WEATHERFORD, Texas (AP) — After finally getting a strong lead in the case of a woman discovered missing when her house burned down, investigators drove 100 miles to her former neighbor's house and were shocked when she ran outside, frail and covered in bruises, yelling, "I'm here! I'm here!"
But the case was far from over. Searching Jeffrey Allan Maxwell's lakeside house last March, authorities found a deer-skinning device, whips, bloodstained sheets, a chain attached to a bed, handcuffs, ankle restraints and sex toys — and realized the woman apparently had been tortured over a nearly two-week period since her abduction.
"There's an indication (she) was held against her will," Sgt. Ricky Montgomery, a Parker County sheriff's investigator, is heard saying on an audiotape while searching the house for other possible victims just after the woman ran out. Nobody else was inside the home; Maxwell had answered the door and was arrested after the woman escaped.
The tape was played Tuesday at Maxwell's trial as prosecutors began presenting evidence. He is charged with aggravated kidnapping and two counts of aggravated sexual assault. If convicted, he would face up to life in prison.
Testimony was to resume Wednesday. The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.
Jurors on Tuesday also heard an audio recording of the woman's initial interview just after her escape, and she seems to be in shock and confused. The woman is heard telling an investigator that Maxwell told her he'd been hired to kill her. During the rambling interview, she also said some of her relatives wanted to harm her over a property dispute and urged the investigator to arrest them. She said she didn't want to get Maxwell in trouble because "he's been good to me," but later said he was "mean."
In the audio recording, an investigator repeatedly yet gently questions the 62-year-old woman before she said Maxwell hit her with a rolling pin and tied her up March 1 at her Parker County home, about 60 miles west of Dallas. She said she briefly escaped and ran down the road before he caught her, pulled out his gun and forced her into the back seat of his vehicle.
The woman said after he drove about 100 miles away to his Corsicana home, 50 miles south of Dallas, he hit her with a whip and put her wrists in some type of device that hoisted her off the ground. Authorities have said it was Maxwell's homemade device for skinning deer, and photographs shown at his trial Tuesday depict a long, thin wooden board with hooks attached. A cable was attached to the garage ceiling.
"I don't know what it is, but he pulled me up in the air," the woman is heard saying on the recording. "It scared me to death."
She also said Maxwell told her his fingerprints were all over her house so he would have to torch it — which authorities say he did two days after kidnapping her.
Montgomery said authorities had few leads after they couldn't find her body in the charred remains of her home and following a massive ground search. Then a neighbor reported seeing an unfamiliar blue car drive by twice on the day of the fire, and bank records showed no activity on the woman's account — except for a $500 check recently cashed by Maxwell. Investigators found out that Maxwell, 59, had a similar blue car and once lived in that area.
Earlier Tuesday during opening statements, prosecutor Kathleen Catania said the woman had been friendly with Maxwell several years ago but told him to stay off her property when he said he wanted to be romantically involved with her.
Defense attorneys declined to make an opening statement Tuesday, though they later questioned Montgomery about whether authorities had obtained proper search warrants before taking photographs and collecting evidence at Maxwell's house. Authorities had a search warrant only for Maxwell's blue car when they first arrived at his house, but Montgomery said no evidence was seized until after another search warrant was obtained for the house the next day.