CRAWFORDVILLE, Fla. – As folks in Wakulla County say, they weren't from around here.
Even though Mirko and Regina Ceska lived in Wakulla County for more than 30 years, they were the perennial outsiders with a strong sense of otherness – their strange accents, plain clothes, and standoffish behavior.
The 21-year-old twins, who escaped after more than a decade of alleged captivity and sexual abuse, characterized the middle-aged couple as “doomsday preppers” who beat them, sexually assaulted them and forced them to raise crops, pigs, chicken and sheep.
The news of the arrest of the Crawfordville couple in their 50s comes as a shock to some – and not such a surprise to others who tangentially crossed paths with them in this rural coastal community of some 32,000 people.
“We called them the Germans,” because of their Eastern European accents, said Bryan Chatham, who lives behind the Ceskas' 3-acre spread on Lonnie Raker Lane. They’ve lived there since 1985, according to property records.
It’s just one of several properties they own in Wakulla, Franklin and Walton counties. They also own land in Johnson County, Tennessee.
“They were real quiet,” Chatham said, but he always suspected something was up. Even before he read the description of the charges against them on the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, Chatham said he used to darkly joke that "they had a sex slave operation.”
'The girls are safe and sound'
Mirko Ceska, 58, and Regina Ceska, 55, are being held at the Wakulla County Jail awaiting arraignment on Monday. They were arrested Friday for “various physical and sexual abuse charges,” two weeks after the young women escaped and contacted authorities, according to the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.
Mirko Ceska is charged with sexual battery, sexual assault, abuse and neglect. Regina Ceska was arrested and charged with two counts of neglect and two counts of failure to report abuse.
The young women reported to the sheriff’s office on July 1 that they had escaped a couple of days earlier, “after being physically and sexually abused for years by Mr. and Ms. Ceska.” The report said the Ceskas had custodial care of the two young women.
On Friday, detectives with the criminal investigation unit searched their home and served domestic violence injunctions filed a day earlier by the young women, who were born in 1997. According to Wakulla County court records, Refuge House of Tallahassee was contacted along with the sheriff's office.
Sheriff Jared Miller and detectives were accompanied by members of the North Star Multi-jurisdictional Drug Task Force and special agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
They found large quantities of food rations and survivalist items, and also seized dozens of “high-quality firearms and many cases of ammunition” from the house, some of it found hidden behind false walls or a staircase.
“A homemade video was seized which depicted an event wherein Mirko had his face very close to both females’ faces and was screaming that they had stolen food,” the WCSO reported.
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Wakulla Sheriff’s Public Information Officer Chris Savary confirmed that the adopted twin daughters were the ones who alerted law enforcement. While it is an ongoing investigation, Savary said there is no indication that any other people are involved, including the Ceskas’ two older sons.
Savary said it's unclear if the Department of Children and Families is involved in the investigation. A spokeswoman for DCF said she would contact the administrator of foster care and adoptions to see what records were kept on the couple.
“The girls are safe and sound,” Savary said, adding that he couldn’t disclose their whereabouts, per the criminal investigation division's instructions. “We are in contact with them, and protecting their ID. Also, they are of age and don’t want to talk to anybody.”
'They were not allowed to talk to anyone'
The twins said their adoptive parents were “doomsday preppers,” otherwise known as survivalists or people who prepare for drastic worldwide emergencies. The young women said they had “getaway properties located throughout the United States and food rations and weapons stored in the event of a major calamity.”
The twins told deputies they were trained to raise pigs and shear sheep, grow various fruits and vegetables, use a loom and sew.
Each day began at 5:30 a.m. on the farm. They were not allowed to go anywhere, couldn't have friends, couldn't have cellphones, nor talk to people in public places. They stated they were not allowed to talk or shake hands with anyone in public; rather, they were instructed to always look happy. They stated that if they didn’t smile, they would "get punished.”
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They also said they were verbally abused, starved and beaten. The most recent beating was administered by Mirko Ceska with a metal rod, they said. Detectives noted marks and bruises on one woman’s back and arm. They both told detectives that Mirko Ceska “would force sex acts upon them, some with the support of Regina Ceska.”
