5 charged with keeping autistic relative in cage, forcing her to eat dead mom’s ashes

Five Louisiana residents were indicted Thursday in federal court on charges they held a 22-year-old relative with autism captive in a cage and subjected her to horrific abuse -- including forcing her to eat her dead mother's ashes.

Amite residents Raylaine Knope, 42, Terry J. Knope II, 45, Jody Lambert, 23, and Taylor Knope, 20, are each charged with conspiring to obtain the forced labor of the victim, identified in court records only as D.P., the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana announced Thursday. They are also each charged with one count of forced labor and one count of using force and threats of force to interfere with the victim's federal Fair Housing Act rights, which she has because of her disability.

Lambert is Raylaine Knope’s son and Taylor Knope is Terry Knope’s daughter, court records show.

Credit: Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office

Credit: Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office

According to the U.S. attorney's office, Raylaine and Terry Knope are also charged with one count of attempted sex trafficking of the victim. Terry Knope is charged with a hate crime for allegedly shooting D.P. with a BB gun because of her disability, as well as one count of theft of government funds for stealing the victim's federal disability benefits.

The fifth defendant, Bridget Lambert, 21, is charged with conspiring to obtain the forced labor of D.P., the U.S. attorney's office announcement said. Bridget Lambert, who is Raylaine Knope's daughter, lived periodically with the family, NOLA.com reported.

The federal indictment against the defendants lays out the horrific nature of the charges against them. The court document alleges that D.P. and the defendants were living with D.P.’s mother in Kentwood until Aug. 12, 2015, when D.P.’s mother died.

The next day, the defendants took D.P. and moved to a mobile home in Amite. That same day, Terry Knope applied to and became the payee for D.P.’s Social Security benefits, which she had received since 1997 due to her disabilities.

Between Aug. 13, 2015, and June 30, 2016, Terry Knope received $8,796 in benefits on D.P.’s behalf, the indictment says.

In that same time frame, the Knopes and Jody Lambert conspired to force D.P. to work around the house through threats, physical restraint and abuse, the document says.

“As the conspiracy progressed, during the spring of 2016 and up until June 30, 2016, the defendants physically restrained D.P. by locking her in a backyard cage to maintain control over her and to prevent her from escaping,” the indictment reads.

Read the entire indictment against the defendants at the bottom of the story. 

Much of the abuse against the victim appears to have been directed by Raylaine Knope. According to the indictment, the abuse they are accused of subjecting D.P. to includes:

  • Forcing D.P. to complete housework and yardwork in exchange for food and water.
  • Moving D.P. from a mattress on the floor of the home to a tent in the backyard.
  • Obtaining a lock and using it to lock the tent's zippers shut at night. When D.P. escaped from the tent one night and tried to flee the property, Raylaine Knope threatened to kill her if she tried it again.
  • Following D.P.'s escape attempt, moving the tent to a shed that could be locked with a padlock. Jody Lambert locked D.P. inside the shed each night.
  • Building a cage in the backyard for D.P. at Raylaine Knope's direction. The cage was designed like an animal pen, constructed of chicken wire and a plastic tarp as a roof.
  • Cutting tree branches and using them to hide the cage from sight.
  • Forcing D.P. to sleep in a tent inside the cage at night, and forcing her to use a bucket as a toilet. She was let out during the day to do housework and yardwork for the defendants.
  • Forcing D.P. to do that housework in a demeaning fashion, including forcing her to clean up a spill on the kitchen floor using her tongue.
  • Forcing D.P. to clean the mobile home with a toothbrush and cut the grass outside with a pair of scissors.
  • Forcing the victim to clean the home's septic system without gloves, tools or protective clothing.
  • Denying D.P. food if her work was not up to Raylaine Knope's standards. When she was fed, the food was of lesser quality than the food the defendants ate.
  • Physically assaulting D.P. on multiple occasions, including one incident in which Terry Knope smashed her hand with a hammer, breaking bones. Terry Knope also shot D.P. with a BB gun at close range. BBs were later found lodged under D.P.'s skin.
  • Burning D.P. with a lighter while someone held her down.
  • Subjecting the victim to other physical abuse, including beatings with their fists, a wooden paddle, a metal padlock and a shower rod. Jody Lambert once held a gun to D.P.'s head and threatened to shoot her and Terry and Taylor Knope held her head underwater in the bathtub and a hot tub, despite D.P.'s known fear of water.
  • Forcing D.P. to open the urn holding her mother's ashes, pour the ashes into a cereal bowl and eat the ashes with a spoon. The Knopes and Jody Lambert watched and laughed.
  • Ordering D.P. to remove her clothes and make sexual advances to men who came to the mobile home, including a visitor who came to cut the grass, a cable repairman and a family friend who attended a barbecue at the home.
  • Forcing D.P. to use methamphetamine and prescription painkillers, then threatening to turn her over to the police for drug use if she did not do what they said.
  • Keeping D.P.'s Social Security benefits for themselves so she could not leave and taking her identification, cellphone and laptop so she could not escape or call police.

D.P.'s living conditions and abuse were uncovered June 30, 2016, after the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office received calls about a woman being kept in a cage. The defendants were arrested that day, NOLA.com reported.

Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards struggled to contain his emotions during a news conference a few weeks later.

"The lesson here is there are some sick individuals in this world, and there are some sick individuals in Tangipahoa Parish," Edwards said. "This is not a good day for Tangipahoa Parish."

The victim was placed in the care of the Louisiana Health Department, NOLA.com reported at the time.

Four children under the age of 7 were also removed from the home and put in the state’s care.

The forced labor, forced labor conspiracy and Fair Housing Act charges against the Knopes and Jody Lambert carrying sentences of life in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Terry Knope faces another 10 years on the hate crime charge and the theft of government funds charge.

Bridget Lambert faces five years in prison.

About the Author