When the mother of a Louisiana woman with autism died in 2015, relatives took the 22-year-old in. But instead of caring for her, the family held her captive and subjected the young woman to months of horrific abuse, including forcing her to live in an outdoor cage and eat her deceased mother’s ashes, a federal indictment alleges.
On Thursday, five members of the Knope family were charged in a federal court in New Orleans for their roles in the “forced labor” conspiracy. The clan allegedly abused the woman, who is only identified in court papers as D.P., for 10 months, threatening to kill her if she tried to escape their Amite property, according to the Justice Department.
Four family members—42-year-old Raylaine Knope, 45-year-old Terry Knope II, 23-year-old Jody Lambert, and 20-year-old Taylor Knope—face up to life in prison if found guilty of forced labor. Additionally, 21-year-old Bridget Lambert, Raylaine Knope’s daughter, was charged “for conspiring to obtain the forced labor of D.P.,” according to the DOJ.
Federal prosecutors also charged the father, Terry Knope II, with government theft and a hate crime: He allegedly embezzled over $8,000 in Social Security benefits from D.P., and once shot her with a BB gun because of her disability, court records allege. He and Raylaine Knope were charged with attempted sex trafficking, as well.
“This girl was trapped in hell,” Rocky Stewart, a neighbor who was unaware of the alleged abuse, told The Times-Picayune in June 2016, when the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office raided the rural property after receiving a tip.
“A real tragedy was going on right here,” Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards told the newspaper.
Among the host of stomach-turning acts the family is accused of, the Knopes allegedly demanded D.P. to strip naked and “make sexual advances” to various male visitors, the indictment says.
From August 2015 to June 2016, family members made the autistic woman clean their trailer—sometimes with a toothbrush, sometimes with her bare hands, and once with her tongue—in exchange for food and water, according to court records.
Matriarch Raylaine Knope, who was deemed the “ringleader” of the sickening abuse by The Times-Picayune, allegedly made D.P. sleep in a tent outside, before locking the young woman “in a backyard cage” made of chicken wire “to maintain control over her and to prevent her from escaping” in the spring and summer, according to court records.
The mother ordered her children, Jody Lambert and Taylor Knope, to lock up D.P. every night, whether in the tent or the animal cage, according to the indictment. The children also allegedly joined in on the torture: Lambert is accused of holding a gun to D.P.’s head and threatening to kill her if she ever told authorities about the abuse.
Taylor Knope, the youngest of the clan, once struck the woman in the head with a metal padlock and hit her with a shower rod on another occasion, according to the indictment.
“This retarded girl will do anything you say,” Raylaine Knope allegedly said of D.P.
At one point, Knope forced the 22-year-old to open her dead mother’s urn, pour the ashes into a bowl, and eat them with a spoon, all while the family watched and laughed, prosecutors allege.
D.P. “vomited onto the table several minutes after consuming the ashes,” court records state.
The psychological and physical abuse did not stop there: Members of the family allegedly made the woman lick soiled underwear, eat dog feces, and “simulate sexual acts with a jalapeño pepper,” according to court records filed Monday.
Once, Terry Knope and Jody Lambert “filled a bucket with urine and feces from the family’s septic tank and threw the human waste at D.P., who, covered from head to toe with the urine and feces, began screaming while Jody laughed,” according to the bill of information that charged Bridget Lambert, one of Raylaine’s daughters, with forced labor conspiracy. (Lambert faces up to five years in prison if convicted.)
Lambert allegedly hit the woman so hard with a board that blood dripped from her head to the floor. A family member “used glue” to mend the woman’s wound, the court records state.
If D.P. tried talking back to the family or the matriarch deemed her work to be unsatisfactory, she was either served rotten food or starved, prosecutors allege.
The family made sure the woman would not be able to escape or ask for help: They took her ID, phone, laptop, and money after her mom died, according to federal prosecutors. They’re also accused of feeding the woman painkillers, telling D.P. that if she notified the cops they would turn her in for drug abuse, according to the federal indictment.
Terry Knope, who allegedly stole $8,796 in D.P.’s federal disability benefits, once punched her in the head and burned her hand with a lighter, prosecutors allege.
Local law enforcement arrested the five family members two years ago, at which point D.P. was placed in custody of the Louisiana Health Department, The Times-Picayune reported.
As a neighbor told The Times-Picayune, “It’s a miracle she’s alive.”