Dances with Chickens
Tethering a loved one in a field with the domestic animals may seem a bit extreme, but some stout rope, a few lengths of chain and a really good padlock can be the solution to all manner of problems. MIKE DASH reports on folk who take the concept of family ties just a little too literally
Constantina, Eleni and Stamatina Maltesou were a trio of old maids who lived together in the Greek village of Kypselli Methanon. The sisters were in their late sixties and life and love, it seemed, had passed them by. Until the day that Constantina was swept off her feet by the village’s geriatric Romeo, Christos Ladros.
To Eleni’s and Stamatina’s fury, their sister agreed to marry 85-year-old Ladros – and to make matters worse, the touching tale of star-crossed stairlift love made national headlines when the unlikely couple plighted their troth in the summer of 1970. Now a minor celebrity, Constantina hurried off to make a new life for herself, leaving her jealous sisters feeling slighted and abandoned in their remote farmhouse.
None of which boded well for Constantina when her marriage broke down three years later and she fled back to the bosom of her family. Far from welcoming her home, Eleni and Stamatina refused to let their sister into the house. Instead, 72-year-old Constantina was locked in a barn with the family sheep. She spent the next eight years imprisoned there, naked, with her woolly chums while her gaolers kept nosy neighbours away by hurling stones at callers.
Far from being unique, Constantina’s torment is typical of the fate hundreds of people all over the world still suffer at the hands of their nearest and dearest. There are plenty of isolated communities where the local social services’ writ doesn’t run and the neighbours can be relied on to keep their mouths shut because there’s tacit agreement that retarded children and problem teens are best locked up somewhere out of sight and out of mind. And there’s no shortage of incurious inner city neighbourhoods where people can disappear and no-one bothers much about those scuffling sounds coming from the basement.
No-one stepped in to stop another Greek, Christomos Voyatzis, from keeping his 86-year-old mother locked in a hen house to stop her arguing with his wife. And neighbours didn’t seem to notice when Marcello Montesi, of Ancona in Italy got tired of his old mistress and bricked her up in a garage, feeding her nothing but corned beef for 10 months, so he could keep her in reserve.
Admittedly this sort of thing is rare in the UK. But it does happen. Eighteen months ago the death of Karen Morgan – a 29-year-old sufferer from obsessive-compulsive disorder who had voluntarily incarcerated herself in her bedroom for the previous 14 years – focused national attention on the bizarre goings-on in the Morgan’s ordinary suburban house in Erith, Kent.
Although Karen had seen no-one but her mother since 1982, she contrived to rule the lives of the rest of her family by sheer force of will – plus the pages and pages of closely-written instructions she shoved under her door every morning. Her mother Josie was forced to complete lengthy rituals involving repeatedly washing herself before delivering Karen’s food, and her awed brother Russell also became a recluse, emerging from his bedroom only at night. When Karen died, of bronchial pneumonia and a malignant brain tumour, her brother and parents made failed attempts to commit suicide.
In a world where even Patrick Henry, the All-American hero best remembered for saying “Give me liberty or give me death”, could keep his wife locked in a cellar for the last 20 years of her life just because she hated his guts, we have to ask: What price liberty, anyway?
DON’T TRY THE PIG’S HEAD STEW
Pedro da Silva was champion wood-cutter in the Brazilian town of Dom Basilio – until the day he chowed down on a dodgy pig’s head stew. The toxins in his dinner turned him into an aggressive menace who beat up friends and tried to kill his own father.
Da Silva’s behaviour continued to deteriorate – “He threw rocks, chewed twigs and ran wild in the forest like a savage animal,” his sister recalled– and in 1938 his embarrassed relatives decided to lock him away from the other townsfolk. Pedro’s sisters bundled him into the family pigsty and chained him to the wall. He spent the next 43 years covered in pigshit, surviving on swill.
By the time the authorities finally realised what was going on and raided the da Silva place, in 1981, Pedro was an emaciated wreck. He was scarcely able to stand, his skin was yellow with malnutrition, and he had lost the power of speech. One way and another, pigs had ruined his life.
It was only the death of her husband Arnold that brought Edith De Loughrey’s sorry plight to the attention of the social services. 77-year-old Edith suffered from such acute agoraphobia that she had refused to set foot outside her house in Widnes, Cheshire, for more than three decades. While Arnold brought home the bacon by working as a night porter at a local hotel, Edith slowly unravelled. She wore the same tattered 1940s dress every day for years, grew eight-inch fingernails and refused to cut her hair for decades. Because she couldn’t take the rubbish out, the house gradually filled with stinking garbage.
