children.
Later, when another television news crew learned that Northeast Detectives were interviewing a 15-year-old girl who had been reported missing from Florida in connection with the case, the broadcasters camped outside the police facility with a camera. When the underage girl emerged from the building escorted by officers, the news reporters filmed her face and later broadcast the footage while identifying her by name.
The girl has not been linked with any criminal wrongdoing and is believed to have been a runaway.
Then on Oct. 27, Philly.com reported that a news broadcaster from a third Philadelphia television station was under investigation by police for obtaining documents from the crime scene that may have been or may become evidence in the criminal case.
The reporter had obtained employee badges identifying McIntosh as a care aid at two assisted-living facilities. After broadcasting an initial segment on that possible direct link between McIntosh’s possible additional victims, the television station claimed in a subsequent report that it had been given the badges by the apartment building landlord after police had left the scene with bags of other evidence.
According to Philly.com, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has asked for a grand jury investigation of the issue.
All four defendants remain in jail in lieu of bail and are scheduled for a Dec. 19 preliminary hearing.
Meanwhile, all indications are that the investigation into Weston and her co-defendants continues to be an elaborate, multi-state undertaking. On Nov. 3, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that authorities are taking closer looks at multiple deaths of people that are believed to have been close to Weston.
In 2005, a 59-year-old woman reportedly died in a Northeast Philadelphia home while in Weston’s care. In 2008, a former Philadelphia woman, 39, died while in Weston’s care in Norfolk, Va.
Authorities in both cases initially ruled the deaths resulted from natural causes. On Nov. 4, a Virginia television station, WTKR-TV, reported that Norfolk police had re-examined the 2008 case and found no criminal connection to Weston.
Weston is a convicted murderer. In 1984, she beat, starved and imprisoned the father of her pregnant sister’s baby for months before he died. Weston dumped his body in an abandoned house in North Philadelphia. She was sentenced to eight years in prison and served about two. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or email@example.com