MONTICELLO, Utah — A couple being held in Utah, accused of torturing five of their adopted children, agreed to return to Florida to face charges.
John and Laura Dollar, accused of beating and chaining five children, pulling out their toenails with pliers and starving them, were caught Friday in Utah, said a law enforcement officer at the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office.
The couple left Florida after their seven adopted children were removed from their Tampa-area home last month. Doctors had alerted investigators when the couple’s 16-year-old boy, who weighed just 60 pounds, was treated at a hospital for head and neck injuries.
The couple, John and Linda Dollar, cared for seven children aged 12 to 17 in their Citrus County home in west central Florida, investigators said.
The children were not the Dollars’ biological children, nor were they foster children, but investigators would not discuss their relation for privacy reasons.
Children ‘looked like the photos ... of Auschwitz’
Florida’s Department of Children and Families has taken custody of all the children, who said the Dollars beat and punished five of them for stealing food or messing up the house..
Authorities said the abused five had physical injuries to back up their claims and were severely malnourished. They told of being forced to sleep in a closet in the Dollars’ bedroom because the couple accused them of stealing food and misbehaving, said Citrus County sheriff’s spokeswoman Gail Tierney.
“They looked like the photos that we’ve seen of Auschwitz,” said Tierney, describing 14-year-old twins, one weighing 36 pounds, the other 38 pounds, about 80 pounds below the normal weights for their age.
The other two children were favored by the Dollars and were uninjured, Tierney said.
In the past two years, the Dollars have moved their family to at least three different homes in the Tampa area after living in Tennessee, secluding themselves behind fences and in piney groves. The children were home-schooled and rarely played with neighbors or enjoyed the family’s pool.
“Who has seven kids and the kids never go out and play?” asked Dawn Crescimone, who lived near the family in suburban Tampa two years ago.
The family had lived in Beverly Hills, about 85 miles north of Tampa, since August. John Dollar, 58, is a commercial real estate appraiser, and his 51-year-old wife taught the children at home. The Dollars’ 3,800-square foot home is surrounded by a thick pine forest and has a pool, spa and a three-car garage.
Injuries prompted investigation
DCF began investigating the couple when a 16-year-old boy living in their home was rushed to the hospital on Jan. 21 with severe injuries after one of the other children called for an ambulance. The family included three girls, ages 12, 13 and 17; three 14-year-old boys, two of them twins; and the 16-year-old boy.
“They are safe, and they are doing as well as can be expected given the circumstances,” DCF spokesman Bill D’Aiuto said.
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services officials said Friday they hadn’t investigated the Dollars while they lived in that state.
Gov. Jeb Bush said the couple adopted the children in the 1990s. DCF officials said the adoption records were sealed, but there were no other prior abuse reports involving the family in Florida.
In a 1995 application with the Department of Children and Families, Linda Dollar wrote that she left home at age 16 because of her alcoholic and abusive father. She also wrote that her first marriage ended because of “abuse.” She gave no other details.
The comments were included in 164 pages of documents from when the Dollars applied to become foster parents. The department released them Friday.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.