Charges filed in Houston garage-turned-prison case

Posted at 12:15 PM, Jul 20, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-20 14:15:46-04

By Joshua Rubin and Ed Lavandera


HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) — The grandson of the owner of a house in Houston where four malnourished men were found Friday has been charged with two felony counts in the case, police said Saturday.

Walter Renard Jones, 31, was charged with injury to the elderly by act and injury to the elderly by omission, Houston police spokeswoman Jodi Silva told CNN.

Jones is the grandson of Essie Mae Scranton, who owns the modest single-story home on Whitecastle Lane, police said.

The men told police they had been held captive in the garage, according to the spokeswoman.

Police were investigating whether the men had been forced to hand over their government aid, including disability, Social Security and veterans’ checks.

Three of the four men — ages 80, 74, 65 and 50 — were found in the garage and taken to an area hospital where they were in stable condition on Saturday; the fourth man, who was found inside the house, was taken to the police station to make a statement, she said.

Authorities said at least some of the men were believed to have been homeless. “What the men initially told us was they were lured there with the promise of cigarettes and food,” Silva said.

But once inside the tan brick house with purple trim, they were not allowed to leave, she said. “They were apparently given scraps to eat,” Silva said. “Very little food was being provided to them.”

The men told the officers that they had been held for varying lengths of time. One man said it felt like 10 years, but Silva said, “Whether it goes into years or not is unknown.”

The case came to light after a caller to 911 told police on Friday morning that three or four people were being held there against their will.

Soon after, officers entered by breaking through burglar bars on the front door, Silva said.

Inside, police said they saw trash strewn about and found a garage that had been turned into a prison — with no beds, no chairs and no bathroom.

Investigators were also looking into whether four women found at the home were captives, she said.

Police said three of them were suffering from physical disabilities and mental illness; the fourth was a caregiver.

The women were living in the house, not in the converted garage, Silva said.

Alberta Ewing said she was visiting her brother when she saw police swarm the house next door.

Minutes later, she saw three men, whom she described as skinny, sickly and in need of medical care, leaving the building.

“What I saw this morning, oh my God,” she said. “No one walked out. They all came out on a stretcher.”

CNN’s Tom Watkins and Michael Martinez contributed to this report

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