PORTAGE, Wis. &
Police initially went to a rental property in this sleepy Wisconsin town in search of a 2-year-old girl kidnapped from her Florida foster home by her mother last fall.
What they found was a house of horrors, detectives say: A roving band of suspected identity thieves who had killed one of their own, buried her in the backyard and locked her bloody and beaten 11-year-old son in an upstairs closet.
"It's crazy. Weird," said next-door neighbor Angie Turley, who moved from Milwaukee to Portage to get away from crime. "It can happen anywhere."
Charged Wednesday with being a party to first-degree intentional homicide, hiding a corpse and child abuse are Candace Clark, 23; Clark's boyfriend, Michael Sisk, 25; Michaela Clerc, 20; and Felicia Mae Garlin, 15.
The teen is the dead woman's daughter and the sister of the boy in the closet.
Police said the group arrived in February in Portage, a town of 8,000 about 40 miles north of Madison that touts itself as "Where the North Begins."
The group was joined by Garlin's mother, Tammie Garlin; her 11-year-old brother; and three other children, including the kidnapped girl.
Detectives said the group was running from the law in several states. Clark was wanted in Florida in her 2-year-old daughter's abduction, as well as in Kentucky on felony warrants for financial fraud, Columbia County District Attorney Jane Kohlwey said.
Sisk was wanted in Colorado for not returning to jail after he was let out on work release, Kohlwey said. In the past year, the group had lived in Florida, Maine, Tennessee, Kentucky and Colorado, and came to Wisconsin to see snow, a criminal complaint said.
The group was making a living through financial fraud using aliases, prosecutors said. Kohlwey said investigators found a stash of money orders in the house, each good for $500, made out to the fake names.
They tortured the 11-year-old &
identified in the complaint only by his initials &
by whipping him, withholding food, scalding him with hot water and pulling his genitals with pliers, the complaint said. The group sometimes choked him until he nearly passed out and forced him to sleep naked in his sister's closet, prosecutors said.
His mother and sister helped torture him, prosecutors said.
At some point, the group turned on Tammie Garlin, burning her and forcing her into the closet with the boy, he told authorities. She was the only one who helped him, by putting cream on his wounds, he said.
The complaint said Tammie Garlin and Clerc had been lovers but had separated, and that Clerc was upset because she thought Tammie Garlin had cheated on her. Detectives, however, said they weren't sure why the others turned against Tammie Garlin.
Police said Clark told them Tammie Garlin died June 4. According to the complaint, Felicia Garlin and Clerc had kicked her, then later that day carried her into the bathroom, where Clerc dropped her head on the floor.
Sisk went into the bathroom and shut the door. He emerged a few minutes later, announcing Tammie Garlin was dead. Clerc laughed, the complaint said.
They buried her in the backyard. The landlord said Sisk approached him a few weeks ago asking if he could plant a garden in the spot.
He never got around to it. Florida detectives were closing in.
Portage officers, alerted by sheriff's deputies in Lake County, Fla., went to the house June 14. They found the missing toddler, along with Clark's two other children, and caught her trying to give them a false name, the complaint said.
Police found the 11-year-old sitting on the closet floor with his knees pulled to his chest, his body a mess of cuts, burns and scars. His feet were burned so badly he couldn't walk.
The complaint said the boy told a doctor, "I don't want to hurt no more."
Police captured Sisk at a Milwaukee bus terminal with a ticket to Kentucky the next day. Police caught him because his bus had been delayed, police Lt. Mark Hahn said.
A judge on Wednesday denied bail for Sisk and Clark, identified by prosecutors as the group's leaders. He set bail at $500,000 for Felicia Garlin and $350,000 for Clerc.
Defense attorneys said the allegations in the complaint are unproven and they don't have the money to flee. But Judge Alan White said all four posed a flight risk.
Hahn said investigators were trying to piece together the group's activities and whereabouts across the country.
"We could have victims from all over in different parts of the country," he said. "Fortunately, it ended here."
4 charged with homicide, abuse in search for missing Fla. toddler
PORTAGE, Wis. &