Rockville couple charged with locking up twin sons with autism in dungeon-like basement

The home where the sons were locked up has been condemned. (WJLA photo)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) – Police have arrested a Rockville couple for allegedly keeping their 22-year-old twin sons, who have autism, in a dungeon-like enclosure in the basement of their home.

John Land, 57, and Janice Land, 59, are each charged with two counts of vulnerable adult abuse and attempted false imprisonment.

Around 5 a.m. Thursday, the Montgomery County Special Investigations Division stormed the Lands’ modest home along the 1600 block of Crawford Drive. Once inside, officers discovered the locked chamber housing both boys.

According to charging documents filed in Montgomery County District Court, police noticed an "overwhelming smell of urine coming from the room." There was no furniture for either brother to sit or sleep on, just a comforter covering the hard tile floor. There was also neither working electricity, nor smoke or carbon monoxide detectors. A tiny window was the only means of light, far too small for the 22-year-olds to crawl through in the case of an emergency, detectives say.

During police questioning, John Land reportedly told investigators his sons were "totally non-verbal," adding that their only means of communication is by pointing at or clutching onto objects.

Land said his sons would occasionally run away from home, and be overall "mischievous." In effort to prevent future run-offs and misbehavior, Land said he and his wife began to lock their sons in a makeshift basement compartment. They'd latch the external deadbolt around 10 p.m. each night, and then re-open the door around 4:45 a.m. the following day. The routine, Land told police, had been occurring for around six years.

When police asked how the special needs twins could summon help in the middle of the night, Land allegedly told officers he'd eventually awaken to yells and screams.

"We obviously didn't know anything about that, and we certainly would have done something if we had," neighbor Natalie Larson said. "I work with kids with disabilities, and the kids I work with are certainly not in basements, so that's really upsetting."

Investigators also spent time speaking with Janice Land, who said she'd recently discarded of the basement furniture because it was soiled and smelled strongly of urine. The 59-year-old mother of eight claimed she'd begun saving for new furnishings, but hadn't collected enough money yet. Land, however, claimed no knowledge of keeping her sons in the basement chamber under lock-and-key.

"If someone locked them in the room, I didn't know about it," Janice Land is quoted in charging documents.

"It's shameful really," neighbor Sam French remarked. "That's not parenting. I mean that's just locking someone up for God's sakes. That's like being a jailer. Who would do that to their children?"

Neighbor Sharon Drennan says her son knew the family and that she contacted police multiple times as far back as three years ago.

“Our son used to be friends with the Lands, and he told us there was a child locked in the basement that was autistic and never left the basement,” Drennan said. “We made reports to the authorities and—nobody. There’s been cops in that house several times and never removed those children. And it comes to this—this long?”

Neighbor Bruce Dennan said, “Supposedly, they’d lock them in the laundry room, and they would sleep on the washer and dryer and on the floor.”

According to court records, John Land has worked for Montgomery County Public Schools since 1978. He is currently the building service manager at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Germantown, but has worked at a variety of other school district facilities over the last 35 years. In December 2010, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot awarded Land for the "outstanding" and "superior" work he and his MLK team had performed in classrooms.

During a phone interview, John Land's father told ABC 7 News the Lands were "600 percent innocent." The 83-year-old said he'd just checked his son and daughter-in-law, who are in the process of hiring a defense attorney, into a local hotel. The couple’s home has since been condemned by the City of Rockville.

"I'm happy that they [twin brothers] were found. I'm happy that they're alive. I'm happy they can get the resources that they need to thrive," Larson added. "There's a lot that they can do. Just because they have autism doesn't mean they need to be locked in a basement."

John and Janice Land will return to Montgomery County District Court on Sept. 2 at 8:30 a.m.