When Arnold failed to show up for work one night in January 1981, his boss phoned the police. Firemen broke into the house and discovered him lying dead of a heart attack. Edith was gibbering in a weird ‘nest’ of rubbish and rotting old newspapers she had stacked to within two feet of the kitchen ceiling. She growled and clawed at her rescuers until they injected her with a sedative and carted her off for a nice warm bath.
That just left the question of how Arnold had kept himself immaculately turned out while living for decades in an unsanitary hovel. The mystery was solved when the police opened the door to the garden shed and discovered neat racks of suits and shirts, all scrupulously cleaned and pressed.
CAGE OF TORMENT
It took a curious visitor to the Gomez family’s hovel in Huasteca, Mexico, to alert the authorities to the plight of little Lourdes Gomez. At the time of her discovery, in December 1997, four year old Lourdes had spent two years hanging over a pigsty in a makeshift bamboo cage measuring just 3ft square by 1ft deep.
When the police cut Lourdes down, she was covered in her own excrement and suffering from acute malnutrition caused by a diet consisting solely of scraps meant for the animals. Her tiny cage was far too small to allow her to stand or lie flat, so she had developed severe breathing disorders and injuries to her hips from sitting in one cramped position day after day. Hardly surprisingly, the child could neither walk nor talk.
Lourdes’s parents, Juan and Maria Gomez, showed a lack of remorse typical in such cases. They explained their daughter had ‘bothered’ them after falling ill, as well as ‘disgusting’ her mother by cramming dirt from the kitchen floor into her mouth when she was one year old. ‘We treat our other children well – it was just this one who was hard to control,’ Maria complained. ‘It was how we protected her.’
As usual, the neighbours had long known all about the caged toddler. ‘They didn’t set out to be cruel to their little girl – they’re just ignorant,’ one confided. ‘Anyway, they moved the cage to the shady side of the hut in summer, and in winter they left her over the pig pen for warmth.’
IT’S MY PIT AND I’LL GRUNT IF I WANT TO
Charity workers visiting a disabled woman in La Coruna, Spain, were alarmed when they heard load grunts and frenzied scraping noises coming from the back of her rundown cottage. Lifting a wooden board on the floor of the laundry room, they found a six foot deep hole in the ground – and in it a quivering 44-year-old woman who lay cowering from the light and caked in her own excrement.
The prisoner turned out to be Dolores Vina Cotelo, nicknamed Lola, who had been held captive by her mother, sister and brother-in-law since she was four years old. In their defence, Lola’s relatives insisted she had crawled into the hole ‘voluntarily’ in 1957 and refused to emerge. She had certainly been well fed – her staple diet for the four decades was a tin of sardines a day, supplemented by some bread, meat and eggs.
After 40 years in the pit, Lola had all but lost the use of her limbs and gone almost totally blind. Amazingly, the local social services said they had been aware of her living conditions for the past 25 years and recommended she be returned to live with her family.
Carmela Borchetti, 16, complained of a headache in 1989 – and spent the next six and a half years locked in her pitch-black bedroom for her pain.
Instead of prescribing Aspirin, her uncle, a fortune teller, decided she must be possessed by evil spirits and that the only way of exorcising them was for her to spend seven years in a state of total sensory deprivation.
Borchetti had been incarcerated for six and a half years by the time someone tipped off a social worker. Remarkably, Carmela – now 22 and hardly able to stand – emerged from her room just long enough to tell the authorities she wanted to complete the remainder of her treatment. ‘I must lie here for six more months and then I can live again,’ she said.
Ernestine Kieserling devised the perfect cure for her adopted daughter Maria, who was mentally handicapped and suffering a growth problem caused by her premature birth. The retired religious studies teacher from Austria commissioned a carpenter to make a lockable coffin-sized box for her daughter, complete with air holes so she could breathe. Then she locked Maria, 17, inside every night for five years, releasing her each morning to beat her, seal her mouth with tape or lock her in a shed.
Acting on an anonymous tip-off, the police raided the Kieserling home in June 1996 and found the box soaked in urine and full of bloodstained old newspapers.
Mrs K. got five years for cruelty and went down still protesting she had been acting the best interests of her daughter. ‘It was to make her grow,’ she said. ‘You won’t believe it, but she grew 14cm in there.’
