exposing the dark side of adoption
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Author: The Associated Press

Dateline: BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn.

A former pastor and his wife kidnapped a baby girl from a children's home, then brainwashed her into believing God wanted her to be their family's servant, according to police.

For much of 20 years, the girl served the couple and their four other children, police say. And all the while, she was being physically and sexually abused by the couple, according to court documents.

"I don't think she ever really knew it was wrong," said Capt. Blaine Wade of the Bristol Police Department.

The abuse was discovered after the woman was hospitalized following a suicide attempt last year.

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

Wade said the woman's suicide attempt was her way of trying to escape the abuse.

Joseph Combs, 50, was charged last week with especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, aggravated perjury and seven counts of aggravated rape. He was pastor of the now-defunct Emmanuel Baptist Church.

His wife, Evangeline Combs, 49, is charged with especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated and misdemeanor assault, and aggravated child abuse.

The indictment alleged the young woman, now 20, was beaten with a rope, brooms, sticks, a metal whip, a baseball bat and a wooden shoe. The indictment also alleged she was injured with a sharp piece of tin, pliers and a wood burner.

Authorities say the couple took her from a children's home in Indiana when she was 4 months old under the pretext of adopting her but never did.

The couple kept the girl in seclusion and only family members and a few church members knew about her. The couple home-schooled her, according to police, but she is unable to read or write.

"She was basically the servant of the home. She waited on all the children and adults," said Bristol Police Detective Debbie Richmond-McCauley.

The Combses did not mistreat their three biological children and an adopted daughter, but singled out the kidnapped girl for abuse, police said.

In 1992, a Bristol, Va., officer found the girl locked in a convenience store bathroom, crying and saying she was afraid of her abusive parents. It was unclear why no action was taken at the time, but the girl remained with the couple.

In 1996, the girl disappeared from her father's church and was found wandering around neighboring Carter County with no memory of how she got there. Again she was returned home.

Police tried to get custody of the girl last year, but Combs allegedly hid her out of state and told officials she ran away.

"This was a very enclaved group, this family," Wade said.

The woman now has been reunited with her birth parents, Wade said. She is in the Bristol area but plans to move to another state, he said.

She is getting long-overdue dental work and other attention to hygiene.

The public defender's office and Bristol attorney Larry Weddington were appointed Monday to represent the Combses. Their arraignment is scheduled for Friday. The couple remained jailed Tuesday on $250,000 bond each.

1998 Nov 11