Authorities in suburban Philadelphia were trying to unravel the mysteries Sunday of a local man found living with 12 girls, one of whom was apparently a “gift” from her financially strapped parents.
Lee Kaplan, 51, was charged with statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault and other offenses after authorities, acting on a tip from a neighbor, found Kaplan at his Lower Southampton home with girls ranging in age from 6 months to 18 years. The 18-year-old told police she and Kaplan were the parents of a 3-year-old and the 6-month old.
“They were living in the basement, they were hiding in the chicken coop,” Robert Hoopes, Lower Southampton’s director of public safety, said of the girls. He added that the children apparently were home-schooled, that musical instruments and homework were found in the basement.
Police with search dogs spent the weekend sifting through the property for clues. Authorities were trying to determine the identity of the other nine girls in the house, including the possibility that all the girls were related.
The teen’s father, Daniel Stoltzfus, 43, told investigators he and his wife Savilla, 42, “gifted” their daughter to Kaplan about four years ago after researching the legality on the Internet. The couple told police they were broke and poised to lose their farm in rural Lancaster County when Kaplan “saved them from financial ruin.”
Daniel Stoltzfus faces charges of conspiracy to commit statutory sexual assault and children endangerment. His wife was charged with endangering the welfare of a child. Kaplan and the couple were being held Sunday on $1 million bail each.
Hoopes said the Stoltzfus family was or had been Amish. He dismissed claims from neighbors that they had been complaining about the living situation in the home for years.
“What kind of call did they (make)?” Hoopes asked. “That they saw Amish people? That’s the kind of calls we got. We didn’t get any child abuse calls. If it was a child abuse call we would have responded.”
He added that police had responded to a call regarding the house at least once in the past, but no probable cause for a search warrant was found. Hoopes said police were trying to determine whether the children were abused. They have now been placed in protective custody.
The children did not appear malnourished and the house was in relatively good condition, he said. The house had a greenhouse, and food was being grown. The chickens were taken by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Kaplan apparently made money selling model train equipment and had an “elaborate setup” worth thousands of dollars, Hoopes said.
Jen Betz told the Associated Press she called authorities because she was concerned about young girls living in the house with boarded windows and high weeds.
“They’re so sad and fearful every time I see them,” Betz said. “That’s what made me call. I’ve been telling my husband for years, ‘Something isn’t right, something isn’t right.’”