COUPLE PLEAD INNOCENT TO 'SLAVE' CHARGES

Date: 1998-12-15

Post-Tribune (IN)

A couple pleaded innocent Monday to charges they kidnapped a little girl from an Indiana children's home and kept her as a virtual slave for 17 years.

A June 21 trial date was set and bond was reduced for Joseph and Evangeline Combs of Bristol, Tenn., during arraignment and bond hearings conducted by Sullivan Circuit Court Judge Jerry Beck.

The couple face charges of kidnapping, child abuse and aggravated assault. Joseph Combs, a former Baptist preacher, also is charged with repeatedly raping Esther Combs beginning when she was 12.

The Combs deny any mistreatment of Esther and are supported by friends and their five other children.

Beck reduced Joseph Combs' bond from $250,000 to $150,000. Bond for Evangeline Combs, 49, was reduced from $250,000 to $100,000.

Bond for Joseph Combs, 50, is higher because he demonstrated he had contacts in other states when he hid Esther during the investigation that led to his arrest, Beck said.

Esther, 21, claims she was kidnapped by the Combs from the Baptist Children's Home and Family Ministry in Valparaiso, when she was 4.

She said she cooked for the family, washed their clothes and dishes, scrubbed the bathroom and made the beds. She never attended school and was not allowed to leave the home without her parents.

Esther, who now lives in Michigan, said she was beaten repeatedly and has scars from scissors, pliers, glass and a hot curling iron.

Police began investigating the Combs when Esther was brought to a hospital last year after trying to commit suicide by drinking antifreeze.

Beck set a Feb. 22 deadline for pretrial motions. The Combs' next court appearance will likely be when motions are considered.

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