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New details emerge in case of people held captive in Philadelphia

From Ross Levitt, Susan Candiotti, Sarah Hoye and Mike M. Ahlers, CNN
updated 8:39 AM EDT, Sat October 22, 2011
Linda Ann Weston, 51, was convicted more than 10 years ago on a murder charge in Philadelphia.
Linda Ann Weston, 51, was convicted more than 10 years ago on a murder charge in Philadelphia.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alleged ringleader in case was convicted of starving to death her sister's boyfriend in 1981
  • The man weighed 75 pounds at the time of his death, newly obtained documents show
  • Linda Ann Weston was also investigated in 2009 for claiming benefits for her dead roommate
  • Police in Virginia say they are now re-examining the circumstances of the roommate's death

Philadelphia (CNN) -- Court documents obtained by CNN on Friday reveal disturbing new details about the prior conviction of the alleged ringleader of a group charged this week with imprisoning four mentally disabled adults in a dank Philadelphia boiler room.

Linda Ann Weston, 51, served eight years in prison for killing her sister's boyfriend, Bernardo Ramos, in the early 1980s, according to Philadelphia police. The newly obtained documents show Ramos, held captive in a closet, weighed 75 pounds at the time of his death by starvation in December 1981. The medical examiner at the time determined the cause of death "due to the clear visibility of his protruding ribs, sunken cheeks and emaciated body," according to the documents.

Weston, along with three others, is currently facing charges including criminal conspiracy, aggravated assault, kidnapping, criminal trespass, unlawful restraint and false imprisonment after the landlord of an apartment building discovered Saturday four malnourished people locked in a 15-by-6-foot room with no food and only a bucket for a toilet, according to Philadelphia police.

Testimony in the Ramos case showed the man was fed only four times while held in the closet for about two months, and was removed from the tiny space only "six or seven times" during his captivity.

"When he finally died of malnutrition, the sisters wheeled him in a baby carriage to an abandoned building where he was discovered two days later," one of the documents states. It was not immediately clear which sisters the documents referred to.

CNN gets access to captives' 'dungeon'
Disabled adults held captive speak out
4 disabled adults locked in basement

The court documents show Weston was initially found incompetent to stand trial. Two years later, after being hospitalized, she was certified by the court and found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and criminal conspiracy, according to Philadelphia police and court documents. The court found she "was legally sane" at the time she held Ramos captive and "had the full intent to conspire" with her siblings when she directed them to dispose of the body.

The current investigation into Weston and her alleged co-conspirators has taken several bizarre twists as authorities try to piece together the evidence in the case, which has spread to at least two other states after detectives discovered that one of the accused had traveled across state lines with the people found in the boiler room.

Police said Wednesday that Weston, 47-year-old Gregory Thomas, 49-year-old Eddie Wright and 32-year-old Jean McIntosh, Weston's daughter, may have been holding seven other people, including Weston's 19-year-old niece, who showed signs of torture and abuse.

Authorities are also looking into whether some of the victims' Social Security checks had been stolen. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey told CNN on Monday that Weston had IDs for about 50 people in her possession: "Social Security information, power of attorney information, those kinds of things."

The case continued to develop Friday when CNN uncovered new information that shows the Philadelphia case was not the first time Weston has drawn scrutiny for possible Social Security fraud.

The Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General confirmed to CNN that it investigated Weston in 2009 for continuing to collect benefits for her roommate, Maxine Lee, after she died of acute meningitis.

When the administration finally cut off benefits, Weston appeared at a Philadelphia office seeking to have the benefits reinstated, the Office of Inspector General said in a statement to CNN.

The money -- totaling less then $3,000 -- was repaid to the Social Security Administration, the inspector general said.

Police say the victims were locked in this dank sub-basement chamber that reeked of urine and excrement.
Police say the victims were locked in this dank sub-basement chamber that reeked of urine and excrement.

The acknowledgment by the inspector general's office has raised questions about why the Social Security Administration allowed Weston, a convicted murderer, to serve as a "representative payee" for a Social Security recipient. Under Social Security Administration policy, certain individuals convicted of criminal offenses are prohibited from serving as representative payees.

The Social Security Administration has begun reviewing its handling of Weston. After initially asking for questions for comment in writing from CNN, a spokeswoman for the administration declined to provide details of the Weston case, including whether Weston was the representative payee for any of the people found in captivity in Philadelphia.

"We are very concerned about this situation. As this is an ongoing investigation, we can't provide you any details at this time," spokeswoman Kia Green said.

Meanwhile, police in Norfolk, Virginia, are taking a fresh look at Lee's death in light of the Philadelphia case.

According to police, Weston, who was caring for Lee, reported her death on November 13, 2008. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be acute bacterial meningitis. The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy said a contributing factor in Lee's death was "cachexia of unknown origin," or malnutrition. The manner of death is listed as "natural causes."

Norfolk police spokesman Chris Amos said investigators have not yet decided to formally reopen the Lee case.

The physician who conducted Lee's autopsy has reviewed the autopsy report and "hasn't come to any other conclusions" about the cause of death, said Glenn McBride, spokesman for the Tidewater office of the Virginia Medical Examiner's Office. "We're waiting to hear from the police if anything needs to be done by our department."

At the time of Lee's death, police say they did not know that Weston had served time for murder. The department did not conduct a murder investigation because the death was ruled natural, Amos said.

Sarah Hoye reported from Philadelphia. Susan Candiotti and Ross Levitt reported from New York. Mike M. Ahlers reported from Washington.

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