Bizarre: three arrested after couple ‘gifted’ Amish man living with 12 girls a 14-year-old ‘wife’
Parents of the teenage girl gave away their daughter after finding information on the internet they believed made it legal
A 51-year-old Bucks County man was arrested after he was found living with 12 girls, including a teenager he considered his wife, and a baby and a toddler he fathered with her, authorities said on Friday.
Some of the children were hiding in the small house.
“We kept finding more children,” Lieutenant John Krimmel said. “It’s just a crazy situation.”
The oldest girl, now 18, told police she was the mother of two of the girls, a three-year-old and a six-month-old, Krimmel said.
The teen’s parents, Daniel and Savilla Stoltzfus, of Quarryville, Lancaster County, also were arrested after they told police they had “gifted” their daughter to Lee Kaplan four years ago.
The girl was 14 at the time, and Daniel Stoltzfus gave her to Kaplan as thanks “for helping his family out of financial ruin,” according to the criminal complaints.
The couple said they were the parents of all of the children except the two youngest, who were their grandchildren, said Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler.
Heckler said they were still investigating how the other nine children came to be living with Kaplan, and whether any of them may have been abused.
“We’ve got a ways to go to figure out what’s really going on here,” Heckler said.
Heckler described the Stoltzfuses as “straightforward”. They told police they were going to lose their farm until Kaplan “comes along and gives them money somehow”, possibly employing Daniel Stoltzfus in a scrap business.
Once their farm was saved, Daniel Stoltzfus, now 43, did some Internet research and concluded that it was legal to give their daughter to Kaplan, Heckler said.
Savilla Stoltzfus, 42, was at Kaplan’s house when the child welfare check was made, Heckler said.
The Stoltzfuses “think he’s a wonderful man”, Heckler said. Some of the girls said good things about Kaplan, Heckler said, describing them as “brainwashed” by him.
Kaplan and the 18-year-old were not married, but Heckler said they acted as husband and wife.
The girls apparently did not attend school and it was unclear if they had ever been to a doctor, Heckler said. They did not appear to be in bad health and did not show visible signs of trauma, he said.
Because of an apparent Amish influence on the children, police asked child welfare workers from Lancaster County who are familiar with Amish culture to interview the children, Krimmel said.
Police were unable to find birth certificates for any of the children and said they did not have Social Security numbers, he said.
Heckler said all of the children are in protective custody and are together.
Kaplan and the Stoltzfuses are each being held on US$1 million bail.
Kaplan was charged with two counts of statutory sexual assault and related offences. Daniel Stoltzfus was charged with criminal conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children. Savilla Stoltzfus was charged with endangering the welfare of children.
The Stoltzfuses were born into the Amish religion, but renounced it amid a years-long fight with community elders, according to a federal lawsuit they filed in 2009 against their former church. In the complaint, the Stoltzfuses said they had 11 children and had owned their family property on Pumping Station Road in Kirkwood, Lancaster County, since 1997. They operated a metal working business on the property. They suggested that sect leaders, among other things, frowned on them for doing business “with an individual of the Jewish faith named Lee Kaplan,” the complaint says.
The lawsuit was dismissed later that year.
The address listed for the Stoltzfuses on their criminal complaint, on Locust Lane in Quarryville, is a 118-acre property zoned for dairy, beef and hog farming, and includes a five-bedroom red brick farmhouse. It was sold last year for US$1.7 million, according to property records.
Neighbours said the arrests brought unprecedented activity to an otherwise quiet neighborhood, with news helicopters overhead and media vans swarming the streets.
Kaplan’s empty house, with a bright blue door and at least one window boarded up, was guarded by police on Friday night.
Jen Betz, a 37-year-old mother of two young children, said she was the neighbour who called a child-welfare hotline about Kaplan.
She called Bucks County Children and Youth on Wednesday because she was concerned about the girls – some seven or eight, some in their young teens – she saw at his house, which she noticed had boarded windows and high weeds.
They all wore blue dresses and had long, unkempt hair.
“The guy drives that creepy blue van,” she said. “He looked creepy.”
Then Betz learned that there was an infant in the house. Being a new mother to a little girl helped make the decision for her.
“Something needed to be done,” she said.
She talked to a woman from the Bucks agency on the phone on Wednesday. “She asked, ‘Do I need to send the police?’ I said absolutely,” Betz said.
Betz said she had called about Kaplan a few years ago, but didn’t have a lot of information. She hopes the girls can start moving forward.
“They’re probably scared,” she said. “They don’t know who they are and where they’re supposed to be.”
While she was at Wawa earlier on Friday, she saw a helicopter hovering nearby. “I saw the helicopter and I thought, ‘Just don’t let it be my kids.’”
She later learned from news reports of the allegations against Kaplan.
“It’s right here, literally in my backyard,” she said of Kaplan’s house. “This is inexcusable. And to know he’s been hiding right here. It’s calm, it’s peaceful, it’s quiet. He picked a good place to hide.”
She said she frequently sees joggers and parents with children and teenagers walking through the tree-lined neighbourhood. “Now it’s like, ‘Don’t let your kids out to go for a walk,’” she said.