Sunday, May 27, 2018
Public safety

Man accused of holding five captive in Clearwater home

CLEARWATER — While Jeffrey Keowin slept, his victims slipped out of the Osceola Avenue home where authorities say he held them captive.

At a neighbor's house, one of them called police. After officers arrived Jan. 13 at 1412 N Osceola Ave., the five victims, some mentally disabled and others underage, told stories of violence, sexual abuse and human trafficking that spanned two states, Clearwater police said.

Keowin, 37, was arrested later Jan. 13 on five counts of false imprisonment, two counts of sexual battery and one count of human trafficking.

"He was in charge of every aspect of their lives," said Clearwater police spokesman Rob Shaw.

The victims are a 38-year-old woman and her 17-year-old son, a 51-year-old woman and her 20-year-old son, and a 17-year-old girl. Police said the last three are mentally disabled.

According to police, Keowin met the victims in his hometown, Peru, Ind. Some had been staying with him for as long as nine months, while others had only been with him for a few weeks.

Keowin and his victims moved between Peru and Clearwater several times, and he sometimes placed the victims in the back of a U-Haul truck, police said. They moved to Clearwater early last year and then back to Peru in April. This month, they returned to Clearwater.

But even here, they stayed on the move, living in three different homes just this month, including 214 Waverly Way, where Keowin sexually assaulted the 20-year-old disabled man and the 17-year-old girl between Jan. 2 and Jan. 5, according to police.

They moved into the house on Osceola Avenue the weekend before Keowin's arrest, neighbors said.

According to police, Keowin controlled the victims' money, which included government benefits, and did not allow them access to it. Shaw said Keowin also forbade them to venture outside without him or call their loved ones. Keowin is also accused of slapping, punching and kicking the victims.

Detectives said the victims had "limited access" to food and other necessities and were denied medical treatment for diabetes and psychological conditions.

According to an arrest affidavit, Keowin forced the 38-year-old woman into prostitution and drove her to locations throughout Clearwater and Peru, where she would meet with men and Keowin would collect the payments.

The woman told detectives Keowin often beat her and threatened to call the Florida Department of Children and Families to say she was abusing her son. She was "fearful of the continual physical beatings and her son's welfare," according to an arrest affidavit.

Keowin tried to force two of his other victims into prostitution, but it was "unknown if he was successful," Shaw said.

The victims are staying with a friend in Clearwater and may return to Indiana, Shaw said Tuesday.

Keowin has no prior criminal record in Florida, state records show.

Police in Peru said they have had extensive contact with him over the years, but he has never been arrested.

Gracie Nice, Keowin's mother, said her son was diagnosed with split personality disorder as a boy and stopped taking his medications as he got older because he was concerned about side effects.

"One time, he can be very nice and the next time he can be hell on wheels, is how that doctor explained it to me," she said.

Nice, who lives in Peru, said she doesn't believe the allegations against her son, adding he has known some of his alleged victims for years.

"Jeff can be very demanding and a problem child. But I do not believe Jeff would do anything to harm those people like that," she said.

"I don't believe why they got back down there and told all these damn lies."

Shaw said additional charges related to Keowin's financial control over his victims are expected.

Keowin was booked into the Pinellas County Jail, where he remained Tuesday in lieu of $165,000 bail.

Anyone with information on this case is asked to call Clearwater police at (727) 562-4242.

Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Laura C. Morel can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.

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