POLICE SAY WOMAN BECAME 'FAMILY SLAVE'

Date: 1998-11-14

Post-Tribune (IN)
Author: Staff and Wire Reports

Police in Bristol, Tenn., say a woman now 20 years old suffered years of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of "parents" who are accused of taking her as a baby from a home operated by the Baptist Children's Homes & Family Ministries in Valparaiso.

Police said Joseph Combs, 50, the former pastor of the now-defunct Emmanuel Baptist Church, and his wife, Evangeline, 49, took the girl from the Baptist Children's Home when she was 4 months old.

The adoption process was never completed, police said.

The family lived in several states before settling in northeast Tennessee in 1989.

As she grew up, the girl was kept in seclusion at home. She was told by her so-called father that God demanded she be the family servant.

She was home schooled and apparently had few if any playmates or adult contact other than what she found at home.

The indictment against the couple alleges the young woman was beaten with a rope, brooms, sticks, a metal whip, a baseball bat and a wooden shoe. The indictment also alleges she was injured with a sharp piece of tin, pliers and a wood burner.

The husband and wife were charged with 19 crimes including aggravated assault, aggravated child abuse and aggravated rape.

Joseph Combs is charged with raping the girl from 1989 to 1992.

A statement from Jim Geurink, president of Baptist Children's Homes & Family Ministries, said the entire file for the proposed adoption was made available to the Bristol Police Department and that the organization is cooperating with the investigation.

It also said that both of the woman's birth parents are alive and that she has been put in contact with them.

Baptist Children's Homes & Family Ministries is a network of homes that cares for orphans and children waiting to be reunited with their families, according to John Mixon, the Indiana director.

The Valparaiso office is the headquarters for the organization's homes in Indiana but does not house children.

"The paperwork all goes through Valpo for Indiana," Mixon said.

The organization has more than 60 children in homes in the Midwest and in India. There are five Baptist Children's Homes in Indiana - two in Kouts, two in Indianapolis and one in Elkhart.

Mixon would not comment on which home the victim was living in at the time of the proposed adoption.

He said that living situations at the Baptist Children's Homes are similar to that of a family.

"We try to model the family," Mixon said.

The Combses were arrested last week and remain jailed on $250,000 bond each. Their case has been set for Nov. 25.

The woman, who was not at the hearing, turns 21 Monday.

"There are scars on her body almost from head to foot," Prosecutor Greeley Wells said.

Authorities, including Wells, are reluctant to discuss her condition or give specifics about what her life was like with the Combses.

"It is alleged she rarely, if ever, went anywhere or talked to anyone outside the company of the adults," Wells said.

David Combs, the couple's 20-year-old son, said the woman's duties, like the other children in the household, included homework and some chores.

"The only chores (she) had were cleaning her room and setting the table at night," he said. "As a family slave, that's just crazy."

The couple also had four biological children and one adopted child, ranging in age from 21 to 12.

The woman was hospitalized after a suicide attempt last year when she drank antifreeze. Her scars got doctors' attention, police were called and charges eventually were filed.

According to court documents, "While hospitalized in a coma, (she) often was heard to call out, 'I made the coffee, Daddy; please don't hurt me.' "

Wells said the woman is now living in another state with friends.

"She's doing quite well," Wells said. "She obviously has some severe emotional problems. I'm certain there are a lot of mixed emotions because (she felt) they were her parents."

She did not call a reporter when asked for an interview, using Wells as an intermediary.

Members at the two-story, brick Emmanuel Baptist Church say they never guessed anything was wrong.

The church, which had about 100 members, was not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

"Her father was an ostensibly well-respected preacher," Wells said.

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