The Ceska homestead is off a dirt road surrounded by chicken wire fencing covered in kudzu. A metal gate blocks a dirt drive. Behind the gate sits a main 2,200-square-foot house painted red, a red garage, a pump house, and several unfinished wooden outbuildings that look like chicken coops.
“They had animals on the property, pigs and chickens,” Chatham said. “We always heard animals.”
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The next door neighbor built an 8-foot-high privacy fence on their shared property line because of the odor.
An above ground pool is in a clearing toward the back half of the property, which appears to be overgrown in natural woods.
“I could hear the children splashing and laughing and playing in the pool,” he said.
The Ceskas have two older sons, aged 37 and 35, who live on separate spreads nearby. Chatham said he met one of the sons once at the mailboxes at the end of their drives.
“We talked about his big, old pickup truck,” Chatham said. “That’s the first and last time I ever saw him.”
Chatham’s wife, Angie, who has lived behind the Ceskas for 16 years, said they waved at her a total of six times. She never saw the twins.
“They kept the yard such that you couldn’t see what was going on,” Bryan Chatham said.
Occasionally people would pull up to the drive and the Ceskas would meet them at the gate, he said. “They never let them through.”
Whenever the girls were near the front drive, they’d run and hide if Chatham pulled up to check his mail.
“Everything in the police report makes sense," Chatham said. "They were not allowed to talk to anyone. If they saw me getting out of the truck to check my mail, they would head for the house.”
Chatham found it strange that if the girls were in such dire straits they didn’t call out or come to their house.
“They could have flagged me down,” he said.
'He isn’t exactly customer friendly'
The Ceskas adopted the twins in 2008, apparently from a very abusive situation. They were heavily medicated, as the Ceskas told then-Gov. Charlie Crist in a meeting with him at the Governor’s Mansion in 2009. They told Crist they weaned the girls off 11 different types of medication and the girls were drug-free.
Both Ceskas worked in Tallahassee – Regina Ceska as a nurse at Consulate Health Care and Mirko Ceska as a picture frame manufacturer.
Chatham’s niece, Stevie Chatham Webster, worked with Regina Ceska in 2013. “She was real quiet, kept to herself. I couldn’t pick up any of her personal life.”
She remembered that Mirko Ceska would drop off his wife and pick her up at work every day. "There were no photos of their kids. No mention of a personal life.”
Several people commented on the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page that they had worked with Regina Ceska at Consulate or earlier in her life when she was a barber.
Mirko Ceska worked for 35 years with Richard Young at Strauss Gallery, a picture frame shop they started together on Thomasville Road in Betton Hills next to Food Glorious Food. Corporate records list Ceska as vice president, but Young said he only spent about 10 hours a week in the back of the shop building picture frames.
“He isn’t exactly customer friendly,” Young said.
The two never socialized outside of work, either, Young said. “We didn’t have much contact with him."
Young said Ceska’s mother was still living. The 81-year-old lives in Crawfordville and was once employed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, records show.
Mike Duncan, owner of Mike’s Feed Store on Crawfordville Highway, is known as the man who knows everyone in town. He took a break from unloading hay rolls off a flatbed truck Saturday to grab an ice cold bottle of water.
“They came in to buy feed,” he said after he was shown a photo of Mirko and Regina Ceska. “The girls would sit out in the car.”
Amanda Battles, manager of Ashley’s Feed Store on Wakulla Springs Road, had the impression they lived off the land. Mirko Ceska would drive up in a van with a trailer with the girls and buy hay rolls for their sheep. He mentioned his sons once. She only recently saw his wife for the first time, within the last month.
“He was always friendly when he came in,” Battles said. “I didn’t realize until I heard the story.”
She knew nothing about them being doomsday preppers, she said. “They seemed like Amish people.”
Battles remembered the girls were skinny and looked like teenagers. They wore long pants or jeans and long-sleeved shirts. One of the girls wore overalls.
“The girls would come in and always stand off. They stood behind father,” Battles said. “He never called them by name. He always called them 'girls.' It always struck me as odd.”
About a month ago, Mirko Ceska asked Battles if he could put up a notice about selling and moving sheep.
“He told me the girls wouldn’t be doing the sheep anymore because they got a job at a nursery,” Battles said. “I don’t know if that was a plant nursery, or a nursery school. I don’t know if that was their way out.”
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: 'Doomsday preppers' allegedly abused adopted twins who escaped farm