Children tell story of torture

Date: 2005-02-04

Children tell story of torture

Officers are searching for a couple accused of using electric shock, hammers and starvation to abuse kids in their custody.

By ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published February 4, 2005

CRYSTAL RIVER - Authorities are searching for a couple accused of using electric shock, hammers and starvation to torture five children in their care.

Investigators say they think John E. Dollar, 58, and his wife Linda, 51, left Citrus County in a motor home, clearing out the valuables in their rural home after learning of the allegations against them.

The children told investigators the Dollars starved them, shocked them with electricity, pulled out their toenails with pliers, bound them with chains and strips of plastic and struck their feet with hammers.

A 16-year-old boy weighed 59 pounds. Twin boys, age 14, weighed 36 and 38 pounds, the Sheriff's Office said.

"I saw a photo of the 16-year-old boy, and you saw ribs showing," sheriff's spokeswoman Gail Tierney said. "It looked like the pictures you see of Auschwitz. That's what they looked like. They were so tiny, so little."

Authorities say that for several years the Dollars have been responsible for the care of seven children - four boys and three girls, ranging in age from 12 to 17. Two of the children, a 14-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl, did not appear to have been abused.

The children are not the Dollars' biological children, authorities said. It was unclear late Thursday what relation they were to the Dollars, though they all lived in the same home.

Investigators said the abuse could have have slipped by unnoticed for years because the children were home-schooled and kept out of sight much of the time, according to authorities, neighbors and acquaintances of the couple.

Arrest warrants have been issued for the Dollars on charges of aggravated child abuse and torture.

Authorities late Thursday asked for the public's help in finding the couple. Officials said they likely left Citrus County in a 1996 black-and-gold Provost Marathon motor home with Florida tag U06YAC.

The motor home might be towing a 2000 gold, four-door Lexus with Florida tag DH41D.

The investigation began after the 16-year-old boy was taken by ambulance to Seven Rivers Regional Medical Center on Jan. 21. It was not clear how the ambulance was summoned.

The boy had red marks around his neck and a cut on his head, Tierney said. But what caught the attention of law enforcement was the boy's size.

"He was extraordinarily small for his age and very, very, very skinny," she said.

The children were removed from the Dollars' home on Jan. 27 and placed in the care of the Department of Children and Families.

Investigators interviewed each of the children, who told similar stories of a home life in which misbehavior bore harsh consequences.

The children told investigators they were punished if they took food without permission, lied or "messed up things."

They were sometimes denied food for two days at a time, they said, and five of them were forced to sleep together in a closet in the master bedroom so the Dollars could keep an eye on them.

Two of the children were "the favorites" and were rewarded with video games for what the Dollars deemed to be good behavior, Tierney said.

Investigators say it's likely the abuse had gone on for years, including time in Tennessee and Hillsborough County.

Property records show the couple moved to Citrus County in August 2004 from a home near Brandon in Hillsborough County.

Investigators have contacted law enforcement agencies in Tennessee and Hillsborough County for additional inquiries.

The Dollars were set to appear at a DCF hearing Jan. 31, Tierney said.

When they didn't show, authorities went to the couple's home, a tidy, gray, single-story home on Pink Poppy Drive in a wooded neighborhood in central Citrus County. No one was home, and investigators said many of the belongings had been cleared out.

The couple's motor home and Lexus also were missing, authorities said.

No one answered the door at the home Thursday afternoon, and mattresses were propped against the front windows.

John Dollar traveled extensively, working as an appraiser for a variety of corporations, Tierney said, while Linda Dollar educated the children at home.

Neighbors say they never saw the children outside the home and weren't aware the Dollars had seven children in their care.

"I've never seen anybody there," said Charlayne McMurray, who lives on a wooded lot near the Dollars. "I'm totally stunned."

McMurray said she frequently goes on morning walks on Pink Poppy Drive, but said she had never seen a child at the Dollars' home. "Thank God the children are safe now," she said.

Geri Lucas met the couple in the summer of 2004, when she and her husband bought a house from the Dollars on Happy Acres Lane in Valrico.

Lucas described Linda Dollar as a strict parent who did not allow the children to watch television and play outside.

"They were not your average American family," she said.

Anyone with information about the Dollars is asked to call the Citrus County Sheriff's Office at (352) 726-1121.

Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 352 860-7312 or vansickle@sptimes.com Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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