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Elderly man held captive in Houston garage for more than a year dies, police say

Walter Renard Jones, in an undated booking photo, is charged with two felony counts of injury to the elderly.
Walter Renard Jones, in an undated booking photo, is charged with two felony counts of injury to the elderly.File / Houston Police Department

One of four men who were held against their will in a Houston garage without beds or bathrooms, three of them for more than a year, has died, Houston police said Tuesday.

The man, William Merle Greenawalt, 79, was found with two of the other men July 19 in a garage that authorities described as a "dungeon." The men weren't tied up or chained, but the garage was secured with an array of locks to keep them in, according to Harris County court records. The fourth man was discovered in the house.

Greenawalt and two of the other men, who police said had been imprisoned in the garage for more than year, were so badly malnourished that they were hospitalized. 

They told police that Walter Renard Jones, 31, persuaded them to move into the house in exchange for shelter and food. Once inside, they said, they were locked in and forced to turn over their Social Security and veteran's benefit checks, according to the records.

Police announced Tuesday that Greenawalt died Thursday. The two other men — Dean Cottingham, 59, and John Edward Padget, 64 — have been released to the custody of Adult Protective Services.

The fourth man, who said he'd been held for about six months, was in better shape and declined medical treatment.

Jones was arrested July 19 and charged with injury to the elderly by act and injury to the elderly by omission. According to the felony complaint, Jones beat Greenawalt with a cane. 

Police didn't say Tuesday whether they would seek to upgrade the charges in light of Greenawalt's death. No cause of death was given.

Harris County court records show that Walter Jones has a criminal record extending back to 2001, with arrests on charges of theft and possession of marijuana. 

In 2009, a grand jury indicted him on a charge of failing to register as a sex offender. Charging documents in that case said Jones was convicted in juvenile court in 1997 of two counts of felony aggravated sexual assault of a child.

The 2009 charge of failing to register as a sex offender was eventually dismissed for lack of evidence, court records show.  

The home where the men were held was once the headquarters of the nonprofit Faith Ministries, whose declared mission was to feed and shelter the homeless. It was run by Jones' grandmother, Regina Jones.

The Houston Chronicle reported that in 2010, state authorities revoked the ministry's nonprofit status because of tax reporting issues.

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