Mum and daughter kidnapped at gunpoint, abused and kept in a snake pit for 2 years
| July 24th 2014
Ohio, USA: Shannon Eckley was even bullied into beating up her own daughter so it could be recorded on video and used as blackmail to stop her escaping.
Shannon Eckley walked into her local grocery store with one intention. She wanted to be arrested.
Stealing a chocolate bar, she hoped, would put her in jail and her five-year-old daughter would have to go into care.
Nothing could be worse than the misery they had both endured for two years.
In a barbaric ordeal described as “modern-day slavery”, 31-year-old Shannon was held captive in dark, damp basement shared with snakes and scorpions.
She was forced into sex acts, made to eat dog food, threatened daily and had to perform all the menial household chores.
She was even bullied into beating up her own daughter so it could be recorded on video and used as blackmail to stop her escaping.
Incredibly, her tormentors would inflict serious injuries on her simply so they could steal the strong painkilling drugs she was given in hospital, leaving Shannon in agony for weeks.
After a 15-month investigation by the FBI, her captors have now been convicted of forced labour and other charges.
And this week the chief bully was jailed for 30 years.
The nightmare began when Shannon – who cannot be pictured to protect the identify of her daughter – was enticed into the family home where Jordie Callahan, 27, lived with his girlfriend Jessica Hunt, 33, and Hunt’s four sons.
Once inside the squalid apartment in Ashland, Ohio, Callahan pointed a gun at her head and threatened to kill her if she didn’t do exactly as she was told.
Mentally vulnerable after a brain injury when she was young, Shannon was helpless to stop the twisted couple controlling every aspect of her life.
They kept her and her daughter petrified by threatening to unleash a terrifying menagerie of pets including a poisonous coral snake, a Burmese python weighing more than nine stone, lizards, spiders, scorpions and “numerous” dogs including pitbulls.
Callahan wired up an elaborate CCTV system to monitor his two hostages, watching their every move and listening to their conversations.
Prosecutors say the basement where Shannon was forced to live had no bathroom, just boarded-up windows, and the one door was locked from the outside.
Whenever Callahan wanted a sex act she was forced to submit to him.
She even had to wear a dog collar as she crawled around and was made to eat the same food as his pets.
She was often left for days in the dark with snakes and reptiles free to roam the basement all around her.
Callahan and Hunt also roped in two friends to join in the torture.
Daniel Brown, 35, and Dezerah McGuire, 33, helped keep Shannon and her daughter locked up and the four cashed in their slave’s monthly benefit payments for themselves.
A year into her ordeal, in August 2011, Callahan and Hunt ordered McGuire to smash Shannon’s hand with a rock so she would need urgent medical attention.
With her daughter a hostage back at the apartment, she was taken to hospital and, as her captors predicted, was prescribed a course of high-strength pain killers.
But as soon as she got back the drugs were grabbed and used by her captors, leaving her writhing in pain.
They carried out another sustained attack four months later, then in March 2012 Shannon was kicked with such brutal force she sustained a serious hip injury.
Every time it happened, the powerful drugs she was given to kill the pain were stolen and used for pleasure.
The only respite Shannon got from her basement dungeon was when she was forced to cook, clean up the apartment or pick up the foul-smelling mess left by the animals.
On rare occasions she would be allowed out to do the shopping but warned that if she ever tried to escape she and her daughter would be killed. She always had to buy groceries using her own public assistance card.
She was told if she ever missed an item off the list they would contact local social services and have her daughter taken away.
Shannon did manage to escape once.
It was in June 2011 and after a frantic search by all four captors Brown and McGuire found her walking the streets.
She was quickly bundled back to the house and threatened with her life.
But their most calculating and sinister move to keep her under control came in October that year.
Callahan and Hunt ordered Shannon to hit her daughter as they recorded it on video.
When she refused they threatened to inflict much greater physical harm on them both, leaving the terrified mum with no choice but to obey.
A month later they did it again, filming on a mobile phone, and it was made clear that if she ever tried to report her captors, officials would be shown the apparently damning footage of Shannon hurting her own child.
Then in October 2012, once again given specific instructions to buy the family’s groceries, she decided to steal a chocolate bar in plain view hoping it would lead to her arrest and imprisonment.
When police were called she told them she was living with Callahan and Hunt and that they “were mean to her”.
An officer went to the apartment where, as promised, he was shown the “child abuse” video.
Still too afraid to speak out, Shannon was charged with child endangerment and convicted.
But eventually she did pluck up the courage to speak out, sparking to the FBI’s investigation in her slave masters.
All four were convicted in March of offences including forced labour, conspiracy to defraud the US state and illegally acquiring prescription drugs.
This week, after prosecutors had asked for a life sentence, Callahan was given 30 years.
McGuire was accused of luring Shannon into Callahan’s and Hunt’s house with ice-cream and agreed to testify against the couple as part of a plea bargain.
She was given a 45-month prison term in April.
Brown, who was accused of helping to enslave Shannon, also agreed to testify and was given a five-year sentence in March.
Mum-of-four Hunt is due to be sentenced tomorrow.
During the trial Callahan and Hunt’s lawyers claimed FBI agents had “sensationalised” Shannon’s living conditions and insisted she had always been free to come and go when she wanted.
Demanding a new trial, they pointed out she had been a regular visitor at a convenience store and attended appointments with social service agencies.
After the case, local district attorney Steven Dettelbach said it highlighted how slavery still existed in America.
“Callahan, through his cruelty, sought to deprive the victims in this case of their dignity and their freedom,” he said.
“He failed... the victim’s strength ended up trumping his.
"As for the freedom part, now it is the defendant whose freedom will be taken, for a long time.
“We are yet again reminded that modern-day slavery exists all around us.
“One of our nation’s core values is freedom, yet this woman and her child were denied freedom for two years.
"The victims in this case endured violence, threats, sub-human living conditions and horrific acts.”
FBI Special Agent Stephen Anthony said: “These defendants violated the victim’s most basic civil right, freedom, by exploiting her most basic instinct, the protection of her child.
“The FBI continues to aggressively pursue and bring to justice those individuals who abuse and harm members of our community.
“Hopefully this well-deserved lengthy sentence will provide a sense of justice that will assist the victims in their ongoing healing process.”
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