Five members of an Amite family were accused in federal court of kidnapping and holding a 22-year-old autistic relative captive for roughly 10 months, padlocked in a shed and then in a makeshift backyard cage, and subjecting her to a range of humiliations and abuse that included shooting her with a BB gun, covering her with the contents of the family’s septic tank and forcing her to eat her recently deceased mother’s cremated remains from a cereal bowl.
The family, often at the direction of 42-year-old matriarch Raylaine Knope, also withheld the victim’s Social Security benefits and forced her to perform housework and yard work with no compensation and, often, in a demeaning manner. They also ordered her to make sexual advances to several men in a sex-trafficking scheme, the indictment alleges.
Along with Raylaine Knope, the six-count indictment charges her husband, 45-year-old Terry J. Knope II, and their children, 23-year-old Jody Lambert and 20-year-old Taylor Knope, in the “forced labor” conspiracy. Lambert is Raylaine Knope’s son and Taylor Knope is Terry Knope II’s daughter. Court documents did not specify how the victim is related to her alleged tormenters.
The horrific abuse began in August 2015, roughly a day after the Aug. 12, 2015 death of the victim’s mother, according to court records.
In August 2015, the four accused abusers, along with their 22-year-old victim, moved from the Kentwood home shared with the victim’s late mother to a mobile home in the 57500 block of Rushing Lane. The abuse continued through June 2016, according to the federal accusations.
A fifth family member, Raylaine Knope’s daughter, 21-year-old Bridget Lambert, was also charged separately in a bill of information dated Monday. Bridget Lambert, who is accused of participating in the forced-labor conspiracy, periodically lived with the family on Rushing Lane.
To ensure the woman did not escape, the five family members regularly threatened her with violence and death, reinforcing their threats with beatings and other abuse, like holding a gun to her head, holding her hand to a flame and holding her underwater in a hot tub as she struggled to come up for air.
If she reported her abusers to law enforcement, they would kill her, they said, court records allege.
The family also ensured the victim had no resources for escape. Terry Knope kept the victim’s Social Security payments, which totaled nearly $8,800 for the roughly 11-month period, while Raylaine Knope confiscated the victim’s state-issued ID, cell phone, and laptop.
In addition, they forced the victim to take methamphetamines and prescription painkillers, telling her they would report her to the police for drug use if she failed to obey their orders.
The indictment depicts Raylaine Knope as a ringleader of the abuse, ordering the other family members to denigrate and physically assault the victim and keep her locked in a tent, then a shed, then a chicken-wire cage in the backyard.
It was Raylaine Knope who forced the victim to pour her mother’s ashes from an urn into a cereal bowl with milk and then eat the mixture with a spoon. As the victim followed commands, Raylaine Knope, Terry Knope, Jody Lambert and Taylor Knope stood nearby, “watching and laughing,” court records allege.
The victim “vomited onto the table several minutes after consuming the ashes.”
The indictment charges Raylaine Knope, Terry Knope II, Jody Lambert and Taylor Knope with conspiring to obtain forced labor, forced labor and using force and threats of force to interfere with the victim’s federal Fair Housing Act rights.
Raylaine Knope and Terry Knope II are also accused of attempted sex trafficking.
Terry J. Knope II is additionally accused of committing a hate crime, with prosecutors alleging he shot the victim with a BB gun while calling her a “retard” who “doesn’t deserve to live.”
He is also charged with theft of government funds in connection to the stolen Social Security benefits.
Bridget Lambert, 21, was charged separately in a bill of information, which accuses her of one count of conspiring to obtain forced labor.
The five family members were arrested by the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office during a June 30, 2016 search of the Rushing Lane property, prompted by calls about a caged woman.
In the days following the arrests, Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards released disturbing details about the alleged abuse suffered by the woman at the hands of her captors.
The cage, which had no electricity or running water, contained a mattress, some personal belongings and a five-gallon bucket used as a toilet, Edwards said. The woman was made to perform sexual acts on others, and the suspects were moving to force her into prostitution, a plan evident on social media, he said.
But Thursday’s federal indictment contains a much more detailed outline of grotesque alleged crimes. The indictment lists 35 “overt acts” that formed part of the family’s conspiracy to have their captive do housework and yard work in exchange for food and water and to perform sexual acts. Many of the listed items reportedly occurred at the direction of Raylaine Knope, court records show.
The abuse began after the family moved into the mobile home on Rushing Lane. Though the victim was initially allowed to sleep on a mattress on the floor, she was “soon thereafter” forced to spend her nights locked into a tent in the backyard.
When the victim tried to escape, Raylaine Knope threatened to kill her–and then the family moved the victim’s tent into a padlocked shed. In the spring of 2016, at Raylaine Knope’s instruction, the family built the chicken-wire cage, covered with a tarp and hidden beneath branches.
Each morning, the victim was let out of the cage to do work, often “in a demeaning fashion,” court documents accuse. For example, Terry Knope once ordered the woman to use her tongue to clean a spill on the kitchen floor, court records show.
If Raylaine Knope was not satisfied with the victim’s work, she denied the victim food, according to the indictment.
The group “routinely” assaulted the woman, the indictment alleges. Along with shooting the victim with a BB gun, Terry Knope smashed her hand with a hammer, fracturing bones, and burned her hand with a cigarette lighter, according to federal accusations. As he burned the victim, Bridget Lambert held the victim’s arm in place, according to court documents.
Various family members punched the 22-year-old woman in the face and head and struck her with a wooden board, a shower rod, a metal padlock. One of her head wounds was glued shut.
She was regularly called “stupid,” among other insults, and threatened. Jody Lambert once held a gun to the victim’s head and threatened to pull the trigger if she did not obey his orders, according to the indictment.
Another time, Terry Knope and Jody Lambert threw a bucket of human waste onto the victim, the indictment alleges. The victim, “who was covered from head to toe with the urine and feces,” began screaming while Jody Lambert laughed.
In a July 2016 news conference, Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards said he’s read about such cases in other parts of the country but had never seen first-hand anything like this in his career.
“A real tragedy was going on right here,” he said.
The case, investigated by the FBI’s New Orleans Field Division, is being prosecuted by attorneys with the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Evans, based in New Orleans.
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