The ringleader of a group that imprisoned six disabled adults and four children over the course of 10 years was sentenced to life in prison and an additional 80 years on Thursday after pleading guilty in September to 196 criminal counts, including hate crimes, kidnapping, sex trafficking, theft, forced human labor, and multiple counts of murder.
The plea deal drew one of the more bizarre and horrific kidnapping cases in recent memory—one that came to be known as the "Tacony Dungeon" case—closer to a conclusion. With the plea Linda Weston escaped the death penalty. Two other accomplices are still awaiting trial and two others also pleaded guilty.
Weston's group's captives were kept for years in a Philadelphia sub-basement and in other attics, basements, and closet “dungeons.” Weston was the only member of the group charged in the 2005 murder of 59-year-old Donna Spadea and the 2008 murder of 39-year-old Maxine Lee.
From the Philadelphia Daily News:
Lee died of starvation. Spadea died of multiple drug toxicity, Assistant U.S. Attorney Faithe Taylor said, noting that Weston put antidepressant pills in her victims' food to control them.
The group’s victims were confined, sedated with drugs in their food and drink, isolated, held in the dark, and beaten if they tried to escape or protest their treatment. “Weston and others punished them by slapping, punching, kicking, stabbing, burning and hitting them with closed hands, belts, sticks, bats, and hammers or other objects, including the butt of a pistol,” the state’s attorneys office said in a statement.
The group targeted mentally challenged individuals who were estranged from their families as part of a scheme to steal their Social Security benefits.
The Washington Post offered more horrific details from the plea deal:
Sometimes, victims were forced to live in attics naked. Mentally disabled adults were fed a diet of Ramen noodles, beans or stew just once a day. Several victims said they were forced to drink their own urine and eat human waste. Some were encouraged to have children in order to collect more benefits.
Also frightening is that after Weston was released from prison for a similar crime in 1987 she was given custody of some of her would-be victims.
In 2011, when the latest dungeon ring was uncovered, the Daily News reported that she had previously been convicted of locking her sister’s boyfriend in a closet and starving him to death. When she got out, she was granted custody of her children and her niece Beatrice, who would be “locked in a closet and burned and beaten so savagely that police were amazed she survived.”
At the time of the discovery of the latest crimes, Weston’s siblings expressed astonishment that the city’s Department of Human Services had placed the kids in her care after her 1987 parole.
"DHS gave those kids back to a sleeping monster," her brother Troy Weston told the Daily News in 2011. "After that murder, they should have kept her longer. They should have put her in a program, in some kind of psychiatric home, put her away for awhile. ... If she's capable of doing something like that once, she's capable of doing it again. They should have known."
He also accused Linda Weston of forcing his sisters into prostituting themselves when they were between 13 and 17, forcing family members and siblings to have sex with each other, forcing him to watch as a child, putting him in an oven after he refused to watch once when he was 8, and drugging him when he was a small boy.