'Something out of a horror movie': Mom, boyfriend allegedly imprisoned children in home for years

ByAdam Rife, CNNWire
Wednesday, July 19, 2023
Mom, boyfriend allegedly imprisoned children in home for years
Katie Koch and Joel Manke are accused of imprisoning two children in their Milwaukee, WI home for years.

MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee mother and her boyfriend are facing multiple felony charges for allegedly imprisoning two children in their home for years WDJT reported.

Katie Koch, 34, is the mother of the children. She's facing four felony counts and two misdemeanors connected to child neglect and false imprisonment. Joel Manke, 38, is facing four felony counts.

According to the criminal complaint, another neighbor first saw the children looking through a shattered window last Thursday, July 13, then climb onto the air conditioning unit. They then jumped into the yard and walked down the street naked.

A child witness said the children -- two boys ages 7 and 9 -- "were acting like cavemen, like they had never seen the sun before."

On Monday, July 17, neighbors described what they saw when the children escaped the home.

Christine Eder lives across the street. She said it looked like "they had never been outside before. If they have been, it's been a very long time."

Eder said it took a moment for her to process what she was seeing when two boys stumbled away from a usually quiet house across the street.

She said, "They were just walking different. Their hair looked like it had never been brushed, never been cut. They didn't know the outside existed."

She said she had her husband call 911 while she kept eyes on the boys.

In Milwaukee County intake court Monday, the assistant district attorney described the living conditions like something out of a horror movie.

Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Mallory Davis said the children were essentially confined to their room for much of their lives. The windows were boarded up and door was locked from the outside. Responding officers described it as "a terrible hoarding situation" in which they could not see the floor.

A responding officer said the kitchen and living room were piled with garbage, and the smell of feces and urine filled the home. Trash was also piled outside the children's room, which locked from the outside; inside, the walls were smeared with feces.

Koch told officers the children had broken a window and ran away.

When asked what she knew about Manke and Koch, Eder said, "Absolutely nothing. I never saw her or him. Ever."

Joel Manke said he's lived in the home since 2007. Koch told investigators she and her children moved in about four years ago.

Some of the neighbors interviewed said they didn't even know children lived in the home during that time.

In an interview with investigators, Manke said he knew that how the children were living was not right, but that he had to "pick his battles" with Koch to avoid arguments.

He also said Koch had never taken the children to a doctor in the years she had lived with him, nor had they been to school in that time. Koch told investigators that she homeschooled the children.

She also "admitted that the home is not habitable," and said "her boys deserve better".

Conditions were so poor that after the children were taken into protective custody, their heads had to be shaved because their hair was so matted with feces.

"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," said Davis.

Eder said her usually-close-knit neighborhood is now redoubling efforts to be aware of their surroundings. She added, "I'm glad wherever they are they're taken care of, and I hope someone is taking them outside."

In court Monday, the court commissioner set a $30,000 cash bail for Koch. A public defender said Koch has no money to post bail. Manke's cash bail was set at $6,500. Their preliminary hearings are set for July 26. If convicted on all felony counts, Koch and Manke each face fines totaling $120,000 and 43.5 years in prison. Koch faces an additional $20,000 in fines and 18 months in prison for the two misdemeanor counts.

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