Police responding to a call to a child abuse hotline at a southeast Missouri home found four children apparently being kept behind plywood in makeshift rooms with no access to water or toilets, according to a county sheriff.
St. Francois County sheriff's officers and investigators with the Missouri Department of Social Services found the three girls and one boy, between the ages of 5 and 12, on Tuesday in a home in Farmington, about 60 miles south of St. Louis.
"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," the sheriff said in a news release.
A man and woman who lived in the home, Daryl Justen Head and Laura Elizabeth Cheatham, both 38, were charged with five counts of endangering the welfare of a child and three counts of kidnapping. They are being held on $500,000 bond each.
"I've seen some pretty nasty things, but nothing this deplorable," said St. Francois Sheriff Daniel Bullock. "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.
Head and Cheatham were being held in lieu of $500,000 bail each.