Once or twice a week, the woman who lived with Gloria and Alfred Edwards Jr. would come out to tend tomatoes in the front yard or, in some cases, tidy up a neighbor’s home.
She didn’t speak much, neighbors in the Upper Marlboro cul-de-sac said, but they knew a bit about her. They knew she was from the Philippines; they knew she enjoyed gardening and early morning walks; and she sometimes visited their homes, which she cleaned when they asked the couple for help.
Then, in fall 2009, they stopped seeing her around. This week, they learned that a federal grand jury had indicted the couple on charges that they held the woman in domestic servitude for a decade, paying her minimal or no wages to work long days.
Robert C. Bonsib and Andrew D. Alpert, the attorneys for the couple, said Thursday that their clients denied the allegations in the five-count indictment.
Neither would comment on the relationship between the woman and the couple. The woman’s identity has not been released — in the indictment, she is called “T.E.” — but Vickie LeDuc, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office for Maryland, said she is safe.
Gloria Edwards, 60, and her husband, Alfred, 73, a retired obstetrician/gynecologist, now face charges of forced labor, domestic servitude, among other counts. Each could face up to 50 years in prison and as much as $250,000 in fines if convicted.
Gloria Edwards lured the woman to the United States with a promise of employment while in the Philippines about 10 years ago, according to court documents. When the woman arrived at the couple’s home in May 1999, the indictment alleges, they took her passport and refused to return it.
The woman cooked, cleaned, ironed, gardened and provided nightly massages for Edwards’s mother for $50 a month, according to court documents. She also cleaned for neighbors and relatives to pay rent on Edwards’s small apartment in the Philippines, where the woman’s eight children lived at times during the 10 years.
Court documents also allege that the couple restricted the woman’s activity and monitored her telephone calls.
The woman was married in the Philippines, court papers said, but the couple forced her to marry twice in the United States as her visa was about to expire. They facilitated a divorce from the first man, then arranged a marriage in 2000 with Alfred Edwards’s brother, who suffered from dementia and diabetes and required extensive care, according to the indictment.
The woman ran away in 2002, court documents say, and Alfred Edwards threatened to have her arrested if she abandoned his brother, who also lived in the house, and did not return. He then threatened to shoot her if she tried to run again, according to the indictment. His wife is alleged to have hit and pinched her and poked her with knives.
The couple did not pay the woman or send money to her children in the Philippines from 2002 to 2006, court documents allege.
The woman left the couple’s home for good in September 2009, according to the documents. Three months later, Gloria Edwards reached her by telephone and threatened that if she did not pay $20,000 for a replacement, she would be “done,” court papers say.
A man who answered the door at the couple’s two-story brick home in the 6200 block of Richmanor Terrace declined to comment Thursday. All of the blinds in the windows were drawn.
Neighbors interviewed Thursday said they remembered the woman, who they said kept to herself and was almost always seen accompanied by Gloria Edwards.
“I see her cleaning, and she just looked sad,” said Wilbert Johns, 47, who has taken care of lawns in the neighborhood for six years. “She has one of those faces where you’re like, ‘Dang, they just look so sad.’ ”
They also described the couple as good neighbors who delivered cheesecakes at Christmastime. Ronique Hedges, 29, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 20 years, said she was shocked by the charges against the couple.
“Nothing seemed out of place,” Hedges said. “You wouldn’t think this would happen two doors down.”