EAST ALTON — Leann Singleton is a developmentally disabled, 33-year-old who plays with dolls.
Born blind, deaf and mute, cerebral palsy has left her unable to walk on her own. She spends much of her day in front of a television she can't see or hear, a doll in her lap, confined to a living room chair she can't leave without help.
In that same room, two men convicted of sexually abusing children regularly show up and are welcome to watch television within arm's reach of Leann, according to police reports. So are as many as 10 transients at a time who pay to sleep in the damp basement of her parent's home at 196 Goulding Ave., according to a state investigator's report.
On Nov. 1, an East Alton police officer visited the home and found two registered sex offenders there, whose victims were young girls. One asked the cop whether he could move in.
Seeing strange men come and go just steps from where the tiny, 4-foot-8, 90-pound disabled woman spends her days has alarmed neighbors and friends, who refer to her as "the blind girl." Many have called police or a statewide abuse hotline for disabled adults, asking that Leann's situation be investigated. The East Alton officer's visit just over two weeks ago resulted from one of those calls.
In the last six years, the Office of the Inspector General for the Illinois Department of Human Services launched seven state investigations into whether Leann has been physically abused, neglected or sexually molested. None resulted in the woman being removed from the home.
During that time, police responded to the house 96 times because of 911 calls made by Leann's parents, Jimmy Singleton, 68, and stepmother Rose Goode Singleton, 50.
Suspected mayhem in the house included allegations of death threats, harassment, sexual assault while they slept and threats of decapitation. Family members swore in court documents that they feared attacks from other family members.
During interviews at their home, the Singletons said Leann is well taken care of and has not been in any danger.
"She's well-fed and protected. That's all you have to know," Jimmy Singleton said.
Last week, Police Chief Dwynn Isringhausen said his office got an email from an investigator for the OIG, the state agency charged with protecting disabled adults like Leann who live at home. It concerned another call about Leann to the state disabled adult abuse hotline.
Isringhausen had had enough. He wanted to find out once and for all what was happening at 196 Goulding Ave. He sent an officer to check on Leann and told him to get a state investigator familiar with the disabled to go with him.
"They're the ones who are supposed to have the expertise investigating these kinds of cases," Isringhausen said. But the OIG investigator said he was too busy to go along, leaving the police on their own, Isringhausen said.
But that's not supposed to happen.
As part of reforms aimed at how the OIG's office operates, Gov. Pat Quinn in July issued an executive order that directed state investigators to accompany police when they suspected harm to a disabled person.
On late Friday afternoon, DHS spokeswoman Januari Smith Trader sent a response by email. It said that a particular OIG investigator mentioned in the newspaper's request for comment "... has not personally communicated with Chief Isringhausen regarding this particular matter."
She could not later be reached to be asked if she knew whether it was any other OIG investigator who had said he was too busy to accompany an East Alton officer.
Smith Trader also said her agency "takes appropriate action" regarding all hotline calls that "meet the criteria" of state law.
The governor's order came in response to a BND investigative series, "Hidden suffering, hidden death," published in late June that reported the agency failed to investigate at least 53 deaths of disabled adults during the past eight years, even after getting calls to its hotline about their abuse.
The newspaper found that the agency rejected hundreds of hotline calls, deemed "non-reportable," and if the subject of a hotline call later died, there would be no investigation because the dead are "ineligible for services."
The newspaper found that even when it did investigate alleged abuse or neglect, the OIG seldom removed the disabled person from the home. In hundreds of cases, calls to the hotline continued even after substantiated investigations. One of the seven calls concerning Leann was deemed "non-reportable" and not fully investigated.
As a result of the series, Inspector General William M. Davis resigned three days after the governor appointed a retired Chicago chief of detectives to investigate the agency. He concluded that OIG investigators lacked basic skills and training.
BND reporters visited the Goulding Avenue house earlier this year and found eight people sitting in the living room watching television. Men entered the house without knocking. Jimmy Singleton came out of his bedroom not wearing a shirt and smoking a cigarette. He told reporters that Leann was cared for and well-fed by him and his wife, Rose Goode Singleton.
"She's (Leann) more protected in this house than you are in your car going down the street," Singleton said during a second interview a few weeks later. He told reporters to go and leave them alone.
Despite two visits to the house and repeated trips to the neighborhood, reporters never saw Leann. The first time Jimmy Singleton said she was in Tennessee with Rose Goode Singleton, visiting relatives. The second time he talked to reporters on the porch but did not invite them inside. He said Leann was sleeping.
