By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Linda Ann Weston, who allegedly locked mentally-challenged adults in a basement dungeon in Philadelphia, was once diagnosed as mentally retarded and schizophrenic, court records revealed on Friday.
The diagnosis of Weston, 51, appeared in documents tied to her 1983 third-degree murder conviction for starving to death a man held captive for three months in a closet of her apartment in North Philadelphia.
The circumstances of Bernardo Ramos' murder are eerily similar to the current case, in which four malnourished adults, each with the mental capacity of a 10-year-old child, were discovered in a locked and filthy furnace room of an apartment house in the Tacony neighborhood.
The landlord, who stumbled onto the victims during a routine check of his building, told Reuters they appeared to be on the verge of death when he found them last Saturday.
Weston, her daughter Jean McIntosh, 32, Gregory Thomas, 47, and Eddie Wright, 50, have been arrested in what is believed to be a multi-state scheme to steal the government benefits such as Social Security checks, of the victims.
Weston has been identified by police as the ringleader, and documents in the decades-old murder case provide some details about her.
Common Pleas Court Judge John Geisz, who presided over her murder trial but is now deceased, referred to her mental state in a 1986 ruling. He quoted from a report prepared by an expert witness, Dr. Gino Grosso.
"The doctor had performed a psychiatric evaluation on Linda Weston and his report described the defendant as being a mentally retarded young adult suffering from intrinsic brain disease, mainly epilepsy," Geisz wrote.
"Dr. Grosso also diagnosed the defendant as a schizophrenic," the judge wrote.
In a 1983 court filing on the murder charge, the district attorney's office said Weston and a sister, Venus Weston, forced Ramos into a closet, bound his hands and feet and gave him insufficient quantities of food and water.
Another sister, Valery Weston, was described in Geisz' ruling as "an eyewitness to the bizarre and unusual events which led to the death of Bernardo Ramos on December 28, 1981."
Weston was convicted of third-degree murder. In Pennsylvania, first degree murder is an intentional murder, second degree is murder committed during the commission of another felony, and third degree is every other kind of murder.
She was sentenced to 4 to 10 years, and served four years, according to state records. She was paroled by the state Parole Board in January 1987, under the condition that she be intensely supervised, get psychological and psychiatric treatment, and continue taking drugs for her conditions.
Now that Weston is under arrest again, police in Norfolk, Virginia, say they are considering reopening the case of Maxine Lee, 39, who died while in Weston's care in 2008. Authorities had ruled her death was caused by acute meningitis.
In Philadelphia, Wilbert and Peggy Wanamaker, the parents of one of the Tacony dungeon victims, Tamara Breeden, 29, are seeking custody of their grandchildren, believed to be ages 2 and 7. They were among the 10 children authorities took into protective custody immediately after the dungeon case was discovered.
Police said the children were undergoing DNA testing to determine the identity of their parents.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)