Women tell of years of servitude in home: This is a dek head sort of thingy that leads into the story

Date: 2006-03-15

By: Kytja Weir
The Charlotte Observer

Mar. 15--As children, the girls were told the woman who took them in would help them, give them shelter and education as their parents' marriage fell apart. But it wasn't until a decade later that Jasmine and Holly Lloyd, now 22 and 18, say they began to understand that a childhood spent taking care of dozens of animals and following curse-filled orders bellowed on a house intercom instead of attending school wasn't a normal way to grow up.

Now authorities are looking for Mercedes Farquharson, 60, on two counts of felony child abuse inflicting serious injury in connection with incidents involving a 15-year-old girl. They also have warrants charging her with three felony counts of involuntary servitude for allegedly keeping the girl and the Lloyds in a Monroe home for years. Union County Sheriff's Detective John Young, who led the criminal investigation, said he believes Farquharson is living in Spain. He told the Observer Tuesday he's working with federal agencies to apprehend the wanted British citizen.

Farquharson could not be reached. And no one answered the door this week at the Hampton Downs Drive home south of Monroe where her adult daughter reportedly still lives. The Lloyds, now living with a Union County Department of Social Services employee's family, say they are trying to understand what has happened to them and catch up on lost childhoods without education or friends. The 15-year-old girl they consider to be their sister remains in DSS custody. The three girls moved to the Union County home several years ago after living in Spain for about six years with Farquharson.

The Lloyds say their biological mother had let them stay with Farquharson after she helped the mother leave the girls' alcoholic father. An unrelated, third girl was adopted at age 2. While as young as 12 and 7, the Lloyds say, they were put to work. They say they never went to school again. Jasmine recalls being assigned to take care of 22 dogs when they lived in Spain. Holly was assigned to do all the cooking, which she says included frying chicken livers in butter to hand-feed to the dogs. Farquharson would demand Holly cook pricey steaks for her, one after another until she got it cooked just right. If it wasn't perfect, Holly said, Farquharson would give it to the dogs. The girls sneaked food for themselves, Jasmine said.

Things got worse last year, they said, when Farquharson acquired seven sheep and nine goats, more chickens, rabbits and hamsters for her Union County home. Work then continued round the clock, the Lloyds said. At one time, they said, they cared for 300 chickens. Farquharson ordered them to leave doors open so the chickens could enter the house as they pleased.

"I know a lot of people don't believe us. I know it is bizarre," said Holly Lloyd, now 18. "But I can't make this stuff up." The house was covered in excrement, with animals everywhere, when authorities visited the home in December, said Young. He said Farquharson blamed the filthy home on the three young women. Neighbors noticed the animals, too. "Oh, my God. There were chickens everywhere. There must have been hundreds.

Sometimes there were eggs in my front yard. Then there were sheep. Goats. Rabbits. Ducks. Pigeons. Noah's Ark didn't have as many animals," said neighbor Petra Tussing. "It was just much too much for three young girls to take care of. They worked through the night and were out there bright and early," she said. The Lloyds said they only got to leave the house for the occasional trip to Wal-Mart or movies. They said they were shut off from teens their age and the outside world. "We didn't meet anyone. We didn't know anyone," Holly said. "It was just her and the way she lived her life."

An investigation report says the youngest, a 15-year-old, suffered a severe laceration when she was hit on the head with electric clippers. Another Sheriff's Office report said the woman made the girl work "rigorous long hours at night." In 2003, Department of Social Services workers came to the home, the Lloyds said. They said they were ordered to clean the house in preparation for the scheduled visit. Then, with Farquharson in the room, they said they told the case workers that they loved her and the reports about mistreatment were lies. "There was no other choice," said Holly. DSS investigators returned to the home last December. The 15-year-old adopted daughter of Farquharson was removed from the home. The Sheriff's Office began to investigate the allegations that day, but Young said that by the next night Farquharson was gone.

The 15-year-old is now staying in a group home, the Lloyds said. And they worry she will be sent away. "They would really like to keep their sisterhood together," said David Meachum, whose family took in the Lloyds. "It's all they have left." The Lloyds are staying with David and Tanya Meachum. (Holly and Jasmine Lloyd were legally adults, so DSS couldn't intervene in their lives.) They now get tutoring from a retired school teacher to catch up on the schooling the Lloyds say ended at ages 12 and 7. Their math skills are near second grade levels, David Meachum said. They are now wearing clothes that fit them, not purchased too big from thrift stores. They meet people their ages at church. And they dream of going to college.

Holly hopes to become a photographer. Jasmine keeps switching -- detective, or working with orphans? But the Lloyds are here illegally, they said, their British passports long-expired and their U.S. tourist visas overdue. They have no education or money. They said they are scared to contact their biological mother, who left them with Farquharson.

In the meantime, though, the Lloyds said they are adjusting to their new life, enjoying peace and the freedom to read or go to the bathroom without hearing an intercom calling them. "When I was there, I never thought it was weird or bizarre," Jasmine said. "Now that I'm out I realize she's the weird one, not the rest of the world." -- Staff writers Michelle Crouch, Melissa Manware, Mike Donila and Staff Librarian Marion Paynter contributed. -- Kytja Weir: (704) 358-5934 If You Need Help If you suspect a child is being abused, call 911 or the local child protective agency in your county that is listed in the emergency pages of your phone book.

To get more help, call Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina at (800) CHILDREN (244-5373) during normal business hours.
Or you can get help on a national hot line 24 hours a day: (800) 4-A-CHILD (422-4453).
More details: www.protectingkids.org or www.preventchildabusenc.org .

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