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Woman kept in wooden cage, sister facing multiple charges, AG says

WASHINGTON CO., Pa. — A woman accused of keeping her sister in a wooden cage with only a dirty mattress and little to no medical care is facing neglect charges, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced Wednesday.

Leona Biser, 51, of Vestaburg, Washington County, has been charged by Shapiro’s office’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations with neglect of a care-dependent person, abuse of a care-dependent person, recklessly endangering another person, unlawful restraint and false imprisonment.

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The charges came after officials said Biser kept her 53-year-old sister in a man-made cell that was in the home’s living room. Police said they found her in a kneeling position inside the cage and that her nephew was kneeling beside her.

The enclosure was made of lumber and plywood and had a gate with a latching device on the outside.

“This defendant professed to be caring for her sister when, in fact, the home was in deplorable condition, had no running water and the victim was not getting her prescribed medicines,” Shapiro said. “We fight to protect those who cannot protect themselves, and our agents have made sure the victim has received needed care and will no longer have to suffer daily living in a cage.”

When officers asked Biser about her sister’s living conditions, she told them she kept her in “an enclosure due to her constantly falling, and in doing so prevents her from getting injured,” according to a police criminal complaint.

Police said they found a baby’s bottle that appeared to contain milk in the cage when they arrived. Investigators noted that Biser’s sister was “disheveled, dirty ... and the clothing that she was wearing was extremely dirty." Biser told officers that she was the only one who could feed, change and bathe her sister.

Inside the home, police said there was a large pile of dog feces on the kitchen floor, so much so that they couldn’t get around it to get to the microwave, sink or stove. They also saw bugs swarming in a bedroom, along with a shed snakeskin on the floor.

Police said there was no bathroom found in the house and that trash and animal feces made the hardwood floors appear “sticky.”

Biser’s sister was taken to a hospital for treatment of a urinary tract infection and rhabdomyolysis, which is a breakdown of muscle that can be caused by infection, according to Shapiro’s office. Hospital records show that her sister was dehydrated and her sodium level was slightly elevated but both have improved to normal, according to the criminal complaint.

Shapiro’s office said the woman’s condition has improved and that she has regained mobility and is working with a speech therapist.

“I hate to see thinks like this from anybody, but especially from family. Those are supposed to be people you can trust with your life,” said Anthony Gilpin, the nephew of both women. “I don’t want to believe it’s true.”

Gilpin said his aunt’s mental capacity is that of an infant. She can’t communicate or use a restroom on her own, and the cage was more of a wooden pen so she couldn’t fall and get hurt.

“Sometimes, people try to do what’s best and take on too much and don’t realize what they’re doing until it’s too late,” he said.

Family members said the victim had been living with her mother, who recently passed away. That’s when Biser took her into her home to care for her.