Laughing family fed woman with autism a bowl of her mom’s ashes, court docs say

Clockwide from top left: Bridget Lambert, Raylaine Knope, Taylor Knope, Cody Lambert
Clockwide from top left: Bridget Lambert, Raylaine Knope, Taylor Knope, Cody Lambert Tangipahoa Parish Jail

A 22-year-old woman with autism was kept in a cage, forced to do housework in exchange for food and water and made to eat her own mother’s ashes, according to an indictment filed in Louisiana.

Those are only a few of the many examples of abuse listed in the indictment, which charged four members of a family with human trafficking, among other counts. Another person was charged separately.

Prosecutors allege that 42-year-old Raylaine Knope, 45-year-old Terry J. Knope, 23-year-old Jody Lambert and 20-year-old Taylor Knope were part of a conspiracy to abuse the victim and force her into labor and sex trafficking.

The indictment says Raylaine Knope was a relative of the victim’s, though the exact relationship isn’t specified. When the victim’s mother died in 2015, she came to live with Raylaine Knope and the other family members in Amite City, La.., the indictment says.

From August of that year until June of 2016, prosecutors say the family members subjected the victim to a stream of mental and physical abuse.

The indictment alleges that the victim was forced to sleep in the backyard of the family’s mobile home, and then locked inside a shed or tent to prevent her from escaping. Eventually, the indictment says the family built a cage out of chicken wire and a tarp, which was disguised with tree branches.

The family forced her to do yard and house work in exchange for food and water, and if she did not do as they asked, they kicked her, hit her and threw canned goods at her, the indictment alleges.

Prosecutors say on one occasion, she was hit with a wooden board so hard she began bleeding, and rather than take her to the hospital, her head wound was glued shut.

The prosecutors also allege she was held down and burned with a cigarette lighter, held underwater as she gasped for air, forced to eat dog feces off a piece of bread, forced to lick “soiled underwear,” covered in human urine and feces from a bucket, and shot at close range with a BB gun while Terry Knope allegedly told her she was a “retard” who “deserved to die.”

As punishment for talking back, prosecutors say Raylaine Knope forced the victim to open an urn with her mother’s ashes and dump it into a bowl of milk. Knope and other family members then laughed as they forced the victim to eat the ashes, after which the victim vomited onto the table, according to the indictment.

The indictment also alleges that the family forced the victim to perform sex acts on male visitors, including a repairman and a BBQ guest, and was threatened with death if she escaped or told anyone about the alleged abuse.

During this time, Terry Knope is alleged to have intercepted more than $8,000 in social security payments that were supposed to have gone toward the victim’s living expenses, according to the indictment.

The family members were arrested in 2016 after someone called police to report a woman in a cage, the Times-Picayune reported. After she was rescued, the victim was taken to the hospital and then put into the care of the Louisiana Department of Health’s Adult Protective Services, The Advocate reported.

Raylaine Knope, Terry Knope, Taylor Knope and Jody Lambert were charged with conspiring to obtain forced labor, forced labor and using force and threats of force to interfere with fair housing, the Justice Department said in a news release.

Raylaine and Terry Knope were also charged with sex trafficking, and Terry Knope was charged with a hate crime in relation to the alleged attack with the BB gun, the Justice Department wrote. He was also charged with theft of government funds. Bridget Lambert was charged separately with conspiring to obtain the forced labor of the victim.

Raylaine Knope, Terry Knope, Jody Lambert, Taylor Knope could face life in prison, while Lambert could face up to five years, according to the DOJ.

The South Carolina Department of Social Services lists numerous signs of child abuse and neglect. Here are 10 signs to look for if you suspect a school-aged child is being abused.