LEROY, W.Va. (AP) — While her husband returned a rototiller to a West Virginia rental shop, a limping woman sneaked into another part of the building seeking help. Soon, court papers say, she was at a shelter with a horrifying tale: She had been held captive for the better part of a decade — beaten, burned and even shackled during childbirth.
Investigators said they have 45 photographs showing burns on her back and breasts from irons and frying pans, and scars on her wrists and ankles. Now her husband is in jail and authorities are investigating what Jackson County Chief Sheriff's Deputy Tony Boggs called one of the most terrible cases he's seen.
"This appears to go beyond abuse to what I would consider torture," he said Wednesday.
Authorities said Peter Lizon, 37, was in jail Wednesday on $300,000 bond. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Friday on a malicious wounding charge, they said.
The criminal complaint says 43-year-old Stephanie Lizon told another woman at a Parkersburg shelter that her husband smashed her foot with a piece of farm equipment, among other things.
But Shawn Bayliss, Peter Lizon's attorney, said the allegations are "the fabrication of a fertile imagination or a feeble mind, one of the two."
"The alleged victim didn't make these accusations. It was a third party," Bayliss said. " ... Stephanie would say this story is absolutely untrue, and the charges levied against her husband are blatantly false."
He compared it to the childhood game of "telephone," where something whispered from one person to another ultimately bears no resemblance to reality.
"This is a situation where a person has taken a nugget of information, taken an acorn and tried to turn it into a tree," he said. "And the tree won't support this story."
The details of the alleged abuse came out after the wife fled July 2 in Parkersburg, which is located about 75 miles north of the state capital of Charleston.
Stephanie Lizon entered another part of the building while her husband was inside Bosley Rental & Supply and told the staff, "I'm trying to get away from my husband. I just need to hide for a few minutes," one employee told The Associated Press.
The employee declined to give her name, citing concern for her safety and that of her co-workers at the rental shop, located about 45 minutes from the couple's home in Leroy.
In an office, the wife "seemed pretty calm but kept looking out the window to see if he was looking for her," the employee said.
Stephanie Lizon told the staff she didn't want to involve police, but she accepted the number for the domestic violence shelter and called it, the store employee said. She also called family to ask for money, and the employees gave her cash and called a taxi to take her to a Western Union office and the shelter.
The woman was limping and had appeared to have some sort of injury, the store employee said. And while her clothing was clean, she smelled bad. The husband did not come inside looking for his wife and police didn't come until several days later, the employee said.
At the shelter, however, Stephanie Lizon told another woman about the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her husband, a native of the Czech Republic, according to the criminal complaint. The wife said her family was from Alexandria, Va.
Stephanie Lizon's father declined to discuss the case when contacted by The Associated Press. Relatives of her husband didn't immediately return messages.
The complaint provided the following account:
The witness at the shelter described Stephanie Lizon as "gaunt and filthy," and covered in scars, bruises and burns. She had "mutilated and swollen" feet, a scar in the shape of a clothes iron on one breast, and burns on her back that the victim said came from a hot frying pan.
The witness said the wife said she was called a "slave" and ordered to kneel before her husband every time she entered a room. The wife also said she had delivered a fully developed, stillborn child while in shackles, and her husband buried the corpse on their farm.
Another child survived a similar delivery, but Stephanie Lizon said the child had never received medical attention.
Boggs of the sheriff's office said state child-welfare authorities have been notified, but Peter Lizon's attorney said the child — a 1-year-old boy — remains with his mother.
The complaint says investigators confirmed that the wife was treated in the emergency room of St. Joseph's Hospital in June and that photographs were taken at the shelter to document her injuries. A Sunbeam iron was among the items seized during a July 5 search of the couple's home. Lizon was arrested that day.
Outside the couple's house down a narrow gravel road in a hollow in Leroy, about an hour north of Charleston, chickens and young turkeys roamed freely and goats ate away at grass. Only a handful of houses dot the side of the approximately 2-mile-long road, and nobody answered the door at a neighbor's home.
Across the street, signs read "No Trespassing" and "Guard Dog on Duty," although no dog could be seen. One of two brightly colored barrels was filled with dozens of empty bottles of imported beer near a black van with no license plate.
Cliff Boggess, 62, has lived in the area since 2005 and rode his all-terrain vehicle past the home on Wednesday evening. He said he was shocked by the news and said he's never noticed any human activity at the house.
"Nothing. And I guarantee, that's the same answer you'll get from everybody around here," Boggess said. "This guy, whoever he (is), I've never seen him."
Nearby, screen doors were open and music could be heard coming from inside.
A mile up the road, choir practice was in full swing at the Meadow Dale Baptist Church, which only a few days earlier had gotten its electricity back from the June 29 storms that hit much of the state. The church's sign reads, "God cares for us in all of life's storms."
Pastor Mike King said he had just taken over at the church in May. The only news he heard about Lizon was from what he heard on television.
Both Peter and Stephanie Lizon were arrested in Maryland in 2004 and later performed community service for cutting up Bush-Cheney campaign signs with a bayonet. The couple was apparently living in Randallstown, Md., at the time.
Court records also show that Stephanie Lizon was arrested on drug charges a few months later in Baltimore County. She pleaded guilty and got probation.
The West Virginia Division of Corrections said it had no history of criminal actions by either spouse, and Boggs said the sheriff's department had no previous contact with them, either.
Smith contributed from Morgantown, W.Va.