HOUSTON – A 31-year-old man was charged Saturday in connection with the discovery of four malnourished men being held against their will in a dungeon-like Houston home.
Walter Renard Jones faces two counts of injury to the elderly. He is being held without bond in the Harris County Jail and set to appear in court Monday.
Houston Police Department spokeswoman Jodi Silva said it’s possible additional charges will be filed as the investigation continues. The exact charges are decided by the district attorney’s office.
Police said Friday that the men told investigators they were forced to live in the garage — which had one chair, no bed and a possibly malfunctioning air conditioner — so their captor could cash their public assistance checks.
“We’re still in the beginning in the investigation,” Silva said. “We still need to determine things like where the money was going.”
Court records did not list an attorney for Jones. Records showed he previously had been charged with theft, marijuana possession and failing to register as a sex offender.
Property records show the purple-trimmed home is owned by Essie Mae Scranton, 83. Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful. The Houston Chronicle reported that since December 2008, the home has been registered to a nonprofit corporation called Regina’s Faith Ministries, directed by Regina Jones, 57, also known as Regina Nelson.
Silva said Saturday that Walter Jones is Regina Jones’ grandson.
Police said the men were living in “deplorable conditions” after being lured by promises of food and cigarettes. Three of the men — ages 80, 74 and 65 — were taken to a hospital Friday; they were listed in stable condition.
A fourth man, 54, who told officers he was a military veteran, declined treatment but authorities said he would be cared for at a Veterans Administration hospital. He told reporters Friday that he was living in the house and not the garage, although said he was sleeping on the floor.
Homicide Sgt. Steve Murdock said Saturday in a department statement that the men said Jones “used force and coercion to keep them there for the purpose of monetary gain.”
Investigators were still trying to determine how long the men lived there.
Four women were also found living in the house, three of whom appeared to have mental disabilities, police said. Their living conditions were described as more normal.
A neighbor called authorities Friday morning after expressing concern about men in the house in north Houston.