By Amanda Orr
HOUSTON (Reuters) - At least three elderly men were found living in squalor in a converted garage in Houston on Friday and police were investigating whether they had been held against their will and forced to hand over veterans' benefit checks.
Houston police spokesman Kese Smith said three men, aged 80, 74 and one in his 50s, were living in a room described as dirty, with double locks on the door and a single chair. There was neither a toilet nor any beds, police said.
A fourth man, age 65, was also living at the home, Smith said.
According to tax records, the 50-year-old home was a tight fit at just over 1,400 square feet for nearly 10 people police believe may have lived there. The three-bedroom, 1.5-bath home in an older north Houston neighborhood has a converted garage painted bright purple, with bars on the door and windows and a linoleum floor.
A man has been detained for questioning and is considered a suspect, but no charges have been filed, police said.
A second Houston police official, spokeswoman Jodi Silva, said the men appeared to be malnourished. Three were taken to a hospital, while the fourth was talking to detectives at police headquarters.
"All four are telling the officers at the scene they were enticed to that location with promises of beer and cigarettes and not allowed to leave, and then forced to turn over checks such as veterans checks," Smith said.
Police said the men provided conflicting accounts about how long they have been at the house. Some initially reported being there as long as 10 years but were changing their stories.
The discovery comes two months after three women were freed from a decade of imprisonment in a Cleveland, Ohio house where police say they were repeatedly raped and brutalized by their captor. In that case, a former school bus driver, Ariel Castro, has pleaded not guilty to 977 kidnap, rape and other charges.
In Friday's discovery in Houston, police officers arrived at the home at about 8:30 a.m. after receiving a call requesting they check on the welfare of its inhabitants, Smith said. In addition to the men, three females with disabilities, whose ages have not been released, were also found living in the house, but were not being held against their will.
(Reporting by Amanda Orr in Houston, Karen Brooks in Austin and Kevin Gray in Miami; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool)