Cops: Gateway man chained, raped woman over months
To the casual passerby or curious neighbor, 451 Foy Road suggested a hermit, or a hoarder. Or perhaps just a quirky resident of the longtime ranching community of Gateway.
Peeling paint on the outside of the house, situated just a few hundred feet from the K-12 school. A heavily overgrown yard choked with piles of junk that largely obscured a “no dumping” sign on the porch and made it difficult to find the pathway to the front door. A cluttered, poorly lit interior.
It wasn’t until nearly two weeks ago, when a shy woman who refused to make eye contact quietly begged to be arrested on a $50 warrant, that investigators uncovered something much more sinister.
The owner of the house, a former Texas death row inmate, kept the woman chained up in the house with the assistance of a runaway teenager and raped her daily for months, telling the woman he was a serial killer and others that he saw the “devil” inside the woman and tied her up in an effort to exorcise it. When police interviewed the woman, she didn’t know what month it was or how long she had been held captive, according to an arrest affidavit unsealed this week.
Claude Lee Wilkerson, 61, was charged Monday with a total of 10 felony and misdemeanor counts — two counts of first-degree kidnapping, four counts of sexual assault, and single counts of false imprisonment, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, third-degree assault and harboring a minor. He remains in the Mesa County Jail on a $1 million cash bond.
Mesa County sheriff’s investigators responded to Wilkerson’s house on Feb. 20 after receiving a report that a runaway had been found. The girl told police she had been staying with a man she knew as “Chay” near Gateway and had helped him tie a woman to a bed. She said the man had threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone about the woman.
An employee of the Gateway Fire Department told deputies he knew who “Chay” was and helped them locate his house. There, deputies met with a man later identified as Wilkerson, who told them he and the alleged victim had been staying there, according to the affidavit.
In her initial conversations with investigators, the woman appeared reluctant to talk. She looked at Wilkerson, then looked at the ground and away from the deputy. The deputy asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else to talk.
“He advised (the woman) took a couple of steps to the side while looking up towards Claude Wilkerson and then positioned herself so that Deputy Parker was between them. Deputy Parker said (the woman) then very softly told him, ‘I kinda wanted to be arrested on my warrant,’” an investigator wrote in the affidavit, quoting the woman and referring to a $50 warrant she had out for her arrest.
Deputies initially assured her they did not plan to arrest her and told her how she could get it resolved.
“Deputy Parker said he told her he was more than willing to give her a ride back to Grand Junction if she wanted to go anywhere else. She then asked Deputy Parker again, ‘Can you arrest me on my warrant, please?’” the affidavit said.
The woman began opening up on the ride back to Grand Junction.
She told investigators she was homeless and met Wilkerson in October, and that he offered to let her stay with him and agreed to pay her to do yard work and help clean his home, but never actually gave her money. She said a young girl who had run away from home had been staying with Wilkerson before she arrived.
One day shortly after she arrived at the house, the woman said the runaway girl approached her from behind and covered her mouth and nose with a rag soaked with some kind of chemical, while Wilkerson tried to wrap her feet with a wire. When she kicked out of the wire, Wilkerson grabbed a tow chain, wrapped it around her legs and secured it with a padlock, then secured the chain to the leg of a bed.
She said Wilkerson and the girl occasionally allowed her hands to be chained in front of her instead of in back and eventually started taking the chains off of her. She said she didn’t try to escape because she feared punishment, according to the affidavit.
The runaway girl later told investigators she and Wilkerson researched ways to make the woman pass out so they could tie her up, choosing ultimately to use a diesel engine cleaner.
While chained up, the woman said Wilkerson repeatedly sexually assaulted her.
The woman said she rarely got to leave the house — she said she was allowed to go into the yard a few times and to the general store in Gateway twice — and she had trouble remembering dates related to her imprisonment in the house. She said the last date she could remember was Christmas, because Wilkerson gave her a glass marijuana pipe and a coloring book, according to the affidavit.
She said Wilkerson often claimed to her that he was a shaman and a serial killer. She said he never showed any emotion or remorse about chaining her up, instead doing it matter-of-factly. The runaway girl also told investigators Wilkerson made claims that he was a shaman, and that he could see the “devil” inside the woman. He said the woman needed to be chained up until the devil left her, as well as until the woman agreed to marry him, according to the affidavit.
The woman told police there were only two occasions when other people besides her and the runaway girl were inside the house. On one occasion, she said Wilkerson laid her on the floor in the basement with her hands and legs chained. The other time, the heater broke in the home and a repairman came to fix it. That time, she said she remained unchained on the bed.
“She knew not to cause any alarm,” an investigator wrote in the affidavit.
Wilkerson was convicted and sentenced to death in 1979 in the murder of one of three people who were robbed at a Texas jewelry store, taken hostage and killed. He was released, however, in 1983 after the Texas Court of Appeals reversed his conviction, ruling police had illegally obtained his confession. A state district court judge agreed and tossed out the evidence accompanying the confession.
Wilkerson’s public defender this week waived his right to have a preliminary hearing within 30 days. He’s scheduled to return to court on March 21.