CRAWFORDVILLE, Fla. – Two starkly different accounts are unfolding about the lives of adopted twins and their parents, Mirko and Regina Ceska, on their 3-acre homestead in Wakulla County, Florida.
The 22-year-old twins, adopted a decade ago, say theirs was a life of captivity, forced labor, physical and verbal abuse and eventually sexual abuse by so-called “doomsday preppers.”
Lawyers for the Ceskas say they are a loving family living off the land and trying to guide two unruly girls with a penchant for lying and behavioral problems that stem from their abusive early upbringing.
The twins' story captivated the community and the nation when the Wakulla County Sheriff's Office announced the arrest and shared details of the case on the night of July 12 on Facebook.
The twins told deputies they'd tried to escape before, packing and unpacking their bags several times for a planned getaway on their bikes. But in the end, they always got cold feet.
Not on June 30. That's when they said the father who adopted them at age 11 beat one twin with a metal pipe, causing bruises and a cut that deputies would later photograph and file as evidence.
They texted a friend to come and get them, and shortly after midnight they made their escape.
"It was 12:06 a.m. Our parents were asleep and the AC was on. The dog was asleep too so we thought that was perfect timing," one twin told detectives. "God has the perfect timing for us, so we snuck down the stairs but they were squeaky. We made it downstairs and made it out of there. We're free and it feels good."
Their story — told to Wakulla detectives and a case coordinator for the Children's Home Society — set in motion a sequence of events that would end with the twins whisked away to a secret location and the arrest of Mirko and Regina Ceska.
Mirko, 58, was released on a $50,000 bail bond on charges of battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault and first degree felony sexual assault on minors between 12 and 18 that were in his custody. Regina, 55, was released without bond on charges of second-degree misdemeanors for failing to report abuse of a cognitively disabled or otherwise impaired adult and neglect of an adult she had care for.
Neither had a prior criminal record.
As aggressively as local law enforcement agencies have moved to protect the twins, arrest the Ceskas and release information about the case, their defense attorneys are pushing back just as fast and hard in proclaiming their clients' innocence.
“These people are getting railroaded,” said Don Pumphrey, attorney for Mirko Ceska.
He said the twins are pathological liars who fabricated evidence, and the ongoing investigation will prove it. There is no proof the twins were held against their will, deprived of food and shelter, or abused in any way, sexual or otherwise, he said.
“Without a doubt they are innocent,” Pumphrey said of the Ceskas. "These are patently false accusations being made by the girls.”
Life on the farm
The twins were adopted by the Ceskas while their two sons were studying at Florida State University and living at home off and on. They took the twins out of public school and home-schooled them on their three-acre compound north of Crawfordville.
They would usually get up at 5:30 a.m. to do their chores. They’d feed the chickens, pigs and sheep, work in the garden, do laundry, wash dishes. They’d also work on the sprawling farmland nearby owned by the Ceskas, adjacent to land owned by their sons.
During their interview a day after their alleged escape, the case coordinator and the detective, who had psychological training, observed the young women seemed immature for their age and agitated when asked certain questions.
They had difficulty expressing themselves and couldn't remember the exact dates the alleged crimes occurred. One struggled with "reasonable awareness of social boundaries and safety" and spoke about people she met in public as "friends." She identified a worker at a local grocery store as her "boyfriend" even though they never went out on a date.
They still believed in Santa Claus.
"It is as if one is conversing with an 11- or 12-year-old when talking with them," the detective who was present for both interviews said.
The young women talked about being abused when they were young, and how they hoped for a better life.
“We thought when we got adopted we would be free and get away from all that," one twin told investigators. "We got new names and all that stuff. We thought it was going to be OK.”
The other twin said the Ceskas were good to them for the first few years. “But then when I turned 16, my dad abused me and raped me.”
At first, Mirko didn’t look at the girls sexually, she said. But on a walk through the woods at their vacation cabin in Maine, all that changed when she said he touched her breast. The groping began again when they returned to Wakulla County, and it progressed to sexual intercourse on a regular basis, she said.
The other twin said her father didn’t start touching her until she was 18.
One twin told detectives her mother watched Mirko groping them but she took his side. "She's like 'girls, it's OK. He's just trying to teach you.'
Regina also looked on when Mirko would hit the girls, they said, adding that Mirko would beat them for anything, using whatever was handy — metal rods, shoes, keys.
"She will always get in the way but not to protect us, to protect her husband," one twin said. "There have been times he would say I'm going to kill you, and she would say 'back away Mirko, they're not worth that.' "
Pumphrey, meanwhile, says the Ceskas never abused or hurt the children in any way.
In November 2010, when the twins were 13, they called 911.
The twins said when help arrived, they got "cold feet" and lied. "That was because Mirko beat us that night and we said we wanted to leave,” one twin said. Since that day, they told investigators, things only got worse.
What the twins characterize as abuse and control, Pumphrey said was a strong hand and watchful eye exerted by two caring adoptive parents who had wound up with a case of double trouble.
“My understanding is they’re 22 with a lot of problems but absolutely know what they’re doing," Pumphrey said.
