We have updated our Privacy Policy to provide you a better online experience.

Beaten, Prostituted, Starved for Nearly 11 Years -- She Thanks God for Her Life

Held captive and tortured for nearly 11 years, Tamara Breeden experienced the worst of humanity, but now embraces the love of Christ.

When Aimee Runyon, wife of co-pastor Ray Runyon, first met Tamara Breeden at the New Vision Ministry Center Kensington (AG) Block Party in Northeast Philadelphia in April 2015, she noticed that the 30-something woman was very protective of the baby in her arms and seemed to be suspicious of her friendly greeting and conversation.

Unknown to Runyon, Breeden had every reason imaginable to be wary of people she didn’t know — she was a survivor of one of the most nightmarish instances of human enslavement in recent U.S. history. For nearly 11 dark and terrifying years, Breeden was held captive, not knowing what new or repeated horror might be forced upon her.

In 2001, Breeden was a trusting and loving young woman who, although she had celebrated her 20th birthday, had the mental acuity of a 10-year-old child. She was just the type of person Linda Weston preyed on.

Breeden and her boy friend, “Herbie” Knowles, who was about 30 at the time and also mentally forever 10 years old, met Weston through a mutual friend. Much like any person who preys on children, Weston offered the two enticements — a beautiful place to stay and plenty of tasty food. The two got into Weston’s car and, for all practical purposes, vanished.

Anticipating promises too good to be true, their lives became too hellish to imagine.

Weston, who had already served time for murder, was now working with her daughter and at least two men. She took the pair to her home’s basement and locked them up. In time, Breeden and Knowles were joined by other mentally impaired adults, with all being coerced into signing documents naming Weston as their designated payee for their Social Security benefits.

“Coerced” is the politically correct term; “beaten with a metal bat” is the more accurate description.

Breeden’s mother, Peggy Wanamaker, who admits she was backslidden and wasn’t living her life for Christ at the time, says she became concerned when Tamara didn’t call or return her calls.

“She didn’t even call her grandma, and that was so unlike her,” Wanamaker says. “I went to the police and reported her missing, but they told me there was nothing they could do as she was 20 years old.” Despite being denied help, Wannamaker says she repeatedly went back to the police asking for help, until finally, in 2005 the case was opened.

During this time, life for Breeden, and up to five or six of her “dungeon” companions’ lives, was simply about survival as basements, closets, cupboards, and attics would be their living arrangements for the next 11 years.

“She kept us down there for a long time — there was no sunlight,” Breeden says in a young voice, as she referred to her first stop in captivity. “We had a bucket for a potty, there wasn’t a shower . . . and we had to use the same bucket for washing up in.”

Although the filth and stench after months of living in squalid, confined conditions had to be overwhelming, for Breeden, that was far from the worst of it.

“They would come beat me with a metal baseball bat,” Breeden says. “Linda used to hit me on the head with that metal bat — she was just mean!”

Breeden’s definition of "mean" entails having at least seven bones broken, including her back, hip, ankle, and wrist due to the beatings. Her face and head to this day still display visible indentions from being struck repeatedly with the bat, with her left ear being badly damaged by a blow with the butt of a pistol.

“We never went to the hospital,” Breeden says, “but it hurt a lot. I remember I had to wrap up my leg to keep the blood in because it had a hole in it from the bat.”

Weston also prostituted the women she imprisoned. “I remember Linda’s boyfriend, he came down and hit me with the bat, then knocked my front teeth out, and had sex with me,” Breeden says quietly.

Breeden had two babies during her captivity — both children being born in a bathtub with no medical assistance. Weston and her daughter then took the children for their own.

Breeden recalls that when she was first abducted, Weston would give them cans of ravioli to eat and some kind of juice to drink. But sometimes, whether it was a lack of finances or just pure evil on Weston’s part, Breeden says (through Runyon as she was too embarrassed to talk about it) she was forced to drink her own urine and eat her own and other captives’ feces.

At least two captives Breeden knew would die during her time in captivity. “Maxine died, but I didn’t see that,” Breeden says, “and they kept Beatrice in a cupboard, but I saw Donna die — they gave her something that killed her.”

Weston moved the adults frequently within a community and then out of the state. Police say she took her captives from Philadelphia to Texas, then Florida, and finally back to Northeast Philadelphia. “We were always moving,” Breeden says, “at least 20 or 30 times.”

“When they put us in the attic, it got really hot, really, really hot,” Breeden says, “but Linda didn’t care.”

Breeden says she attempted to escape once, but was caught and beaten severely, with her ankle being broken to keep her from attempting to escape again. She also explained that Weston put things in their food and made them drink something she called “boot” before each move — a drug to keep them from putting up resistance or attempting to escape.

The horror that Breeden and her fellow captives experienced on a daily basis can never be fully understood as words simply can’t depict the full physical and emotional trauma they experienced — what would it be like to be forever 10 years old and be abused and tortured for over a decade?

Yet in the midst of this mind-numbing darkness, Breeden says she turned to God. “We prayed for a whole lot of time — we prayed every night and we cried every night,” she says. “We all prayed in that basement that one day God was going to get us home to our families and not be in this dungeon anymore.”

Breeden’s mother was also getting her spiritual life in order, explaining that when her daughter disappeared, she not only sought help from the authorities, she began to pray. “I got back closer to Him and it changed my life around,” Wanamaker says. “I made a vow to Jesus, if You bring my daughter back home, I will always serve you and I’ll see that my grandkids will serve You as well.”

