Five members of a Louisiana family are charged with conspiring to hold a 22-year-old relative with autism hostage for months — locking her in an outdoor cage and inflicting humiliations such as forcing her to cut the grass with scissors, clean a floor spill with her tongue and eat her mother’s cremated remains from a bowl, PEOPLE confirms.
The accused also allegedly advertised the victim for sex and on several occasions ordered her to strip and make advances to men who came to the family’s mobile home in Amite, including a cable repairman and a family friend invited for a barbecue, according to a federal indictment which was made public on Thursday and obtained by PEOPLE.
The victim’s exact relationship to the accused is not detailed in the court documents.
The six-count federal human trafficking and hate crime indictment alleges that Raylaine Knope, 42; her husband, Terry J. Knope II, 45; her 23-year-old son, Jody Lambert; and Terry’s 20-year-old daughter, Taylor Knope, conspired to obtain forced labor and used force and threats of force to interfere with the victim’s housing rights due to her disability, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana said in a statement.
Raylaine and Terry are also charged with attempted sex trafficking of the victim.
In addition, Terry is charged with a hate crime, for allegedly shooting the victim with a BB gun, and a charge of theft of government funds, after allegedly stealing the victim’s disability benefits.
Raylaine’s daughter Bridget Lambert, 21, was charged separately in the alleged forced labor conspiracy.
All are being held in Tangipahoa Parish jails, a spokesman for the county’s corrections office confirms. It could not be determined if any of the five have yet entered a plea to the federal allegations.
A call by PEOPLE to Claude Kelly, the chief federal public defender for the Eastern District of Louisiana, was not immediately returned on Monday.
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The federal charges come on the heels of related accusations filed against the five individuals in Tangipahoa Parish, according to Autumn Payton, a spokeswoman for the local district attorney’s office.
Each of the suspects has pleaded not guilty to those allegations, which include kidnapping, human trafficking, cruelty to the infirmed and contributing to the delinquency of minors, Payton tells PEOPLE.
A call to Chief Public Defender Reginald McIntyre in the parish public defender’s office, whose attorneys are representing the family members in the local case, was not immediately returned.
A trial for the five suspecdts on the local charges is due to start Aug. 13.
Indictment Describes Pattern of Abuse
According to the federal charges revealed last week, the victim — identified as “an adult relative” of Raylaine Knope — lived with the victim’s mother and the accused individuals together at the mother’s home in Kentwood in August 2015.
After the mother died on Aug. 12, 2015, of that year, the victim and the defendants relocated to the property in Amite.
On Aug. 13, 2015, Terry Knope applied to become the payee for the victim’s federal disability benefits, which totaled $8,796 from that date through June 30, 2016, according to the federal indictment. On that June 30, Tangipahoa Parish sheriff’s officials carried out a search warrant at the property after receiving complaints about a woman locked in a cage, the Times-Picayune reports.
At that point the victim was taken from the home and placed in the care of the state health department.
Later investigation revealed the horrific conditions under which the woman was allegedly made to live and work, including “physical violence, threats of physical violence, psychological and verbal abuse, abuse of legal process, and psychological manipulation to obtain uncompensated labor and services,” the federal indictment states.
The indictment alleges the victim was required to do housework and yard work “in exchange for food and water,” including an occasion where Terry “forced [her] to clean up a spill on the kitchen floor using [her] tongue” and another where he “forced [her] to clean out the mobile home’s septic system without any gloves, tools, or protective clothing.”
Throughout the period when the victim lived on the property, if she did not complete the work quickly or to Raylaine’s liking, Raylaine allegedly denied her food, according to the charges.
Prosecutors said in the indictment that the victim initially slept inside on a floor mattress before Raylaine ordered her to sleep in a backyard tent, whose zipper allegedly was locked each night by Taylor and others “so that [she] could not escape.”
The charges in the indictment detail that, after the victim did attempt escape, Raylaine allegedly “threatened to kill [her] if [she] ever tried to escape again.”
The tent then was moved into an outdoor shed that was secured with a padlock, the indictment states. In the spring of 2016, under Raylaine’s direction, Terry and Jody Lambert, Raylaine’s son, along with others, built a cage out of chicken wire and then used a plastic tarp and tree branches to hide it.
A bucket inside the cage, which was padlocked each night and unlocked each morning, served as the victim’s toilet, according to the indictment.
“On one occasion, Jody Lambert held a handgun to [the victim’s] head and threatened to shoot [her] if [she] did not obey his orders,” the indictment states.
Alleged assaults on the victim by the defendants included fractured bones when Terry struck the victim’s hand with a hammer; burns from a lighter; strikes with a wooden paddle, a shower rod, and another to the head with a metal padlock; punches to her head and face; and holding her head under water as she struggled to breathe, according to the charges.
In addition, Terry allegedly fired a BB gun toward the victim at close range, causing the BB pellets to lodge under the victim’s skin.
Each of the defendants allegedly routinely called the victim “stupid” and “retarded,” and on at least one occasion Raylaine reportedly said, “This retarded girl will do anything you say.”
According to the indictment: “On one occasion Raylaine Knope ordered [the victim] to open an urn containing [the victim’s] deceased mother’s ashes, pour the ashes into a bowl, and eat the ashes with a spoon, as Raylaine Knope, Terry Knope, Jody Lambert and Taylor Knope stood nearby, watching and laughing.”
To further exert control, according to the indictment, Raylaine and Terry forced the victim to consume methamphetamine and prescription painkillers, “and then threaten[ed] to turn [her] in to the police for using drugs if [she] did not obey the defendants’ orders.”
“I’m so disgusted,” Rocky Stewart, a neighbor who lives next door to the family’s property, told the Times-Picayune after the family members were arrested in July 2016. “It’s just horrible. I hate to say they are my relatives.”
He said the suspects are his first and second cousins, although he said he did not know the victim.
“It’s a miracle she’s alive,” he said. “God must have had his hand over her.”