Leona Biser: PA woman sentenced to 2 years for caging special needs sister
Biser pleads guilty to keeping Loretta in a wooden cage 'lined with feces' since 2018, says it was to prevent injury
VESTABURG, PENNSYLVANIA: A 52-year-old Pennsylvania woman has been sentenced to two years in prison for locking up her older sister in a cage. According to reports, Leona Biser kept Loretta Lancaster, 54, in a wooden cage since 2018, claiming it was to prevent her from getting injured. She was arrested in 2020 after a visit by the state's Adult Protective Services, leading the Attorney General to also get involved.
The elder abuse suffered by Lancaster brings to the front the often underreported, but very serious crime. Such abuse made headlines in 2019 after Stan Lee's business partner Keya Morgan was charged, over incidents against the famed comic book writer in 2018. In December 2019, an Iowa man was charged for kicking his 89-year-old father, and forced him to crawl because he found it funny. Earlier in May 2019, we also reported on a viral video showing mental health workers attacking a disabled Georgia man.
Those incidents are, however, just the tip of the iceberg. The National Council of Ageing estimates that up to five million older Americans are abused every year, around 1 in 10 people over 60. Few of those stories make the headlines, with the World Health Organization estimating that only 1 in 24 cases ever gets reported. In 2020, of of the few to have their story heard was Loretta Lancaster.
Who is Leona Biser?
A resident of Vestaburg, Pennsylvania, little is known about Biser beyond her charges. She doesn't appear to have a social media presence, and there are few mentions of her in the press prior to 2019. We do know her elder sister Lancaster is a special-needs adult, who has severe speech impairments. She also reportedly has the mental capacity "of an infant", and was hence reliant on Biser for her care.
Following the death of their mother in 2018, it appears Biser's abuse of Lancaster became serious. She reportedly kept Lancaster in a special homemade wooden cage and was denied medication and even the use of a toilet. Reports say Lancaster's cage was "lined with feces and swarming with bugs," in the living room of her home. Biser also denied her sister solid food and fed her only milk from a baby bottle.
The state of affairs was first brought to the attention of officials in August 2019, but it wasn't till January 2020 Biser was arrested and Lancaster freed for medical care. Reportedly, she was treated for a urinary tract infection and Rhabdomyolysis, a potentially life-threatening illness caused by the breakdown of muscle tissue. At the time, Biser defended her actions saying she was kept in "an enclosure due to her constantly falling, and in doing so prevents her from getting injured."
Biser goes missing
It's unclear from when Lancaster was locked up, but she was found in the cage by Adult Protective Services in August 2019. The agent returned only in November, with a doctor who noted she was unable to walk. However, Lancaster was still not taken away. on November 22, the Attorney General's office got involved and sent an ambulance to take Lancaster to the hospital. On January 15, 2020, Biser was charged on several counts.
She, however, went missing and missed several court dates. In August 2020, US Marshals were roped in to search for Biser. At the same time, she was also charged for defrauding social security. The Observer-Reporter noted that Biser used her sister's social security payments for personal expenses. She was caught later that month and sent to jail. On September 2, 2021, Biser pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 23 months in prison, followed by 2 years probation.
"What Leona Biser did to her sister is unforgivable, but today’s plea is a step towards justice," said Attorney General Josh Shapiro in a statement. He also provided an update on Lancaster's condition. "Since being removed from Biser’s custody, Lancaster’s condition has improved significantly: she has regained some mobility, recovered from medical conditions that were caused by living in a cage, and has begun working with a speech therapist," he added.