The case against Regina Ceska hinges on whether the twins are disabled, vulnerable adults or capable of living on their own, said Fred Conrad, the attorney for Regina Ceska. Ultimately, he said, their investigation will show the Ceskas are innocent.
"We've just got the tip of the iceberg here," Conrad said. "These are nothing but a nice, tight-knit family that love each other very much and their world has been turned upside down."
The search for the twins
When Mirko and Regina Ceska woke up on July 1 to find the girls gone, Mirko contacted the Sheriff’s Office, filing a missing persons report at 6:53 a.m. He said the twins had the mindset of “14-year-old girls” and were unable to take care of themselves.
The Ceskas went to the bank where the twins had their savings accounts. The adoptive parents withdrew $2,650 from the one account leaving a balance of $5.19, and $2,200 from the other account, leaving a balance of $14.00.
They then went to the nursery where the twins had worked for two months, asking where the girls were. The employees said they didn’t know.
Regina Ceska called the Sheriff’s Office twice in the next day, leaving messages asking about the location of her adopted daughters. That afternoon, a lieutenant called her and said the case was closed.
Around 5 p.m., the Ceskas went to the nursery again, and for the second time in two days, the staff said they didn’t know where the twins were.
At 8 p.m., the twins “fearful of being found and killed” were moved to an undisclosed location paid for by anonymous donors and given aliases.
"As it stands the victims are beyond traumatized, which impacts their memory," investigators said.
The next day, Mirko contacted the twins’ boss at the nursery and asked if they had “said anything bad” about them, that anything they did say "wasn't true" and he shouldn't believe them.
Four days later and still unable to find their daughters, Mirko and Regina met with the supervisor of WCSO's criminal investigation unit. He told them the twins were adults and didn’t want any contact with their parents.
“Mirko and Regina stated the victims were unable to adequately care for themselves and were dependent on them for care and supervision,” the supervisor said.
On July 11, a detective called Regina back and said she had concerns about a man one of the twins was trying to contact and wanted both her and her husband to come in the next day.
“Regina appeared very upset and wanted to talk to me after 5 p.m. I said I would not be available. Regina then abruptly ended the call,” the detective said.
Later that afternoon, the Ceskas went to the nursery for a fourth time, driving aggressively into the parking lot and jumping out of the car. Staff said that “Mirko began yelling, wanting to know why the Sheriff’s Office wanted to speak with him.”
Their frantic attempts to find the twins were what any caring parents concerned for the safety of their children would do, Pumphrey said, and not the aggressive behavior described by sheriff’s deputies.
On July 12, the Ceskas arrived at the Sheriff's Office. A detective told Mirko the agency was investigating allegations he had sex with one of his adopted daughters. He “nodded his head and remained quiet” until he asked for an attorney, the probable cause affidavit noted. He was arrested and transported to the jail.
They also interviewed Regina Ceska and told her they were conducting an investigation into the allegations her husband had sex with one of their twin daughters. She also nodded her head and remained silent until she also asked for an attorney.
While they were being detained, the Wakulla sheriff and his deputies, along with state law enforcement officers, searched the house. They found 28 guns, including 14 military-style assault rifles, and 10-plus cases of ammunition hidden behind walls and under a staircase.
Pumphrey downplayed reports by the girls that the Ceskas were "doomsday preppers." He said they were people with engineer sons who learned to live off the grid.
"They were 'preppers' but not the doomsday variety," he said. "They were prepared for a hurricane or a nuclear attack from North Korea."
The investigation continues
State Attorney Jack Campbell said there is still lots of evidence for investigators to review.
Along with the guns and ammo, deputies confiscated several cellphones, laptops, and cameras, along with an assortment of disks, memory cards, DVDs, cassettes and videos after the twins told detectives that they had been photographed and videotaped naked.
Law enforcement officials also took away condoms and pregnancy kits in the parents' bedroom and sent their bedding off to the state crime lab for analysis.
While the Sheriff's Office consulted with the State Attorney's Office on the search warrants, the agency didn't consult first on the arrests, which started the speedy trial clock on the case. The State Attorney's Office has 175 days from the date of the Ceskas' arrest to wrap its investigation, file charges and go to trial.
Prosecutors, defense lawyers and the judge agreed to release Mirko Ceska on bond rather than hold him until trial because he had no record, wasn't a flight risk, and didn't pose a threat to the community at large.
"It's not that we think the charges are trivial by any stretch," Campbell said. "But we won't file charges until we are confident we can prove them beyond a reasonable doubt."
Assistant State Attorney Brian Miller, who is the lead prosecutor on the case, said there is still concern for the safety of the alleged victims, and he is confident in the ongoing investigation.
"Probable cause has been found," Miller said. "We are still investigating to see if we proceed to trial."
Pumphrey complimented Miller for working so hard on the case, but said that when it's concluded, his clients will be cleared.
“In short order, he’s going to get to the bottom of it, and resolve it,” Pumphrey said.
The twins told investigators they are happy to finally be free, safe and sound where their adoptive parents cannot find them.
"We don't have to see him anymore. We don't have to get punished for what I do," one said. "I can eat when I want to eat. I can watch TV and play games."
Follow Jeffrey Schweers on Twitter: @jeffschweers.
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Ceska twins tell of harrowing escape as Florida case carries on