On Oct. 15, 2011, a Philadelphia landlord was called to his property as a neighbor had complained about a dog. He found Breeden and other captives in the sub-basement of his apartment building. He quickly called the police because he wasn’t sure exactly what he had stumbled upon.

The survivors were rescued and transported to a nearby hospital where they were allowed to shower, put on fresh clothing, eat, and be fully examined. Breeden weighed just 60 pounds when she was rescued. Her mother described her as “a skeleton with skin.” X-rays revealed more than 20 BB pellets embedded throughout her body as well as the multiple broken bones she had suffered over her years of imprisonment.

Reuniting with her mother was a wonderful moment for Breeden, but being rescued was one thing; overcoming the trauma, with the nightmares and seemingly endless fears, was a far different story.

“She was afraid of people, even shadows,” Wanamaker says. “She couldn’t sleep at night because she was so afraid, so she slept with us . . . she had no friends anymore.”

As Wanamaker kept her promise to remain faithful to God, she met Aimee Runyon when the New Vision Ministry Center Kensington, a church plant by the Philadelphia Christian Center led by Senior Pastor Phillip Menditto, first opened in April of 2015. The church has a trio of layleaders: the Runyons, Will and Irene Saimesier, and Rob and Christina Evans.

Wanamaker attended the first service and give a brief testimony followed by praise to God about how He had saved her daughter from being a captive and how the experience had turned her life around.

“Church at Kensington is not a traditional ‘come-in-and-sit-down’ church,” Runyon explains. “It’s in a high-crime, high-drug-use area where some of the people come in drunk, high, puking, yelling, fighting or simply to sleep in safety. But it’s amazing to watch the Spirit work as by the end of services, people are completely sober and you can see the Holy Spirit working on their hearts and lives.”

Wanamaker liked what she saw in the hearts and lives of the leadership of the newly launched church, so when the church announced a block party, she encouraged her daughter to go and “meet some people and make some friends.”

Aimee Runyon and Breeden met before Wanamaker had a chance to join in on the party, but came upon the two talking together. Wanamaker introduced Breeden as her daughter, and instantly all the “walls” Runyon was experiencing in her conversation with Tamara made sense.

Since that time, Breeden has made New Vision Ministry Center her church home, often coming early to help set up for the service and pass out tracts. The change in her demeanor is undeniable.

“I have a lot of fun and a lot of friends [at church], like Miss Aimee and Miss Christina,” Breeden says. “I have a lot of friends who care about me and trust me.”

“She’s so much more open and not afraid of stepping out,” says Christina Evans. “She talks to people, she wants to be involved — you can see a healing of her heart and soul through Christ has taken place.”

Wanamaker agrees. “She prays more now and she just walks through the house all the time singing Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.”

Breeden also has the women in leadership at New Vision Ministry as her mentors and confidants. “She comes to us now to vet her potential friendships,” Runyon says. But just like many 10-year-olds, Runyon says every week, when the altar call is made, Tamara comes forward to make sure of her salvation. “I reassure her,” Runyon says, “and I let her know that we’re here for her, and that she can always come up and talk to us if she has questions.”

Evans and Runyon say that Breeden’s testimony and story has already touched many lives, including their own. They also witnessed a positive “breaking of hearts” and lives when Breeden’s testimony was shared at the main campus — Philadelphia Christian Center.

“God is so good, I’m so overwhelmed that she’s home,” Wanamaker says. “Now I’m living the life I’m supposed to be living with my Lord. He’s blessing us, he’s healing my husband, Tamara is happy now — she can even smile!”

On Dec. 4, 2015, Tamara Breeden, now 33, and her family left the U.S. District Courthouse in Philadelphia, with her joyously calling out, “I’m free! I’m free! I’m free!” Her cold-blooded captor, Linda Weston, 56, had agreed to a plea agreement and received a sentence that guaranteed she would never be released from prison.

But that wasn’t what “freed” Breeden. During the sentencing, she was given an opportunity to address Weston and the court, where she told Weston that she forgave her for what she did, but at the same time, that she wouldn’t forget.

But through it all, perhaps what best indicates Breeden’s transformation and her ongoing inner healing more than anything are the songs she now loves to sing — one of her favorites being, “Lord, I Just Want to Thank You.”

“It’s an honor and a privilege to call Tamara my friend,” Evans says.

Runyon agrees. “When you hear Tamara’s story and then look at what you’re going through, you realize life could be so much worse. Tamara’s life should be an inspiration to us all.”

<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/163711085" class=ArticleVideo="360" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; fullscreen" allowfullscreen></iframe>
<p><a href="https://vimeo.com/163711085">Tamara Breeden&#039;s Story</a> from <a href="https://vimeo.com/agusa">Assemblies of God USA</a> on <a href="https://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>

Editor’s note: The two children Tamara Breeden gave birth to during her captivity are now living with a Christian foster family who sees to it the children are in church on a regular basis. Breeden visits them at least once a week. Breeden has also had another child since being freed and prior to turning her life over to Christ (and is one of the reasons she now vets all friendships/relationships through her church friends). However, little Olivia brings much joy to her life. All those involved in this heinous crime, in addition to Weston, have received lengthy prison sentences.


Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.