At left are small prisoner uniforms that authorities say Laura Cheatham ordered for the four adopted children living in her home. At right is an adult-size uniform added for comparison. (St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department)
More details emerged Wednesday about a Missouri couple accused of child abuse for allegedly housing four children in specially constructed windowless rooms, with no lighting, that were kept shut with plywood and screws.
Authorities said Laura Elizabeth Cheatham, 38, a former employee of the Missouri Department of Corrections, had ordered child-sized inmate-style prisoner uniforms, in gray and orange, for the children to wear, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“Investigators with this department took custody of the uniforms from officials at Farmington Correctional Center along with cardboard patterns that are marked ‘kids pants,’ ‘kids shirt,’ etc., and work order documentation,” a release from the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department said.
Both Cheatham and Daryl Justen Head, 38, were charged Tuesday after police responded to a call made to a child abuse hotline.
Inside the couple’s Farmington, Mo., home police found four children, ages 5 to 12, apparently being kept in the makeshift rooms with no access to water or toilets, according to a county sheriff. Farmington is about 60 miles south of St. Louis.
Daryl J. Head, left, and Laura Cheatham were charged after children were found in what the sheriff described as “deplorable” conditions in their home. (St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department)
“Once investigators gained entry into the home, they discovered a 38-year-old female removing screws from plywood covering the entrance to small rooms and children coming out from behind the plywood,” St. Francois Sheriff Daniel Bullock said in a news release.
Cheatham and Head were each charged with five counts of endangering the welfare of a child and three counts of kidnapping. They were being held on $500,000 bond each.
Bullock said the four children, three girls and a boy, had been adopted by Cheatham and her estranged husband, but she was living with another man — Head — in the home. Two of the four children are related to each other but none are related to the adults, the sheriff added.
The charges could put the suspects behind bars for decades, prosecuting attorney Jerrod Mahurin said.
“I’ve seen some pretty nasty things, but nothing this deplorable,” Bullock said. “This is the kind of thing that happens somewhere else, not here.”
“I’ve seen some pretty nasty things, but nothing this deplorable. This is the kind of thing that happens somewhere else, not here.”
Bullock described each room as “smaller than a jail cell.” He said they had been modified from two bedrooms and offered no windows, lighting, or access to toilets or water. It appeared the children urinated into vents in the room, he said.
St. Francois County Prosecutor Jerrod Mahurin said the couple could face more charges after initial investigations are complete.
Bullock said the children appeared to be in “fairly good” shape and were taken into state custody. They had previously been adopted by Cheatham and her estranged husband and had lived in the home for a few weeks, he said. Neighbors told KMOV that they sometimes saw the children outside doing manual labor.
Paulina Dedaj and the Associated Press contributed to this story.