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The strange saga of abducted Amish girls and their alleged captors’ ‘master-slave’ relationship

The home in Hermon, N.Y., shared by Stephen Howells II and Nicole F. Vaisey. (Melanie Kimber Lago/Watertown Daily Times via AP)

Last Wednesday, as dusk settled over Oswegatchie, N.Y., a small Amish farming community near the Canadian border, a white sedan pulled up to the Miller family vegetable stand.

It drove away with two girls, aged 12 and seven, who had been left in charge of the stand while the rest of the family was in the barn for the evening milking.

When the family realized the girls, among the younger of the Millers’ 13 children, were missing, they contacted police.

An amber alert went out. Search parties scoured the rural, wooded area for the two girls. With no pictures of the missing girls — the Amish don’t allow photography — the search party had little to go on beyond a crude sketch and descriptions from news reports: last seen in blue dresses and black bonnets; brown eyes and hair; one sister is cross-eyed; the other has a scar on her forehead.

Authorities had to find an artist who spoke Pennsylvania Dutch, a German dialect used by the Amish, to produce the sketch of the older sister. The family wouldn’t allow a sketch of the younger sister to be released.

A pair of investigators walk on the property on Aug. 16, 2014. (Melanie Kimber Lago/Watertown Daily Times via AP)

As the search continued through the night and into Thursday, the community rallied in prayer and song. On Thursday night, as about 300 neighbors attended a standing-room-only candlelight prayer vigil, word came that the girls had been found. As abruptly as they’d disappeared, the girls reappeared in the nearby town of Richville, N.Y., where their captors dropped them off. A resident contacted police after the girls knocked on their door seeking help.

The girls were questioned by police, who said they provided crucial information leading to the arrest of Stephen Howells II, 39, and Nicole Vaisey, 25, who both live and work in St. Lawrence County.

A man and woman are arrested for allegedly kidnapping two young Amish sisters from their family farm stand in upstate New York. (Reuters)

Howells and Vaisey were arrested and arraigned Friday on charges of kidnapping with intent to physically or sexually abuse the girls. They both pleaded not guilty, according to the New York Times.

The next day, St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain said the girls had been sexually abused, the AP reported. More charges may follow.

St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells offered few details about what the girls endured while held captive, just that they were “victims of crimes.” He added that the couple used “multiple methods of coercion” to get them into their car. He said that Howells and Vaisey weren’t targeting the Amish in particular, but simply looking for “opportunities.”

“There was the definite potential that there was going to be other victims from these two,” Wells said. “They were looking for other opportunities to victimize.”

Since then, more disturbing details have emerged. Rain told a local TV station Monday there are at least three more victims of the accused kidnappers. Rain also said the Miller girls were allegedly shackled together while held captive, and that recording equipment was present during their assault. Fox28 WNYF reported Howells was in the process of building a soundproof room.

Vaisey’s attorney, Bradford C. Riendeau, had earlier revealed the couple made sex tapes and had a sadomasochistic sexual relationship.  “You’ve heard of ’50 Shades of Grey’? ‘This was the ’51st Shade of Grey,’” Riendeau told a local news station Sunday.

Riendeau described Vaisey as a young woman in need of affection who said she’d been under Howells’s control for a long period of time. “She appears to have been the slave and he was the master,” Riendeau told the New York Times. “She was not the lead person or a coequal in this at all,” he said of the alleged kidnapping plan. Riendeau has filed for a protective order on Vaisey’s behalf against Howells.

Howells has three children of his own who, according to the New York Post, seem to be on his Facebook page in photos with captions “Father’s day kickball” and “Monster truck show with kids.” They were staying with their mother at the time of the kidnapping, according to Vaisey’s lawyer.

Neither Howells or Vaisey has been arrested before, Wells said on Saturday. Howells is a registered nurse at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdensburg, N.Y. Vaisey is a dog groomer.

Laura Shea, a spokesman for Claxton-Hepburn, where Howells worked in the wound care center, told the Times his colleagues were shocked by his arrest.

“His patients always seemed to like him,” Darcy Taylor, a friend of Mr. Howells, told the New York Times, adding that “there was nothing to stand out about him.”

They are due to appear in court on Thursday.

Stephan Howells II, 39, left, and Nicole Vaisey, 25, who were arraigned on Aug. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/St. Lawrence County Sheriff)

 Update: The names of the victims of the alleged sex abuse have been removed from the story.


Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.



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