From the outside, little about Jerry Lee Curry’s modest blue house in a quiet south Minneapolis neighborhood warranted more than a glance.
But for his three daughters inside, it was a prison.
According to court documents, Curry, 51, kept his twin daughters in chains. For years he beat and raped them, and he fathered two children with one of the twins. A younger daughter also endured abuse. All the while, their mother stood by.
On Thursday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman called the allegations “as repugnant and horrifying as anything I have seen in my 18 years as a county attorney.”
It all ended when one of the developmentally delayed twins escaped last May from what Freeman called a “house of horrors” and all three daughters were swept to safety.
Curry made his first court appearance Thursday and formally answered to charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, stalking, first- and second-degree assault, abuse of a vulnerable adult and a gross-misdemeanor count of child endangerment. He remains jailed in lieu of $750,000 bail.
Police are still trying to locate 48-year-old Shelia M. Wilson, the mother of the 21-year-old twins and an 11-year-old girl who also lived in the home, but charged her Thursday with three child neglect counts, two as felonies and one as a gross misdemeanor. Court documents indicate what child protection officials, prosecutors and police and even doctors learned in the years before the children were rescued — more than nine months before Curry was arrested and charged.
A ‘sex chamber’
On that day last May, shortly after one of the twins escaped, officers entered the home and saw what police branded a “sex chamber,” according to a child protection filing made on behalf of a 3-year-old born to one twin. Within days, all the children were moved to safety.
“Child 1 [the 11-year-old daughter] was naked, and Mr. Curry was reported to be wearing only a shower cap,” the report read. “There was pornography playing, sexual toys and objects strewn about the room.”
Officers also found 100 unmarked DVDs and VHS tapes, a camera, and a heavy wooden paddle wrapped in tape. One of the twins said Curry had more than 1,000 pornographic videos. Two dogs were in the basement lying in their own feces and urine.
Also in the home when police entered was the twin who gave birth in 2014. She was pregnant again, and Curry is alleged to be the father.
From almost the time eight or so years ago that Curry and his family took up residence in the 4200 block of 17th Avenue S., police have come knocking dozens of times, county child protection officials have investigated, and the twins were seen for medical treatment of their wounds.
One child safety advocate said Thursday he was troubled by a report of one of the twins being treated at a hospital for severe gangrene two months before the children were safely out of the home.
“When the child went in and because the chain [on her ankles] was so tight, there was gangrene; did they report that to child protection?” said Rich Gehrman, executive director of Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota. “Unless the doctors didn’t know what caused [the gangrene], it seems like a massive oversight.”
Officials with the county’s child protection services declined to discuss the case, citing privacy concerns. Jennifer DeCubellis, the county’s deputy administrator for health and human services, said in a statement, “This is incredibly hard, complicated work. ... After critical incidents, we scrutinize our work to determine what went well and where practices or interventions could improve.”
Multiple child protection cases were opened by the county, one as far back as March 2013, when the twins accused Curry of physical abuse. The investigative assessment, however, said everyone involved denied there was any abuse, and the case was closed.
In June 2016, another child protection case was opened after reports of threats of sexual abuse, Curry “pimping” the twins in exchange for crack cocaine from dealers, and allegations of Curry beating the mother and twins.
Less than three months later, the court renewed the mother’s guardianship over her adult twins, and the case from June 2016 was closed soon after that.
Freeman said “I have no criticism of police or child protection at this time.” He also defended the nine-plus months it took from the time the children were removed from the home to safe custody until Curry was charged.
“With all the victims and potential victims and all of the conduct, we had to act methodically and carefully to sift through what was happening in this house of horrors,” Freeman said. “Our investigators and prosecutors had to unwind what was exactly happening, and frankly we were all shocked.”
The time Curry was on the street offered him the chance to flee, something the charges filed Tuesday acknowledged when the prosecution sought a “rush warrant” for his arrest, a term emphasizing the urgency of an arrest. Freeman said Thursday he was “just not certain” whether Curry was at risk of going underground.
53 police calls in six years
From 2011 until mid-2017, police fielded 53 calls for service to the home. Domestic disturbances, a missing child and checking on the welfare of a resident were the most common reasons police were contacted.
Neighbor Laura Wolovitch said Thursday she made many of those calls to police and other calls to child protection officials over the past several years. She said she first started calling because she was seeing that the twins were rarely in school. She said the twins were always hauling garbage and doing chores in the backyard.
“I’m really friendly, and I tried to talk to them, but they were a blank slate,” Wolovitch said.
She recalled seeing one twin on an especially cold winter day two years ago “standing in the backyard with a T-shirt on and wouldn’t move. It was like she was being punished.”
Wolovitch said she would often see Curry in his alley or driveway behind the house. She described him as “just a monster.”
“He was like a raging drunk all the time,” playing music loud enough for police to be called multiple times.
“It just breaks my heart that these girls couldn’t be saved earlier,” said Wolovitch, the mother of a 17-year-old girl. “The cops were over there so many times. Did they not go in the house?”
University of Minnesota student reporter Trevor Squire contributed to this report.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482