Judge: Zip those lips in Tacony dungeon case

Gag or­der against pro­sec­utors, de­fense at­tor­neys shuts flow of in­form­a­tion about cap­tives held in a base­ment.

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 wkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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