Mother accused of confining, not educating daughters for years
DECATUR, IN (WANE/CNN) – Police arrested a woman they say kept her two teenage daughters confined to their Indiana home for years, failing to educate them or, at times, feed them.
Mary Heller was charged with felony neglect after authorities found the teenagers in a home in deplorable conditions. Though it’s not clear exactly how long the girls had been kept inside, court documents indicate they didn’t know much more than the alphabet and basic numbers.
The investigation began in January when a Decatur Police detective received a report of possible neglect of two teenage girls who didn’t have food in their home.
The girls’ cousin had asked two other women to check on them. The women say they found the windows covered in white butcher paper. One of the girls answered the door and appeared “very skinny, having a pale looking complexion, [and] greasy long black hair,” according to an affidavit.
The home had a “foul, strong odor,” and was unkempt, one of the women said.
The women took the girls to a McDonalds and then to Walmart where they appeared to have no social skills and indicated they didn’t eat very much. According to the affidavit, at Walmart, one of the girls said, “I always dreamed of this, going to the store.”
The next day, medics were called to the home after Heller called 911 because she had been unable to get up from the bathroom floor for “approximately 20 hours.”
Medics reported the house smelled like “rotting flesh,” and one of the girls appeared “skinny and dirty looking.”
Police later served a search warrant.
In the home, a detective learned the older girl, 19, was from China and the younger one, 15, was from Mongolia. The girls told police they only went outside to get the newspaper and mail.
Police found clumps of black hair on the carpet in most of the home’s rooms, “brown colored smelly stains” on carpets, a clogged toilet and a broken refrigerator, according to the affidavit.
The girls were placed into the custody of Child Protective Services.
In an interview with a child services case worker, the 15-year-old said Heller pulled her and her sister out of school in preschool and taught them numbers and the alphabet but “gave up homeschooling them,” according to the affidavit.
Police interviewed Heller at the hospital where she apologized for the condition of the home, saying she was too ill to clean, according to the affidavit. She admitted to not having food for her daughters.
However, Heller denied confining the girls to her home and said she removed them from public school to home school them because they were shy, according to the affidavit.
In a follow-up interview, Heller said she pulled the girls out of school in 2nd grade and said “they need help” with education.
The girls were enrolled in middle school after the investigation. Teachers told police that at the end of the school year, the 15-year-old “lacked the basic concept about school,” could only do single-digit math and was functioning behind the special needs students.
Neighbors say they were concerned about the girls’ well-being for years and made multiple calls to police and child services.
The 15-year-old said in an interview that Heller “coached them on what to say” to a case worker from the Department of Child Services, who visited the home a year prior, according to the affidavit.
Neighbors say Heller had lived in the home for 15 years.