World / Crime & Legal

Spain police find elderly pair held in 'house of horrors' who were apparently drugged and fed via tube

AFP-JIJI

Spanish police said Thursday they rescued an elderly man and woman locked up in a house, allegedly drugged and fed via a tube by a couple whose other “wards” died mysteriously.

The Civil Guard police force in the southwestern city of Cadiz said a German-Cuban couple are suspected of having befriended elderly people to rob them of their assets, accumulating more than €1.8 million ($2 million) over four years.

In what police described as a “house of horrors” in the seaside resort town of Chiclana de la Frontera, they found an elderly German man and a Dutch woman in a “terrible state,” locked up in separate rooms, drugged and fed via a nasogastric tube, without needing it. It is unclear exactly how old they are.

The two were taken to a care home where their health “improved significantly.”

The discovery of the couple came during an investigation launched when police were notified by their German counterparts that a wealthy centenarian woman called Maria Babes was missing.

Police found her in a care home in Chiclana, where she had arrived in a bad state.

Questioned, Babes told police the couple had approached her in Tenerife, where she lived “without family or friends nearby,” befriended her, offered to look after her and transferred her to Chiclana.

Babes told police she was kept locked up for several months in a house, with her hands tied up.

“In October, she had more than €162,000 in the bank and after this couple appeared in her life, by mid-December she had under €300, her house in Tenerife had been sold and she didn’t receive one euro of the sale,” the Civil Guard said in a statement.

The couple have been arrested and partially identified as Estrella, a Cuban national, and Markus, who has both Cuban and German citizenship, according to a source close to the investigation.

They have been charged with fraud, document falsification, domestic abuse, money laundering, asset stripping and misappropriation of funds.

But before managing to detain them, police said the couple went to the care home and took Babes away. Five hours later, she was dead.

“Maria left the center at 11:00 a.m., in good health, and her death was reported at 4:00 p.m. while she was in a car with her carers,” police said.

The couple also allegedly insisted on cremating her body rapidly, so no autopsy was done.

Babes’s death was registered as having been from natural causes.

After their detention, police searched the couple’s home in Chiclana and found they had another house rented out nearby.

That is where they found the Dutch woman and German man.

They also discovered that the Dutch woman had pretended to be Babes to sign for the sale of her home.

Police identified four other people who had been “looked after” by the couple and alleged that the four “had died unexpectedly once they (the couple) had taken all their capital.”

Police did not provide further details on these four people who died while under the couple’s care.

The arrested couple allegedly laundered the money, which they robbed by building a tourist complex on protected land in El Palmar, a coastal town in Cadiz province that is popular with surfers, using fake documents.

Police arrested four other people suspected of helping the couple launder their money.

The Guardia Civil said they had asked officials in Britain, Italy, Germany and Cuba to check if the arrested couple had bank accounts or financial products in those countries.