To Norfolk police, Maxine Lee's death was natural. To federal agents, it was anything but.
A federal indictment says Maxine Lee, while in Norfolk, was repeatedly and brutally abused. At times, she was stuffed in a cabinet. Other times, held naked in an attic.
She was disabled and sick, and the abuse made her sicker. And when she died, the woman living in the house with her, a woman named Linda Weston, moved Lee's body.
She had her family and friends prop the corpse in front of a TV and then, according to the indictment, "lied to police" about what happened.
But if Norfolk police suspected anything, they didn't let on. They ruled the death natural causes in 2008. And when authorities arrested Linda Weston in 2011 for abusing disabled adults, Norfolk police agreed again to look into the case. They ruled it once again, a natural death.
In the new federal indictment, it's hard to believe they're talking about the same case. Federal prosecutors say in graphic detail how badly Weston and others repeatedly beat Lee. They say flatly that Weston's repeated "abuse and neglect of Maxine Lee caused her death." When Norfolk police got involved, Weston was so "afraid of what would happen" she immediately moved to Philadelphia to "thwart further inquiry."
It turns out Weston's fears were unfounded. Norfolk never charged anyone, because they never considered this a murder. And if the indictment is correct, Norfolk police missed an opportunity to stop the suffering.
Prosecutors say Weston moved her disabled prisoners to Philadelphia, collected even more, and imprisoned them all in a basement. The indictment says she drugged them, starved them, and even bred them like animals, all to collect their government checks.
When she and other family members were arrested in Philadelphia, police freed her disabled captives, including Herbert Knowles, also from Norfolk.