AFTER LINDA ANN Weston got paroled from prison, where she served about four years for locking her sister's boyfriend in a closet and starving him to death, the just-freed convicted murderer marched into Family Court.
She wanted her kids back.
And the court gave them to her.
"We were all in the [DHS] system," Weston's son Joseph McIntosh, now 29, told the Daily News yesterday. "She went through the system to get all her kids back."
The city Department of Human Services had placed Joseph and at least three siblings - Jane, James and Raymond - with relatives. A Family Court judge returned custody to Weston because the relatives had abused the four kids, between ages 4 and 7, Joseph McIntosh said.
A few years later, Weston was back in Family Court, fighting for custody of her niece Beatrice Weston. Again a judge said yes, according to McIntosh and other relatives.
Under Weston's care, Beatrice was locked in a closet and burned and beaten so savagely that police were amazed she survived, authorities said.
Weston's siblings were baffled at how DHS could entrust her with children, given her violent past.
"DHS gave those kids back to a sleeping monster," Troy Weston, Weston's 35-year-old brother, told the Daily News yesterday. "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."
Weston has at least eight children, three of whom are juveniles. Relatives told the People's Paper that DHS had some contact with all eight children. DHS spokeswoman Alicia Taylor would not confirm nor deny any open or closed cases yesterday.
Earlier this week, police discovered Beatrice in a Frankford home and rushed her to a hospital; police also freed four mentally disabled adults from a fetid, sub-basement dungeon in a Tacony apartment building on Saturday. Prosecutors charged Weston, 51, and three others - Weston's boyfriend, Gregory Thomas, 47, Eddie Wright, 50, and Weston's daughter Jane McIntosh, 32 - with aggravated assault, kidnapping, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment and related offenses in an alleged scheme to steal the four victims' Social Security disability benefits.
Now child-welfare advocates and police investigators are trying to sort out how Weston won back custody of her children after her 1987 parole and how she gained custody of Beatrice in the mid-1990s.
"The question is, 'What did the court know back then?' " asked Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, a Center City organization. "That's what we are all going to find out real quick."
Did Family Court know, for instance, that one of Weston's younger siblings, Alexander Weston, then 13, testified - during a 1983 preliminary hearing in the Bernardo Ramos murder case - that he was afraid of Weston and that she often hit him with a broom? And that a sister of Weston's testified that Weston had struck her with an electrical cord? Or that an attorney for another sister, Venus Weston, told the criminal court that the family had a long history of incest?
Weston's mother died when she was a teen, her siblings said. The family became splintered, yet Weston tried to take charge of her 12 siblings.
"[Linda] Ann lost her mind. She went to pieces. From that point on, her actions just plummeted," one of her brothers, who requested anonymity, told the Daily News last night. "Everything got worse the older she got. She exhibited really bizarre behavior. Things that seemed abnormal to me and everyone else, seemed normal to her."
He said Weston forced her siblings to have sex with each other. "It was at her direction. . . . It seemed like it was happening every time I turned around."
If he refused to watch or if he hid, she beat him with an air-conditioner cord, he said. One time, when he was about 8 years old, Weston put him in the oven because he refused to watch her having sex with her cousin, he said. He was taken to the hospital to be treated for welts and blisters.
Troy Weston told the Daily News that Weston had forced two of her sisters to prostitute themselves when they were between the ages of 13 and 17.
"She would force my sisters to have dates, have sex with older men for money. She'd dress them up and send them outside, up the block or around the block," he said. "Sometimes she went with them and she coached them. She told them, 'You go talk to him and either bring him back to the house or go do something with him and get money.' "
Weston also drugged him when he was a small boy, Troy said. "One time she gave me a pill and it got me so groggy," he said. "My brother came to get me. He thought maybe she was going to put me in the basement."
Troy said that after Weston was convicted of third-degree murder in 1984 in the Ramos case, Troy thought she'd just "chill" and become "a productive person - but evil was brewing in her."
Meanwhile yesterday, the 74-year-old mother of Weston's current boyfriend said she wouldn't be surprised if Weston had more victims than authorities know. Her son, Gregory Thomas, faces the same charges as Weston, but his mother said that he is easily manipulated, somewhat mentally slow and heard voices in the walls.
"Look at her and you feel like you're looking at the devil," Melvina Thomas said.
Melvina Thomas said that when Maxine Lee, a Philadelphia woman under Weston's charge, died in a Norfolk, Va., house in November 2008, she thought Weston might have neglected her. Melvina Thomas met Lee when Weston took her to a North Philadelphia public-assistance office to sign Lee up for welfare.
Thomas said she later called Weston in Virginia and asked about Lee. "She said, 'Oh, she died. She just stopped eating and she ran around. She just wouldn't eat.' "
Thomas said she knew something wasn't right. "That lady wasn't the kind of person who ran around. She didn't look the type not to eat," she said.
The Medical Examiner's Office in Norfolk ruled Lee's death natural, listing the cause as acute bacterial meningitis, with malnutrition as a contributing factor. Norfolk police are now re-examining the case.
Thomas said she was told that another woman died under Weston's care about six years ago when her son and Weston were living near Rising Sun Avenue and Adams.
"Gregory told me an old white woman was in the basement, lying on a chair and was as white as a ghost," Thomas said.
She asked Weston what had happened. "She told me, 'Oh, she just died. They're investigating it.' "
Weston immediately moved out, she said.
"Every time I turned around, she was moving," Thomas said. "She was running, running away from something."
After her release from prison, Weston had four children with Gregory Thomas. Relatives identified the four as: Gregory Thomas Jr., 18; Sophia Thomas, 17, who is pregnant; Demetrius Thomas, 14; and Shayanna Thomas, 16. Sophia also has a 3-year-old son. DHS has placed all but Gregory Jr., who is deemed an adult, in foster care.
Yesterday, Family Court Administrative Judge Kevin Dougherty held a shelter-care hearing. He ruled that the kids should remain in foster care, and set a Nov. 21 hearing to revisit the case.
Gregory Jr. and his half-brother, Joseph McIntosh, went to Family Court yesterday seeking custody of their siblings. McIntosh, who works as an assistant manager at a McDonald's in West Philadelphia, and his older brother, James McIntosh, a 30-year-old truck driver, have a house big enough to fit the family, Joseph McIntosh said.
Gregory Jr. and Joseph McIntosh spoke with the Daily News outside Family Court, at 18th and Vine streets.
The two men defended their mother. Gregory Jr. said Weston hadn't mistreated him. He refuted claims by police that the children in Weston's care appeared malnourished. "We were eating," he said.
Gregory Jr. said he had been living at the apartment building on Longshore Avenue in Tacony for a few weeks and knew about the people in the sub-basement. They weren't being held against their will, he said.
"I know they had sense," Gregory Jr. said. "They could have yelled or screamed and said, 'Help! Help!' but they didn't."
When asked about Beatrice, Gregory Jr. said, "I didn't even know she was in the closet."
Gregory Jr. said his mother got custody of Beatrice because her biological mom, Vicky Weston, was homeless and then got locked up on drug charges. Vicky failed to show up at a hearing regarding Beatrice, he said.
He recalled how happy Beatrice was when the court awarded custody to his mom.
"She was happy to come with my mom because her own mom was mistreating her," Gregory Jr. said, adding that Vicky wanted to prostitute Beatrice out to get money for drugs.
When asked if his mother abused Beatrice, Gregory Jr. said, "Not that I know of. If she did, I never saw it."
- Staff writers Julie Shaw and Phillip Lucas contributed to this report.