There’s a long tradition of locking people up for what seem to outsiders like slight reasons. Here are the top of the locks:
|How long?||Prisoner||Where||When||Gaoler||Incarceration||The reason why|
|(Up to) two weeks||Ray Dean Hall||Kansas City||1961||Parents||Chained to his bed||To keep him out of mischief while the parents were both at work.|
|(Up to) a few months||64 Pakistani schoolboys||Multan , Pakistan||1996||Teachers||Chained up in the school||When their teachers denounced them for their degenerate habit of watching satellite TV, the boys' parents asked for them to be chained or hog-tied to stop them running away from school.|
|1 year||Five year old boy||Bellingham, Washington State||1995-1996||Two women||Tied to a chair in a motel bedroom||The women decided the brat was 'cannibalistic' after he bit one of them.|
|2 years||Unnamed boy||Boksburg, South Africa||1988-1990||Parents||A kennel||His parents discovered he was less trouble locked up with the family dog. When released, the boy could only bark and whimper.|
|2 years||Three British children||UK||1978-1981||Mother||Locked in the house||The mother had convinced herself the kids would get hurt in a road accident if she let them out.|
|(Up to) 3 years||Angela de Falco||Naples||1978-1980||Parents||Chained to her bed||To keep her quiet.|
|3 years||Cannuci Family||Sicily||1978-1981||Father||Locked in a steel-barred cell with only a Bible to read||Because religious fanatic Umberto Cannuci heard voices in his head which told him he should imprison his wife and teenage daughters to keep them from 'the world's corruption'. He did let them out for an hour a day, taking them to a sealed courtyard and forcing them to exercise at knifepoint.|
|6 years||Maria Jose Roudaut||Nantes, France||1964-1970||Parents||Chained to the floor in a garden shed||Stealing pop records: "So we shut her up for her own good."|
|7 years||Fernando Mendes||Casal Brancas, Portugal||1973-1980||Parents||Tied to a tree||Violent outbursts: "If I had not tied him up he would have simply run away," his mother said.|
|Nearly 8 years||Vivelinda Rodrigues and her daughters Ana and Rosa||Alhos Vedros, near Lisbon, Portugal||1973-1981||Lover, Antonio Verissimo||Farm shed||To keep his affair and illegitimate daughters secret|
|10 years||News Horufu||A village 70 miles from Salisbury, Zimbabwe||1971-1981||Fellow villagers||Chained naked to a tree, outdoors||Because he was said to be possessed by an evil spirit. Cured after 10 years by Mrs Jelly Chari, a witch doctor.|
|(Up to) 11 years||Oscar De Vito||Girifalco, Italy||1977-1988||Parents||In a cage||'To stop him hurting himself' while both parents went to work.|
|13 years||Mariano Jose da Silva||Brazil||1983-1996||Wife||Da Silva's wife and her lover chained him to the wall in a windowless room when he caught them in bed together.||Finally released by a posse of cousins from Brasilia, Mariano admitted: 'At first I cried a lot, but then I got used to it.' Mrs da Silva had fed her husband through a hatch, and threw the odd bucket of cold water over him to keep him clean.|
|14 years||Gerald Chandler||Tenessee||1965-1979||His mother||In a large cage on the front porch, from the age of 30||"Because he's simple and to protect him from the outside world"|
|14 years||Hanan Jaafreh||Jabal Mukabar, near Jerusalem||1980-1996||Parents and sister||Tethered with the sheep in the front garden, and sometimes in a home-made cage||Because she was mentally handicapped. By the time she was released, the Bedouin girl could baa like a sheep but did not speak.|
|18 years||Maria Canales||Choloma, Honduras||1978-1996||Mother||Locked in a darkened room||None. Canales was totally deprived of human contact from age 15, being fed through a small hole, and had gone completely mad by the time she was freed.|
|Up to 19 years||Un-named sisters, aged 12 and 19||Bayreuth, West Germany||1958-1977||Mother||Locked in the house from birth||'To stop them catching diseases'.|
|(Up to) 20 years||Kolak Family||Melbourne, Australia||1960-1980||Father||House protected by 13ft wire fence and searchlights, sirens and electronic eyes||Miroslav Kolak, a Yugoslav religious fanatic, thought he was protecting his eight kids from the evils of the world. Neighbours were unaware the children existed until 21-year-old Alexander managed to escape in November 1980 and alerted the police.|
|20 years||Verna Adams||Denver||1922-1942||Mother||Chained to a bed||'Because she was unbalanced'. After her release a doctor discovered she was, in fact, sane.|
|27 years||Eleni Karioti||Kostalexi, central Greece||1951-1978||Elder brother and sisters||6' x 8' cellar||She wanted to marry a war-time resistance hero although her elder sisters, Olympia and Maria, couldn't find husbands.|
|37 years||Giovanna Lucia Tiana||Bultei, Sardinia||1940-1977||Brothers and sisters||Pitch black cellar||They thought she was possessed by the devil|
|50 years||Erwin Moll||West Seneca, Buffalo, New York||1929-1979||Parents, then sister, Agnes||He had been locked up as long as she could remember "cause he's simple-minded," according to his sister|
|60 years||Carmine Ferretti||Atri, Italy||1916-1976||Parents, then brothers after their death, from the age of 7 onwards||Pigsty||Struck dumb and partially paralysed by meningitis|
First published in Bizarre 8 (1998)