Four men found living in “deplorable conditions” in a Houston garage said they were being held captive after being lured by promises of alcohol and cigarettes so that their captor could cash their public-assistance checks, authorities said.
Three of the men, aged between 50 and 80, were reportedly discovered in a malnourished state and taken to a hospital after being found by officers responding to an emergency phone call about the home, Houston police spokeswoman Jodi Silva said. One member of the police force described the squalid living conditions as like a “dungeon.”
Investigators said the men could have been living there for weeks.
Mr Silva said the men told police they were forced to live in the garage, comprised of one chair, no bed and a possibly malfunctioning air conditioner, so the person detaining them could cash their assistance checks.
“They clearly stated to us they were being kept against their will,” Mr Silva added.
Silva said one person, who did not live at the property has been detained, but no charges have been filed. Four women were also found living in the house, three of whom appeared to have mental disabilities, Silva said. She described the other woman as a caretaker. Unlike the garage, she described the living conditions inside the home as more normal.
Police Sgt. Murdock said the men lived in “deplorable conditions.”
Alberta Ewing, whose brother lived in a property next to house, said the men appeared “very weak” and were carried out on stretchers by paramedics. She said that one of them had approached her asking for help just weeks earlier while she was cooking outside, but that she didn't take him seriously because he wasn't crying and she couldn't get him to explain further.
“He said, 'Could you help me?”' Ewing recalled. “I said, 'What's the problem?”
Neighbours said they occasionally saw the men sitting outside. Police are now investigating whether four other women found at the property were also being held captive. The women were described as mentally challenged.
Additional reporting by AP