NATCHITOCHES (AP) — Authorities say that a transgender woman was held as a slave in rural Natchitoches Parish for two years.
The woman escaped captivity in Ajax and was picked up last week by a Robeline assistant town marshal at an Interstate 49 exit in Natchitoches.
Sharing more details with reporters Friday, authorities said the woman, whose name they aren't releasing, came to Louisiana from Minnesota after meeting captors online. The victim is in her early 50s and being held in protective custody, authorities said.
Natchitoches Parish Sheriff Victor Jones Jr. said 37-year-old David Rodriguez Jr., one of three arrested in the case, tattooed the woman and registered her as a slave on a website that bills itself as only registering people for consensual submissive or slave relationships.
"In this particular case, the victim probably had some depression, going through the sex change, being disowned by her family," Carey Etheredge, criminal investigator and forensic examiner with the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff's Office, told The Town Talk newspaper. "Suspects prey on people in this situation. They know how to talk to them, what to say to them to make them feel comfortable and make them think they're coming to live a different life."
Also arrested Wednesday were Rodriguez's wife, 39-year-old Christina Marie Harper and 39-year-old Ambre Tubbs Lomas of Shreveport.
Rodriguez was booked with one count of human trafficking, one count of aggravated second-degree battery, one count of second-degree kidnapping/false imprisonment and two counts of offenses against computer users. Bond was set at $635,000.
Harper was booked with one count of human trafficking, one count of aggravated second-degree battery, one count of second-degree kidnapping/false imprisonment and two counts of offenses against computer users. Bond was set at $635,000.
Lomas was booked with one count of second-degree kidnapping/false imprisonment and one count of aggravated second-degree battery. Bond was set at $525,000.
Investigators said the suspects have spoken to officers, but declined to provide details about their statements. All three were being held Friday in the Natchitoches Parish Detention Center. It's not clear if they have lawyers.
For a time, investigators say, the relationship was consensual. The victim was also given daily chores such as serving meals, tending to animals, installing a swimming pool, digging trenches, removing fallen trees and performing sexual acts. She slept in a 3-by-5 foot wooden box.
Detectives said if the victim failed to complete her work, she was beaten and disciplined by Rodriguez, Harper and Lomas. The discipline allegedly included beatings, carving initials into skin on the victim's backside, shootings with a stun gun and being doused with urine.
But at some point recently, the woman stated a desire to leave, prompting even harsher treatment.
"They chained her outside for two days and nights, nude, in the woods — no food, no water," Detective Tim Key told KALB-TV. "And then she was put in a storage building in the yard."
Finally, the victim stole the family's car, drove to Natchitoches, and approached the police officer.
"Just real frantic, and a lot of fast talk," Assistant Police Chief Shelby Borders said of the encounter. "And it was just kind of hard to believe at first."