A Wisconsin mom is facing a slew of felony charges after her two kids were seen wandering the streets completely naked, covered in blood, bruises, and excrement.
That’s according to a criminal complaint filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, which says Katie Rae Koch, 34, kept the pair, ages 7 and 9, locked in a squalid bedroom with boarded-up windows for years on end and never enrolled them in school. Neither child is toilet trained, neither can read or write, and one of the two is unable to form full sentences, the complaint states.
When the youngsters managed to escape to the outside world last week, one neighbor told police they spotted the older boy “walking on the sidewalk like a ‘caveman.’”
Another neighbor said the two were clad only “in diapers, running from home to home,” and that they had no idea Koch even had kids, according to the complaint. Cops found the walls of the boys’ living space smeared with feces, which Koch at first tried to pass off as “clay, paint, and chocolate,” it alleges.
Koch’s live-in boyfriend, Joel Manke, 38, is also charged with various crimes related to the appalling conditions at the three-bed, one-bath home, which prosecutors described as “like something out of a horror movie.”
Koch’s ex, Erik Strasser, told The Daily Beast that he was still processing the news.
“At the moment, I have no comment,” Strasser said Tuesday in a text message. “I need to talk with my [current] wife before we proceed with any statement on this unfortunate matter.”
Reached by phone, Koch’s father, Jeffrey Koch, hung up without commenting on the situation. Lawyers assigned to represent Koch and Manke, whose LinkedIn profile says he works as a maintenance technician for an area frozen pizza purveyor, did not return voicemail messages left for them on Tuesday.
Authorities first learned of the children’s plight on July 13, when a concerned resident called 911 after spotting “two naked juveniles… walking around the neighborhood with blood on them,” according to the complaint. The caller said the duo had “bruises and red marks on their thighs,” it says.
When the first officer arrived, a group of neighbors pointed them to Koch’s home, saying she had “violently dragged” one of the two kids back inside. The officer “walked towards the house and from the outside heard what he believed to be a quieted cry or whimper,” the complaint states, noting that Koch soon exited the residence through a side door, appearing “flustered and anxious.”
“Koch was continuously pacing and swaying her body and appeared agitated,” the complaint goes on. “Koch’s appearance was overall disheveled. Koch was on the phone with a male and stated, ‘I’m standing outside in the drive way [sic] right now, are you almost home so you can help explain what’s going on, I love you, I love you.’”
Christine Eder, the neighbor who initially called police, told local ABC affiliate WISN, “I'm not going to ever forget the way they looked when they came running out of that house… They didn’t have any clothes on. None. Their hair… looked like it had never been brushed. Their faces was [sic] pure bewilderment. They were just looking all around. I don’t think they’d ever been outside before.”
Upon entering the home, encountered a “terrible hoarding situation,” the floor barely visible beneath all the detritus, according to the complaint. It says Koch attributed red marks all over the 7-year-old’s body to him and his brother smashing a window before running away. However, the officer on the scene remarked in the complaint that he didn’t notice any lacerations that seemed to have been caused by broken glass. As additional officers arrived, Koch gathered clothes for the children, who were then removed from the residence. A rabbit and three dogs were also reportedly taken away by authorities.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so afraid,” Koch repeated over and over, the complaint states.
Koch, who denied abusing the children physically, walked officers through the home, which the complaint says was literally uninhabitable.
“The smell of urine and feces filled the residence,” it continues. “Next to the bathroom was the children’s room. There was a mound of trash and garbage outside of the children’s room. The door was half way opened and a greater amount of urine and feces smell became present as [officers] approached the room. The children’s room had feces smeared all over the walls of the room. There was also a latch to lock the door from the outside of the kids’ room.”
When Manke showed up a short time later, he explained to police that he had lived in the home since 2007 and that Koch and her boys moved in about three-and-a-half years ago. He said he considered himself a stepdad to the kids, according to the complaint. Manke also told cops that he boarded up the children’s bedroom windows in an attempt to “keep [them] from bothering the nosey neighbor,” it states. The latch on the door was to prevent the kids from “wandering due to what Manke called ‘their autism,’” Manke allegedly said.
He admitted he knew the conditions in which the children were being forced to live were very wrong, but that he had learned to “pick his battles” with Koch, according to the complaint.
“Manke stated that he never contacted police or schools to report the children because he doesn’t believe in doing that to family members,” it continues.
A witness, identified in the complaint only as “MDS,” told police he got home from work at about 1 p.m. on the day of the incident. Roughly two hours later, MDS said he saw one of Koch’s children standing on the air conditioning unit outside their bedroom window. They then—unsuccessfully—tried to climb the fence into MDS’ yard, after which they ran to the front of their own house and started “making their way down the street.”
MDS said he hadn’t seen the boys outside the home in at least three years, and that he had complained to Koch about the sealed bedroom window being “wrong,” according to the complaint. Further, the complaint says MDS claimed he had “concerns about if the kids eat because he never sees groceries being brought into the home but frequently sees Manke bringing in 2 to-go containers for himself and Koch.”
Under questioning by police, Koch allegedly confessed that her kids had never in their lives gone to school. However, while claiming she homeschooled them, Koch also conceded that she simply gave them Hooked on Phonics workbooks and tablets with “educational apps” to use in lieu of actual curricula, the complaint says.
“Koch stated that [the younger boy] cannot write but can trace letters and read ‘small words,’” according to the complaint. “Koch stated that [the older boy] is learning how to put sentences together in proper form.”
When police told Koch that her kids’ heads had been shaved at the hospital because their hair was completely matted with feces, the complaint says she responded, “Yeah, whatever they need to do,” and contended they needed haircuts anyway. They had both been bathed five days earlier, Koch claimed, but she hadn’t washed them as thoroughly as she should have, according to the complaint.
“Koch admitted that the home is not habitable,” it concludes. “Koch wrote a 3 page apology letter to the boys.”
In court on Monday, Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Mallory Davis told the judge, “These children have been horribly damaged from their mother’s actions. They are completely uneducated. They are not potty trained, even at their ages. They are, essentially at this point, unable to function in society.”Koch remains detained on $30,000 cash bail, which her public defender said in court she could not post. Manke’s bail was set at $6,500. Each is charged with two felony counts of chronic neglect of a child and false imprisonment; Koch is also facing two additional misdemeanor counts of neglecting a child.
If convicted, Manke faces a maximum of nearly 44 years in prison. Koch also faces 44 years, plus an additional 18 months on the two misdemeanor charges. They are both due back in court on July 26.