People were concerned enough for Leann's welfare to call the OIG hotline at least seven times between 2006 and 2011. Their allegations ranged from Leann living in mice-infested, dog feces-covered squalor to her being punched in the face and made to stand nude in front of a window.
OIG investigators substantiated only one of the allegations, that Rose Goode-Singleton yanked Leann out of a van and pulled her up a wheelchair ramp too harshly in 2007, according to a report. Both parents denied this happened. As a result of the finding, a part-time paid caregiver was assigned to assist Leann, a job previously held by her stepmother.
What did the OIG know?
The BND spent a month investigating Leann's case. Reporters learned of police investigations and court actions that posed potential threats to Leann that state investigators either did not know or left out of their reports:
* When the OIG substantiated abuse and neglect of Leann in 2007 against Rose Goode-Singleton, the stepmother was a suspect in a child abuse case involving her 4-month-old grandson. The baby suffered bruises on his arms and a broken leg. Goode-Singleton later was charged with obstructing justice for lying to police. She pleaded guilty, paid a $200 fine and was sentenced to a year of supervision. Her son was charged with aggravated battery of a child and pleaded guilty to a reduced charge and received probation.
* In June 2011, the OIG received a hotline call about Leann it deemed as "non-reportable" and did not investigate. Five days prior, Goode-Singleton asked a Madison County judge to issue an order of protection to keep Jimmy Singleton away from her and Leann because her husband allegedly threatened to kill everyone in the house and "cut my head off and anyone that got in his way," according to court records. She asked that the order be lifted on Aug. 5, 2011, because "Leann needs her father Jim Singleton to be around her." Jimmy Singleton told police he never made any threats.
* On Aug. 4, 2011, the day before Goode-Singleton asked the court to dismiss the order of protection, her daughter, Jamie Cunningham, asked a judge for an order to keep Rose away from her and Leann, according to court records. "We are worried that she might hurt one of us or try to have unwanted sex with one of us while we sleep," Cunningham wrote in a sworn court document. The judge issued the emergency order, which Cunningham allowed to expire on Aug. 25, 2011.
* Last week, East Alton police found two registered sex offenders at the house -- Larry A. Kemp, 51, and Terry W. Davis, 42. Kemp was 43 when he sexually abused a 12-year-old girl. Davis was 33 when he forcibly sexually abused a 16-year-old girl. Both told police they were just visiting.
However, a year earlier, police found Davis at the Singleton home. He said at the time he kept his dog in the backyard and wanted to move in. In 2009, a Madison County woman received an order of protection against Davis after she claimed that he repeatedly asked her for sex and threatened to kill her when she refused.
In late 2009, a complaint came in to the state hotline that a registered sex offender was living at 196 Goulding Ave. An OIG investigator reported that he didn't find any sex offenders living there, but found 10 other people living in the basement of the small two-bedroom house, including seven he identified by Social Security numbers. Two witnesses said they paid Jimmy Singleton $300 a month to sleep in the basement, according to the report.
During a telephone interview with a reporter, Goode- Singleton said: "Yes, we rented to some people. We did. They stayed in the basement, but only for a short time. We helped people out."
Jimmy Singleton said, "People stay here. ... They're just here for a while." He denied charging them rent. The OIG investigator did not find the proximity of the strangers to be proof of neglect or abuse.
After numerous attempts during the years by police and state investigators to ask Leann about the allegations of abuse or whether she wanted to stay with Jimmy and Rose, there was never a response, the reports stated.
Despite the OIG being aware for years about the circumstances surrounding Leann Singleton's life -- the many calls to police, strangers in the basement, sex offenders allowed to loiter, allegations against her parents, and numerous calls to the state abuse hotline -- there has been no court hearing to determine whether she would be better off living in a facility for the disabled.
Asked whether the OIG should have done more, Smith Trader, the spokeswoman, responded: "The OIG has received a number of calls regarding the individual. ... In a majority of those cases the allegations were unfounded or unsubstantiated."
OIG reports and court documents pertaining to Leann usually referred only to the matter at hand, not her overall situation. For example, court documents granting guardianship of Leann to Rose Goode-Singleton don't mention that Rose was substantiated for abuse and neglect of her disabled stepdaughter in 2007.
The OIG reports do not note the numerous 911 calls that were made in six years asking for police help at 196 Goulding Ave. Nor do they refer to the orders of protection family members sought against each other.
For all the investigations and allegations, not much has changed for Leann except that her parents recently pulled her from a Wood River workshop for the disabled that she attended daily. There, she may have had the opportunity to learn, something that was unlikely to occur sitting in front of a television she couldn't see or hear.