NEW ORLEANS ― A federal grand jury here has indicted five family members for the alleged abuse of a woman with autism who investigators say was beaten, sexually abused and forced to eat her mother’s cremated remains.
A graphic federal indictment filed in court Thursday accuses Raylaine Knope, 42; her husband, Terry Knope Jr., 45; and their adult children, Taylor Knope, 20; Bridget Lambert, 21; and Jody Lambert, 23, of committing numerous atrocities against a female relative. (The graphic details described below may be disturbing to some readers.)
Authorities said the victim, a 22-year-old woman who has not been identified, has autism and other disabilities. She is related to Raylaine Knope and moved into a mobile home in the Amite, Louisiana, area with the Knopes after the August 2015 death of her mother, the court documents allege.
Soon after moving in with the Knopes, the woman was allegedly plied with drugs, including methamphetamine, and subjected to “physical violence, psychological and verbal abuse,” according to the documents. The alleged abuse, authorities said, occurred from August 2015 to June 2016.
The indictment accuses the woman’s alleged tormenters of subjecting her to numerous despicable acts, including forcing her to eat dog feces, lick soiled underwear and simulate sexual acts with a jalapeno pepper.
Raylaine Knope, the court documents allege, was exceptionally cruel.
“On one occasion, Raylaine Knope ordered [the woman] to open an urn containing [the woman’s] deceased mother’s ashes, pour the ashes into a bowl, and eat the ashes with a spoon, as Raylaine Knope, Terry Knope, Jody Lambert and Taylor Knope stood nearby, watching and laughing,” the indictment reads. The victim “vomited several minutes after consuming the ashes.”
The indictment further accuses the Knopes of commanding the woman to perform household chores in a “demeaning fashion.” Examples cited in the court documents include forcing the victim to:
- Use her tongue to clean up a spill on the kitchen floor.
- Clean the residence with a toothbrush.
- Cut the grass in the yard using scissors.
- Clean out the septic system without gloves, tools or protective clothing.
If assigned chores were not completed, she was denied food, the indictment alleges. She was allegedly confined to a locked 6-by-8-foot outdoor cage at night and given a bucket to use as a toilet.
Accusations of physical abuse are made throughout the court documents. On one occasion, the woman was allegedly struck with a hammer, fracturing bones in one of her hands. On another, she was allegedly shot with a pellet gun, causing pellets to “lodge under [her] skin.”
Authorities said the victim was regularly called “stupid” and “retarded” and was ordered on several occasions to strip naked and make sexual advances to men who visited the family.
Terry Knope is also accused of withholding the victim’s Social Security benefits.
The documents allege family members would hold the woman’s head underwater as she struggled to breathe and, on at least one occasion, dumped buckets of urine and feces on her.
“The family did not allow [the victim] to shower or use soap to clean off the human waste,” the indictment alleges.
The situation came to light in June 2016, after someone called the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office to report a woman was being kept in a cage. The victim, who was ultimately rescued from the residence, was described by police as malnourished and covered in insect bites. She was placed in the care of the Louisiana Department of Health’s Adult Protective Services.
Four minor children were also removed from the home and placed in the custody of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, police said. According to the indictment, the minor children were instructed to kick and punch the victim while telling her she was “dumber than they were.”
“The lesson here, as far as I can tell, is that there are some very sick individuals in this world, and there are some sick individuals within Tangipahoa Parish,” said Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards in an interview with The Advocate in July 2017. “Human trafficking doesn’t discriminate ... It exists everywhere there are people.”
The FBI’s New Orleans field office assisted the sheriff’s office in the investigation. The findings in that investigation were presented to the grand jury this month.
Federal officials said Raylaine Knope, Terry Knope, Jody Lambert and Taylor Knope face numerous charges, including forced labor and using force and threats of force to interfere with the federal Fair Housing Act.
Raylaine Knope and Terry Knope also stand accused of attempted sex trafficking, and Terry Knope faces two additional charges for allegedly committing theft and a hate crime. Bridget Lambert, who stayed with her family on occasion, faces a single charge of conspiring to obtain forced labor, the Justice Department said in a news release.
Several charges against Raylaine Knope, Terry Knope, Jody Lambert and Taylor Knope carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. If convicted, Bridget Lambert will face a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, according to the Justice Department.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.