Three years ago, the children of John Westover and Jessica Botzko were living in filth in a Maumee motel.
Feces overflowing from the toilet, urine odors, moldy food, knee-high garbage, dirty diapers, and insulin needles were some of the things Maumee police reported seeing in the couple's room at the Economy Inn on Dussel Drive.
Mr. Westover, 37, was charged then with misdemeanor child endangerment and yesterday appeared in Maumee Municipal Court on the charge - two days after he and Ms. Botzko, 28, were accused of locking their boys, ages 5 and 10, in cages and shocking the older child with an animal training collar in their South Toledo mobile home.
Police said the boys were in the cages as a form of punishment and during times their father was involved in drugs. Some of the punishment allegedly stemmed from stealing candy and other food from the refrigerator, Toledo police Capt. Ray Carroll said.
Relatives said they never heard from the couple while they were living in the Maumee motel conditions in March, 2004.
"I would never of thought he was capable of something like that," Westover's younger sister, Lisa Edwards, said of the Toledo charges. "I'm disgusted with both of them."
But, she said she loves her brother, even though she hasn't had any contact with him in five years. Ms. Edwards said he was very protective of her when they were young, but as the two aged, they grew apart.
In recent years, Westover and Ms. Botzko moved from place to place and didn't tell relatives where they lived, Ms. Edwards said.
Lynn Botzko said it's been years since she's seen her niece, but she said she loves her and recalled her "as a very good girl" growing up.
She declined to comment on the current charges until she learns more.
"That's not the Jessica I know," she said. "I just never expected this. It's just beyond my wildest dreams if she did something like this."
Jessica Botzko is scheduled to appear in Toledo Municipal Court on Monday after she failed to hire a private attorney for a court appearance yesterday. A judge said the Deja Vu dancer earns too much money to have a public defender.
Ms. Botzko told Judge Michael Goulding that she made about $600 last week. But, she said, "If I'm not working, I don't have any money."
She and Westover are being held in the Lucas County jail on $50,000 bonds on the Toledo charges. Westover received a $25,000 bond on the Maumee child endangerment charge. Both declined a request for an interview.
Both have a history of charges in area courts for misdemeanor and traffic convictions. Westover also served prison time from 1993 to 1994 on a felonious assault conviction in Lucas County.
Lucas County Children Services have placed the children in foster care. Relatives of Westover and Ms. Botzko are trying to gain custody of the boys.
"These kids are not alone. There are people here who love them. It's devastating what they've been through," said Ms. Edwards, who said she is trying to gain custody.
In the Maumee case, police arrested Westover and turned the boys over to their paternal grandmother.
The next day, she gave the boys to Ms. Botzko, said Dean Sparks, children services' executive director.
For the next two weeks, the agency made numerous attempts to find Ms. Botzko. Workers placed several calls to the family, the police, the motel, and her workplace. They also went to the motel, Mr. Sparks said.
The agency learned the elder boy was enrolled in Sylvania Public Schools, but hadn't been to school since December, 2003. Agency workers also were told that the boy might be enrolled in the Maumee school district or have moved out of state.
Neither the boy's parents nor any other school district had requested the Sylvania records, which would have indicated another place for agency officials to look.
"I'm not sure what else we could have done to find them," Mr. Sparks said. "When all the indications are they're gone, what can we do?"
He said police agencies should contact children services in situations such as the one in Maumee, but that doesn't always happen. It's also not unusual, he said, that children are removed from filthy locations or hotel rooms.
Ms. Botzko recently told Toledo police that her older son was home-schooled. Toledo Public Schools has no record of either boy enrolled in the district or their parents applying for home-schooling, interim Superintendent John Foley said.
Parents or guardians who want to home-school their children are to apply for permission with the superintendent of the school district in which they live. The district then sends a letter verifying the home-schooling. The child must be tested at the end of the year, or a certified teacher must look at and sign off on the child's work, district officials said.
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