By BRIAN SKOLOFF – Associated Press
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A woman accused of adopting 11 disabled children for money and abusing them may have killed one child and disposed of the body, a detective said Thursday.
Judith Leekin, 62, was arrested in July and has pleaded not guilty to the multiple charges against her, including aggravated child abuse and aggravated abuse of disabled adults.
Nine of her adoptees — now ages 15 to 27 — are in Florida state custody, and another, now 19 years old, is on his own in the state. But authorities say they haven't been able to locate the 11th child, Shane Graham, who would also be 19.
Authorities say that after exhausting all their leads trying to find him, turning to the public for help is the last step before considering a murder charge.
"There's been no trace of this kid anywhere," said Detective Stuart Klearman of the Port St. Lucie police. "But the money was still flowing to her. She falsified documents to keep it flowing. What other option do we have other than he is deceased?"
Graham was last seen with Leekin in 1999 or 2000. The other adopted children have said Leekin told them he died.
The boy had suffered from Down syndrome, autism and sickle cell anemia, among other serious afflictions, Klearman said.
"He couldn't feed himself, bathe himself, do anything for himself," Klearman said. "He couldn't walk or speak. ... On his own, he could not survive."
Leekin has denied the abuse allegations, and a lawyer who previously represented her has said Leekin loved and nurtured the children she adopted. A telephone message left for her new attorney was not returned Thursday. Leekin remains in jail on more than $4 million bail.
Authorities say she adopted 11 disabled children in New York City over several years before moving to Florida in 1998. She used four aliases to adopt from different agencies and created fake report cards to show the children's progress, even though they were not attending school, according to court records and officials.
New York City records show she received more than $1.2 million in subsidies for the disabled children she had adopted.
Authorities say Leekin kept the children like prisoners in her Port St. Lucie home. They say the children were often handcuffed, beaten, starved and locked in a room, hidden from visitors and deprived of medical and dental care.