It started out with what seemed to be a friendly offer of a ride on a pleasant summer night.
But that ride led to a 60-day nightmare for an Evansville woman.
Police say she was caged, tied to a bed, led around on a leash and endured repeated sexual assaults — until a man visiting the woman’s captors boldly rescued her Saturday.
The 30-year-old victim was one of two young Evansville area women who went missing this summer. While the woman’s rescue brought relief to her family, it also bolstered the family of Kristy Kelley — offering a glimmer of hope that the 27-year-old single mother from Boonville could still be found alive, too.
“It just makes us want to go even stronger to find Kristy,” said Kelley’s mother, Kathy Scales. “I think it refreshes all of the people who have been helping us search for Kristy.”
Scales added her family is elated for the Evansville woman and her family. The Star is not naming the woman because she was a victim of a sexual assault.
Before the dramatic turn of events that freed the Evansville woman, there had been speculation the two missing persons cases could be connected. The story of the missing women made national news, with stories featured on network television news programs and the Huffington Post, People.com and radaronline.com.
Posey County Sheriff Gregory Oeth said Sunday, however, that there is no evidence to connect the two cases.
Kelley was last seen leaving the VFW in Boonville at about 1:30 am. Aug. 15. The abducted Evansville woman had been last seen walking along a street in the Southern Indiana city on July 9.
Prosecutors on Monday charged Ricky R. House Jr., 37, and Kendra Tooley, 44, in connection with the abduction of the Evansville woman. Both were being held under $50,000 cash bond at the Posey County Jail in Mt. Vernon.
House was charged with four counts of rape, one count of conspiracy to commit rape, five counts of criminal confinement, two counts of kidnapping, one count of battery resulting in bodily injury and one count of pointing a firearm.
Tooley was charged with two counts of rape, one count of conspiracy to commit rape, four counts of criminal confinement, two counts of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy to commit criminal confinement.
Court documents say the horror-filled two months started after the woman, who was an acquaintance of House and Tooley, accepted a ride from House as she was walking along an Evansville street. She agreed to go to the couple’s mobile home in the nearby Posey County town of Stewartsville.
But when she tried to leave, court records say, “Ricky placed chloroform over her mouth and nose causing her to lose consciousness.”
“(The woman) awoke to find her clothing cut off and she was bound to a bed within the trailer.”
Over the course of the next 59 days, court documents reveal, the woman was bound to the bed and various other places in the trailer, kept in a wooden cage and forced to have sex with both House and Tooley.
The victim told officers that House would rape her after binding her to an “intricate restraint system” that included zip ties and bungee cords attached to a bed and beat her numerous times with a belt and other items.
Posey County chief deputy sheriff Tom Latham said the woman also was forced to cook and clean for House and Tooley when she wasn’t locked in the cage, where she was given little food and water.
“It was pretty much modernized slavery in my eyes,” Latham told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
While being interrogated after her arrest, Tooley denied having sex with the woman but said House “was attempting to impregnate (the woman) because (Tooley) was old and unable to have children of her own,” court documents said. Tooley also claimed she had been abused by House.
The abducted woman was rescued after Tooley’s ex-husband, Ronald Higgs, visited the couple’s mobile home Friday and learned the 30-year-old Evansville woman was being held against her will. The 61-year-old Higgs said he was dumbfounded when Tooley told him, “I’ve got a girl back here in a cage.”
Latham, the sheriff’s deputy, Higgs came to the mobile home after Tooley contacted him last week asking him for money.
Court records said the captive woman was unsure if she could trust Higgs, but he was the first person other than House and Tooley she had seen and felt he was her best chance to escape. Higgs told WEHT-TV the woman pleaded with him for help.
“She says, ‘Please don’t leave here without me.’ I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ She says, I’ve been here for over 60 days and they put me in that cage,’” Higgs told the station.
Higgs told the woman he would return to get her — and kept his word.
When Higgs came back the next day, Latham said Higgs offered House money if he could take the woman, but House put a shotgun to Higgs’ chin and threatened to kill him.
“Ronald told (House) that he would have to shoot him because he was taking (the woman) away,” court document said.
There are conflicting accounts of what happened next.
Court documents say Higgs, following a struggle with House, was able to get the woman — who, at the time, was being restrained by Tooley using a rope attached to a dog collar around the woman’s neck — and flee the mobile home.
The sheriff’s deputy told the Associated Press that Higgs eventually persuaded House and Tooley to let him take the woman, promising not to alert police.
When the pair got back to Higgs’ home, they called police.
Officers from the Posey County Sheriff’s Office and the Evansville Police Department’s SWAT team searched the home early Sunday and arrested House and Tooley on preliminary charges of criminal confinement and rape.
Investigators reported finding evidence “to corroborate much of what (the woman) told them,” according to court documents. That included two bottles of chloroform, restraints on a bed and cut-up clothing.
Monday, shards of broken glass littered the front of the mobile home in the 9800 block of Story Street. The wooden front door lay in pieces by the steps. Neighbors said police kicked in the door and broke out windows when they arrested House and Tooley.
Unlike most of the modest family homes on Story Street, the mobile home is poorly maintained. The back porch, where neighbors said House and Tooley spent most of their time, is cluttered with several plastic chairs, trash bins, empty flower pots and a random bed foam. A McDonald’s bag filled with empty cups sits on a makeshift table by a tree.
Neighbors Alicia and Angelia Phillips said House and Tooley have lived in the mobile home for about two years. They don’t know Tooley, but they know House and his family.
They also know the missing woman and her family.
Angelia Phillips said she was relieved when she heard that the woman has been found. Later, when police came to arrest her neighbors, an officer told her that the missing woman had been in the mobile home across the street from here. The relief instantly turned to remorse. Phillips said she said and her younger sister, Alicia, wish they had known.
“We could’ve helped her,” she said.
The case of the caged woman is reminiscent of the situation uncovered last year in Cleveland, where three women missing for nearly a decade were discovered alive in the home of Ariel Castro. The former school bus driver, who pleaded guilty to holding the women captive and was sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping and rape, committed suicide in custody in September 2013.
In another well-know case, Jaycee Dugard was found alive 18 years after she was kidnapped in California at age 11.
Kelley’s mother said the Evansville woman’s safe return gives her hope.
“Now, its our turn to find Kristy,” Scale said. “I’m not going to stop until I find her and I’m confident in my heart that’s she’s out there, safe, and that we will find her.”
When a missing person is found, it often gives hope to other families who have loved ones that have disappeared, said Patti Carter Bishop, founder of IN Hope Indiana Missing.
Bishop said she knows of about 30 adults missing from Indiana currently. Some are well-know, such as IU coed Lauren Spierer, but others are known only to their families, friends and law enforcement.
Families of missing people struggle daily, Bishop said, with an emotional tug-of-war between hope and fear.
“The fear is always there. The hope can leave and then something like this happens and gives us an extra jolt of hope,” she said.
“We always want to think our loved one is out there alive. It is something we all hang onto until you find tangible evidence that your’s is not alive.”
While missing persons are occasionally found alive, sometimes even years or decades after they disappear, Bishop said, “it is not as common as we would hope it would be, as we would like it to be.”
Still, she said, cases like the one involving the Evansville woman, “show that it can happen.”