PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – UNITED STATES.
For the residents living along the crime riddled streets of North Philadelphia, hardship is a way of life. However, behind the façade of an aging and dilapidated row house, in one of the cities most impoverished areas, a series of deplorable crimes were committed. For the Weston family, there really was no place like home.
Lead up to Crime
When Alice Collier died in the 1970s she left her teenage daughter, Linda Ann Weston, behind to take care of her twelve siblings. The family lived in an apartment situated near the corner of North 33rd Street and West Norris Street in Strawberry Mansion, Philadelphia. No fathers were involved in the upbringing of the children. Linda developed a domineering personality, splintered by her mother’s death. She grew fearful of evil spirits and controlled her younger siblings with extreme violence.
Weston would spike her siblings Kool Aid with narcotics, as a means of keeping them in the apartment. The drugs made them easy to control and quick to overpower if they attempted to flee. One of the younger girls, Valerie, was afraid to go outside, fearing her sister’s violent nature. “She used to hit me all the time.”
Linda reigned over the family with a ruthless terror. She tortured her brothers and sisters with continual beatings, and ordered them to complete chores, such as constant cleaning and scrubbing of the walls. She tied them up for days on end. The children became so conditioned to Linda’s torment that they never challenged her, fearful for their own safety.
She forced her siblings, some as young as 11, into prostitution with older men to make her money. Weston kidnapped relatives and took advantage of mentally disabled people, often holding them at different places around Philadelphia, and at times sexually abusing them.
The Weston house was plagued by incest from when Linda was nine years old, according to the testimony of a prison chaplain. She went on to make her family members perform incest; with the aim that they would have children so she could collect the Social Security payments. She would also have sex with her brothers and sisters. Her younger brother, aged eight, refused to watch her have sex with their cousin. He was hospitalised after Linda punished him by putting him in a hot oven, causing him to suffer burns, blisters and welts.
In 1979, while in her early twenties, Linda Weston gave birth to her first child, Jean McIntosh, followed by James a year later. Joseph would arrive in 1982, with Raymond the year after, but before they were born more children were on the way to fill the already crowded household.
Linda Weston’s sister, Venus, 19, became pregnant by Bernardo Ramos, 25, but he refused to financially support their unborn baby. Venus Weston “was afraid he was going to go away and not come back no more.”
Linda Ann Weston, 21, bashed her sister’s boyfriend with a hammer and a broomstick as he attempted to leave the apartment. “You wasn’t going to take care of my sister’s baby,” screamed Weston.
Ramos was described by prosecutors as being “possibly mildly mentally retarded.” He was much smaller than the two women, standing only 1.65 metres (5 foot, 4 inches).
Linda Weston ordered her brother, 11-year-old Alexander, to tie Ramos’ hands and feet with an electrical cord and strap him to a chair. In October 1981, the sisters locked Ramos in a rat-infested closet measuring 90 centimetres by three metres (3 x 10 feet). Water dripped through the leaky ceiling, providing his only source of fluids. They let him out sporadically to use the toilet.
Ramos kicked at the door as he attempted to summon for help. Alexander tried to smuggle the captive food but Linda caught him. As punishment, she broke his toes with a hammer. He would lay in a bedroom with another sister, pretending they were angels in heaven, fantasising that they were somewhere else.
The sisters starved Ramos, only feeding him beans on four occasions, and sometimes providing him with a carrot or a piece of cheese. His weight loss was dramatic and he grew painfully weak, weighing only 35 kilograms (78 pounds). He became so ill he vomited anything he ate. He was washed down in the bathroom when his stench became too overpowering for the women.
The man held in the cupboard wasn’t entirely a secret. Many family members knew of his situation, as such occurrences of people being locked up in the house were not unique.
Peppi McIntosh, father of Linda Weston’s children, visited the apartment while Ramos was held captive. Jean was a toddler at the time and alerted her father to the man’s presence. He approached, opened the door and began questioning the man. “He was in there tied up. I told him to get out [of] the closet. I asked him what is he doing there anyway. I say, ‘What is you doing in the closet?’”
McIntosh attempted to untie the man, but then asked one of the younger Weston sisters to do it for him.
Ramos’ mother reported him missing on November 24, after she noticed she hadn’t seen him for about two weeks.
After two months in the closet, Ramos’ emaciated body turned purple. Bernardo Ramos died shortly after Christmas, around December 28, 1981.
“Get him out of here,” sobbed Linda Weston, when she saw his corpse.
Disposal of Body
Family members removed Bernard Ramos’ clothes and dressed him in a blue sweatshirt and women’s underwear. Alexander and Venus stuffed Ramos’s body into a green garbage bag. Using a baby stroller, they wheeled this body through the harsh Philadelphia winter streets, in the early hours of the morning, and dumped him on the floor of an abandoned convent in the 1800 block of Green Street, just a few streets from where Ramos lived.
Two men entered the convent later the same day the body was dumped and reported their find to authorities. Police noticed the body was stiff, but there was no sign of foul play. The medical examiner ruled that Ramos died of natural causes, succumbing to malnutrition.
On November 12, 1982, police were called to the Weston’s home. Linda and Venus had lit a fire inside the apartment, aiming to “set the fire to run the evil spirits out of the closet.” They were charged with arson.
On Saturday, January 15, 1983, Linda and Venus Weston were arrested at their new residence in the 1900 block of North 11th Street. They were both charged with murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy. A concerned relative — a teenage girl who lived at the former apartment at the time of the murder — contacted police after a member of the Weston family went missing, suspecting they had been murdered in a similar fashion to Ramos. The girl also feared she would suffer a similar fate because of her knowledge of Ramos’ death.
Alexander and Valerie testified against their sisters in a preliminary hearing. On Tuesday, July 12, 1983, Venus Weston pleaded guilty, convicted of third-degree murder. The arson charge was dropped in exchange for her guilty plea. On October 17, 1983, she was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison.
Despite being the mastermind, Linda Weston initially avoided jail, as she was deemed incompetent to stand trial alongside her sister.
Common Pleas Court Judge John Geisz wrote: “The doctor had performed a psychiatric evaluation on Linda Weston and his report described the defendant as being a mentally retarded young adult suffering from intrinsic brain disease, mainly epilepsy. … Dr. Grosso also diagnosed the defendant as a schizophrenic.”
On December 14, 1984, after being ruled competent, Linda Weston was also found guilty of third-degree murder. She was found not guilty on the charge of arson. Peppi McIntosh testified against her in court. She was sentenced to four to ten years at the maximum-security women’s prison, State Correctional Institution, near Muncy, Pennsylvania.
On January 15, 1987, Linda Weston was paroled after serving her minimum time, a total of four years, including her two years held at a local prison. She was ordered to undertake intensive supervision and therapy, along with an order that she take psychotropic drugs to stabilise her mental illness. Violating her parole, she returned to prison, but was paroled again on July 8, 1987.
On October 10, 1988, Linda failed to make contact with her parole officer and absconded for five years, avoiding detection of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. She quickly regained custody of her children. By 1993 she eventually fell off the radar and was out of contact with the criminal justice system.
Venus served her minimum term of six years and returned to live in North Philadelphia after her release, where she still resides. Venus claims she has little recall of the events surrounding Barnardo Ramos’ death, because of Linda drugging her at the time. She also claims that her sister feigned her mental problems to avoid being properly prosecuted.
Around 1996 Linda assaulted a woman, but when questioned by police she told them Venus had carried out the attack. Venus was arrested and charged. Soon the sister’s relationship disintegrated because of the false accusation. Venus also suspected her sister had stolen her identification. Even though the assault charges were later dropped, Venus and Linda never rebuilt their bond.