Four elderly men were held captive for possibly as long as a decade in a Texas home where they were forced to hand over their benefit checks, US police said yesterday.
Three of the men were so badly malnourished that they were taken to hospital. Authorities are still trying to determine whether three mentally challenged women - who lived in much better conditions in the home - were also coerced.
One man, who did not live in the Houston home, has been taken into custody for questioning but has not yet been charged.
The men were living in a converted garage where they were forced to sleep on a linoleum floor and had no access to a bathroom, Houston police spokesman Kese Smith told AFP.
"They were enticed to that location with the promise of beer and cigarettes and not allowed to leave and forced to turn over checks," Smith said.
While the men tried to keep their home tidy, the conditions were nonetheless deplorable, he added. The only furniture was a single chair.
One of the men told police he'd been there for 10 years, though Smith cautioned they have not yet been able to verify the allegation. The others had been there for a shorter period.
Police have determined that the three men taken to hospital are 80, 74, and somewhere in his 50s.
The men were freed after police got a call about several people being held against their will.
The fourth, who was in better shape and is 65 years old, sat calmly on the stoop of the brick bungalow with purple trim as news crews gathered nearby.
He told KTRX news that he had been staying there for about six months and had no desire to leave despite the poor conditions.
"I lived inside the house, not in that room," Steven Davis, a Vietnam War veteran, told the station.
Neighbour Robert Paris told the Houston Chronicle that he hadn't noticed any elderly men coming and going in the three months he'd lived across the street.
"It's pretty weird," he told the paper. "It's really bad news."
Adult protective services are interviewing the mentally challenged women to determine how they ended up in the house and under what conditions, Smith said.
Police had initially believed that a fourth woman living in the house was also mentally challenged but they later determined that she was a caregiver.