A Wisconsin mom is facing lewdness charges after her kids were spotted roaming the streets completely naked, covered in blood, bruises and excrement.
That’s it according to a criminal complaint filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, says Katie Rae Koch, 34, kept the two, ages 7 and 9, locked in a rickety bedroom with boarded-up windows for years and never enrolled them in school. Neither child is toilet trained, neither can read or write, and one cannot form complete sentences, the complaint states.
When the boys managed to escape to the outside world last week, one neighbor told police they saw the older boy “walking on the sidewalk like a ‘caveman'”.
Another neighbor said the two were just clad “in diapers, running from house to house,” and had no idea Koch even had kids, according to the complaint. Police found the walls of the boys’ living space smeared with excrement, which Koch initially tried to describe as “clay, paint and chocolate,” he says.
Koch’s live-in boyfriend, Joel Manke, 38, has also been charged with various crimes related to the appalling conditions in the three-bed, one-bath home, which prosecutors described as “something out of a horror movie.”
Koch’s ex-husband, Erik Strasser, told The Daily Beast he was still processing the news.
“At this time, I have no comment,” Strasser said Tuesday in a text message. “I have to talk to mine [current] wife before we proceed with any statement on this unfortunate subject.”
By phone, Koch’s father, Jeffrey Koch, hung up without comment. Lawyers assigned to represent Koch and Manke, whose LinkedIn profile says he works as a maintenance technician for an area frozen pizza supplier, did not return voicemail messages left for them Tuesday.
Authorities first learned of the children’s plight on July 13, when a concerned resident called 911 after seeing “two naked juveniles … walking around the neighborhood with blood on them,” according to the complaint. The caller said both had “bruises and red marks on their thighs,” he says.
When the first officers arrived, they were alerted by a group of neighbors to Koch’s home, saying she had “violently dragged” one of the two children back inside. “The officer walked toward the home and heard from outside what he believed to be a quiet cry or whimper,” the complaint states, noting that Koch soon left the residence through a door side, while looking “disturbed and anxious.”
“Koch was continuously pacing and swinging her body and appeared agitated,” the complaint continues. “It was all Koch’s look. Koch was on the phone with a man and said, ‘I’m standing outside in the driveway [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 first called police, local ABC affiliate WISN said, “I’ll never forget how they looked when they came running out of that house… They had no clothes on. Nothing. Their hair looked like… it had never been brushed. Their face was [sic] pure bewilderment. They were just looking around. I don’t think they’ve ever been out before.”
When you entered the home, the floor was barely visible under all the debris, according to the complaint. He says Koch attributed red marks on the 7-year-old’s body to him and his brother breaking a window before running away. The officer who was on the scene indicated in the complaint, however, that he did not notice any chips that appeared to be caused by broken glass. As additional officers arrived, Koch collected clothing for the children, who were then removed from the residence. There was a rabbit and three dogs also reportedly taken away by authorities.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so scared,” Koch said repeatedly, the complaint states.
Koch, who denied physical abuse of the children, walked officers through the house, which the complaint says was literally uninhabitable.
“The smell of urine and feces filled the residence,” he continues. “Next to the bathroom was the children’s room. There was a mound of rubbish and garbage outside the children’s room. The door was opened half way and more urine and feces smell appeared as [officers] in touch with 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 outside the children’s room.”
When Manke showed up a short time later, he explained to police that he had lived in the house since 2007 and that Koch and her boys had moved in about three and a half years ago. He said he considered himself a stepfather to the children, according to the complaint. Manke also told police he boarded up the children’s bedroom windows in an effort to “keep [them] from disturbing the nosy neighbour,” he says. It was the latch on the door to prevent the children from “wandering because of what Manke called ‘their autism,'” Manke allegedly said.
He admitted that he knew the conditions under which the children were forced to live were very wrong, but that he had learned to “pick his battles” with Koch, according to the complaint.
“Manke said he didn’t contact police or schools to report the children because he doesn’t believe in doing that to family members,” he continues.
A witness, identified as “one MDS” in the complaint, told police that he got home from work at around 1 pm on the day of the incident. About two hours later, MDS said he saw one of the Koch children standing on the air conditioning unit outside their bedroom window. They then—unsuccessfully—attempted to climb the fence into the MDS yard, after which they ran to the front of their own house and began “making their way down the street.”
The MDS said he had not seen the boys outside the home in at least three years, and complained to Koch about the bedroom window being sealed “improperly,” according to the complaint. Additionally, the complaint states that MDS claimed he was “concerned if the children would eat because he does not see groceries being brought into the house but often sees Manke bring 2 containers in for himself and Koch.”
When questioned by the police, Koch admitted that his children had never gone to school in their lives. However, while she claimed she homeschooled them, Koch also admitted she only gave them Hooked on Phonics workbooks and tablets with “educational apps” to use instead of actual curriculum, the complaint says.
“Koch said that [the younger boy] they cannot write but can trace letters and read ‘small words’,” according to the complaint. “Koch said that [the older boy] learning how to put sentences together in correct form.”
When police told Koch that her children’s heads had been shaved at the hospital because their hair was completely matted with feces, the complaint said she replied, “Yeah, whatever they need to do,” and claimed that they needed haircuts anyway. Koch claimed to have bathed both of them five days earlier, but she did not wash them as thoroughly as she should have, according to the complaint.
“Koch admitted that the house is not habitable,” he says. “Koch wrote a 3-page letter of apology to the boys.”
In court on Monday, Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Mallory Davis told the judge, “These children have been horribly harmed by their mother’s actions. They are completely uneducated. They are not potty trained, even at their age. They are, basically at this point, unable to function in society.” Koch remains held on $30,000 cash bail, which her public defender said in court she could not post. Manke’s bond was set at $6,500. Each is charged with two felony counts of aggravated battery child neglect and false imprisonment; Koch also has two additional misdemeanor counts of child neglect.
If convicted, Manke will spend nearly 44 years in prison. Koch also faces 44 years, plus an additional 18 months on the two misdemeanor charges. Both are due back in court on July 26.