Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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November 16, 2013

The Girl in the Closet, PART 6 OF 8

Nurse recorded 8-year-old Lauren’s weight at 25.6 pounds


Athens — Food for dogs,

not Lauren

Dallas police Detective Dan Lesher kicked in the trailer door the night the search warrant was served.

Over the next several hours, officers from at least three police agencies moved through the home with video and still cameras, looking for evidence.

It smelled like a filthy litter box and looked like a homeless camp: piles of dishes with rotting food; mounds of moldy clothes; toys and stuffed animals strewn everywhere.

The detectives took note of cabinets packed with graham crackers, macaroni and cheese, bags of bread and tubs of coffee.

The refrigerator was stocked with bottles of Coors Light and a few cartons of eggs. In the freezer, a chicken and a ham sat on a shelf next to two packages of microwaveable enchiladas.

“There was a lot of food in the refrigerator and fast-food boxes everywhere, so people were eating and Barbara sure wasn’t missing many meals,” Owens said. “But what got me was there was food down for the dogs, and dog vitamins. They were treating the dogs better than Lauren.”

The officers discovered a box of sex toys, but no direct evidence of sexual abuse or drugs. They seized a wooden paddle and a book, 101 Activities for Kids in Tight Spaces.

Eventually, officers made their way to the master bedroom closet.

“I remember two things about that closet: the smell and the first step,” said Lesher, who is now retired. “It was carpeted and urine just squished up around my shoes. There wasn’t a dry place I could find that wasn’t soaked with body fluids, and there was feces smeared everywhere.”

Lesher was called in to supervise the collection of evidence because he’d worked some of the city’s most vile crime scenes.

“I’d been in trailers worse than that in my career, but I’d never been in a cage like that before,” he said. “And that’s what it was. It was a cage, not a closet.”

Lesher made two critical decisions that night.

One, he instructed deputies to collect the closet door as evidence — there were scratch marks on the door handle, possibly from Lauren biting and clawing to escape. And two, he asked them to roll up the foul carpet and bag it for use during trial.

“Nobody was thrilled about that, but everybody understood it was a necessary evil,” Lesher said. “The jury needed a vision of what this girl was subjected to.”

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