MILWAUKEE (Scripps News Milwaukee) — A mother and her boyfriend face several felony charges after two children were found roaming the streets of Milwaukee naked and filthy, according to a criminal complaint.
Katie Koch, 34, and her boyfriend, Joel Manke, 38, face a total of 10 felony charges for chronic neglect of a child and false imprisonment. A criminal complaint says on July 13, neighbors spotted two naked children on the streets.
One neighbor says he spotted the kids as he returned home in his car. He says they appeared to be wearing costumes.
“It looked like they were wearing wigs,” Rick Eder said. “When I got a closer look at them, I looked at my wife and tell her, that’s not costumes. It looked like they were hit with a belt. That was more terrifying than anything, seeing a child like that.”
The children, both under the age of 10 according to the criminal complaint, had broken a window in the house to escape. They were covered in lacerations to their backs, shoulders, and lower back and were not clothed. A person who called 911 said it looked like they had bruises and red marks on their thighs.
Eder says, as neighbors tried to approach the children to help, the older child would run away and the younger would plug their ears with their fingers and scream.
“It looked like they haven’t had a bath in a long time,” Eder said. “The way their hair was, you can tell it wasn’t washed or even cut in a long time. Very disturbing. I didn’t think that house was going to be very clean.”
As disturbing as Eder thought this incident was, he felt the inside of the home was likely worse.
According to the criminal complaint, Koch was disheveled. She walked police through the home, which police described as a “terrible hoarding situation.” Trash was piled in a number of rooms and officers noted a strong scent of urine and feces. As officers continued through the home, the scent got stronger as they neared the room the children were staying in. That room had a lock on the outside of the door.
When police entered the room, the walls were covered in feces. Koch told police the substance on the walls of the room was “clay, paint and chocolate” according to the criminal complaint, but the officer on scene said it was feces.
During an interview with Koch, police told her the children had to have their heads shaved because “it was full of matted feces.” Koch told police that was okay because they hadn’t had their hair cut in a very long time.
Police also spoke to Koch’s boyfriend, Manke. He told police the kids had not been to a medical provider or school during the entire three and a half years they were inside the home.
During an interview with police, Koch said she “home schools” the children. She said they got a new Hooked on Phonics workbook for the children and they used “educational apps” on their tablets.
Koch told police the younger child could not write but can trace letters and read small words. While the older child was “learning how to put sentences together in proper form.”
Additionally, Koch says the last time the children were bathed was Sunday, five days prior. She said, “bathing wasn’t as thorough as it should have been,” according to the complaint.
Several neighbors said they had never seen children at the house in years. In the criminal complaint, one neighbor told police he saw the kids outside in the yard when they moved in about three years ago but hadn’t seen them since. The same neighbor told investigators, “he has concerns about if the kids eat because he never sees groceries being brought into the home but frequently sees Manke bringing in 2 to-go containers.”
Koch faces six total charges, for Chronic Neglect of a Child (Consequence is Emotional Damage), False Imprisonment and Neglecting a Child (Specified Harm Did Not Occur). Manke faces four charges for Chronic Neglect of a Child (Consequence is Emotional Damage) and False Imprisonment.
Koch was previously convicted of robbing a Cudahy gas station. Since 2011, Koch’s other run-ins with the law involve theft, drugs, and a hit-and-run.
Nearly 10 years ago, Manke pleaded guilty to illegally possessing prescriptions.
Eric Strasser has a child with Koch who is not involved in this case. Strasser told Scripps News Milwaukee that Koch has not seen their child in six years. The siblings have not had much contact either.
“We don’t know what to tell him because we never knew where they were or what was going on. It was just sadness for them. It was frustration,” Strasser said.
He believes the situation could have been prevented.
“My wife and I are terrified of what could’ve been that’s why we feel terrible about those other kids because it would’ve been the same scenario with ours,” Strasser said.
Both Koch and Manke are due back in court next week.
This story was originally published by Scripps News Milwaukee, an E.W. Scripps Company.