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Missouri neighbors played role in woman's harrowing escape from captivity in basement

"She looked straight at me and said 'help,'" a neighbor said of encountering the woman who said she was being held against her will.

EXCELSIOR SPRINGS, Mo. — Neighbors who opened their doors last week after they heard anguished cries for help found a woman with a metal collar and a padlock around her neck and a harrowing tale of escape.

The woman, who said she had been held captive and assaulted for weeks in the basement of a nearby home, was desperate to be rescued and afraid for her life, they said.

Lisa Johnson, 41, who has lived in Excelsior Springs her whole life, said she was getting ready for work around 7:35 a.m. Friday when she heard a faint "help me" from outside her front door, which was open. 

Johnson said she spoke with the young woman, who told her she was being held against her will.

"She looked straight at me and said 'help,'" Johnson said at her home Wednesday, adding that when she told the woman she was going to call the police, she begged her not to.

"Please don’t. If you call the cops, he’s going to kill us both," the woman said, Johnson recounted.

"I understood where she was coming from at that point. But I did it anyway," Johnson said.

The neighbor said that as soon as she called police, the woman left. "I noticed that she was already right here" — pointing to an area between her yard and the neighbor’s.

Timothy Haslett Jr., 39, was arrested Friday and charged with first-degree rape, aggravated sexual offense, first-degree kidnapping and second-degree assault, according to a complaint filed in Clay County Circuit Court.

He was arraigned Tuesday and entered a plea of not guilty.

The home where neighbors raised the alarm in Excelsior Springs, Mo.
The home where neighbors raised the alarm in Excelsior Springs, Mo.Sarah Plake / KSHB

Officials have not detailed any possible connection between the woman and Haslett.

Johnson and another neighbor said the woman told them both about friends who did not survive. They did not have additional details, and officials have not confirmed that any other people had been held.

"That is certainly being investigated," said Sarah Boyd, the public relations manager for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office. "Everything that the victim said happened to her appears to be true. So we’re going to take what she says seriously."

'Screaming for help'

Ciara Tharp, 38, Haslett’s neighbor, said her grandmother encountered the woman after she escaped.

Tharp said her grandmother heard "a woman screaming for help" around 7:45 a.m. Friday as she was babysitting Tharp’s toddler son.

"She came and knocked on the door, and my grandma opened it, and there was a young Black girl. She didn’t have much on," Tharp said. "My grandma said that she had a metal dog collar around her neck.

"The girl told her, 'You have to help me,'" Tharp said. "She said: 'I’ve been raped. He’s held me captive. You have to help me. He’s going to end up killing me.' 

"My heart told me I had to help her," her grandmother said, according to Tharp.

Tharp said her grandmother brought the woman, who appeared “pretty weak and hungry," inside, sat her down and wrapped her in a blanket on the couch. Tharp said her grandmother fed the woman, gave her water and waited with her until the police came.

Tharp said the woman told her grandmother: “My friends didn’t make it. He killed my friends. They didn’t make it."

"But she didn’t really say much more about that,” Tharp said.

An opportunity to escape

The woman also told her grandmother, as well as police, that she had been held since September and that she escaped when Haslett left the home to take his son somewhere, Tharp said. 

"She said she took the opportunity. She flung the door open. She just ran," Tharp said.

Tharp said she has very little interaction with Haslett, whose "house always looks dead," she said. "It looks like a house that nobody lives in."

Police found the woman Friday wearing a metal collar with a padlock and latex lingerie, and she had duct tape around her mouth, Excelsior Springs police said in a probable cause statement filed Friday.

The woman told police that Haslett picked her up in early September and kept her in a small room in his basement, restraining her wrists and ankles with handcuffs, police said in the document. The woman said she was repeatedly raped and whipped while she was held hostage, police said, adding that the woman had injuries on her back.

Police continue to investigate the woman’s claims that there might be other victims who did not survive, Boyd said Wednesday.

Authorities spent three days executing a search warrant at Haslett’s home “to be very, very thorough and methodical to find if there is any evidence that the suspect is connected to other crimes,” Boyd said. Law enforcement officers did not find any bodies or dead people, but they are “looking at the possibility” that there might be other victims, she said.

Boyd said that in addition to the Excelsior Springs Police Department and the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, the Kansas City Police Department’s crime scene investigation unit and the FBI are assisting in the investigation. 

“There are a lot of people who are taking that possibility very seriously,” she said.

Excelsior Springs, a city of about 10,500 people, is about 30 miles northeast of Kansas City, Missouri.

Haslett is being held on $500,000 bond, Boyd said, and he remains at the Clay County Detention Center. The court is in the process of appointing a public defender, she said.

Minyvonne Burke reported from Excelsior Springs, Missouri, and Daniella Silva reported from New York.