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Houston police: 4 lured into captivity with promise of cigarettes, food

By Joe Sutton and Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
July 19, 2013 -- Updated 2227 GMT (0627 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Three of the four men were carried out, unable to walk, a neighbor says
  • Three of the four women are physically and mentally disabled, police say
  • The fourth woman found in the house acted as a caretaker, they say
  • The men were lured with "cigarettes and food"

(CNN) -- Texas authorities freed four men Friday who they said appeared to have been held captive in a north Houston home -- some in a garage-turned-prison -- where the men may have been forced to turn over disability and veterans' checks.

One man has been detained in connection with the investigation, which was triggered after police received a tip, Houston Police spokeswoman Jodi Silva told reporters.

Investigators also are looking into whether four women found at the home were captives, she said.

Authorities are still trying to determine the ages and identities of the women, three of whom police characterized as suffering from a combination of physical disabilities and mental illness. The fourth was identified as a caregiver, Silva said.

Three of the four men -- who are ages 80, 74, 65 and 50 -- were found in the garage and were severely malnourished, Silva said. They were taken to an area hospital for treatment, while a fourth man, who was found inside the house, was taken to the police station to make a statement, she said.

Authorities have not released the identity of the man investigators detained.

At least some of the men being held were believed to be homeless.

"What the men initially told us was they were lured there with the promise of cigarettes and food," Silva said.

But once they got inside the tan brick house with purple trim on Whitecastle Lane, they were not allowed to leave, she said.

"They were apparently given scraps to eat. Very little food was being provided to them," Silva said.

The four men told the officers that they had been held at the house over varying lengths of time.

One man told authorities that it felt like 10 years, Silva said. "Whether it goes into years or not is unknown," she said.

Police were investigating whether the men and women had been forced to hand over their government aid, including disability, Social Security and veterans' checks.

Police were tipped to a potential problem on Friday morning when someone called 911 to report that three or four people were being held against their will at the home.

Officers had to break through the burglar bars on the front door of house to gain entry Friday morning, Silva said.

Inside, police said they saw trash strewn everywhere and found what they called a prison with no beds, no chairs and no bathroom.

Authorities found the women inside the house, not in the converted garage, Silva said.

It was unclear whether any of the women were related to one another or to the man police have detained for questioning.

It also was not immediately clear whether the female caretaker was a potential suspect.

Word of the allegations spread quickly on Whitecastle Lane as police cordoned off the home with police tape and began questioning neighbors.

Alberta Ewing was visiting her brother, something she says she does at least once a week, when police swarmed the house next door.

Minutes later, she saw police and emergency medical personnel bring out three of the men, whom she described as skinny, sickly and in need of medical care.

"What I saw this morning, oh my God," she said. "No one walked out. They all came out on a stretcher."

CNN's Ed Lavandera and John Murgatroyd contributed to this report.

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