AKRON, Ohio (AP) — Fifteen years in prison isn’t nearly long enough.
That’s what the now-grown children who were rescued from an abusive home in Akron say about their tormentors— their mother, Mary Rowles, and her former live-in girlfriend, Alice Jenkins.
Jenkins is awaiting a judge’s decision on her request for early release on her conviction of 55 charges.
She and Rowles, convicted in 2003 of the beating, starving and psychological abuse of Rowles’ six children, have served half of a 30-year sentence.
But the children say they are serving life sentences after years of being whipped with everything from belts to hammers, locked in a closet for months at a time and given so little to eat that their bodies stopped growing.
At 18, Caleb Eging said, he was 5’6” and weighed 140 pounds. At 19, Caleb said, he shot up to 6 feet and put on 90 pounds.
Malnutrition robbed a couple of the boys of clear vision, including one whose eyesight is so poor he cannot drive. And Danny Rowles noticed whiskers growing on his face for the first time in his 20s.
Danny and some of the other boys said doctors have told them that malnutrition prevented normal adolescent growth, so they experienced growth spurts and other developmental changes in their 20s. Nothing, however, will bring back their eyesight.
Some of the boys have struggled with drugs and alcohol and post-traumatic stress disorder, too.
Jesse Eging, 24, developed trichotillomania during his months confined to the closet — a condition in which he’s compelled to pull out his eyelashes when stressed. He still does it.
“I could have easily died,” Jesse said in a recent phone interview from his home in Arizona. “Six more months, three more months in the closet with no food … She should serve her whole time.”
The six children — all birthed by Rowles with five different fathers — ranged in age from 6 to 14 when three escaped the closet that had been their prison and were found wandering the streets of the Kenmore neighborhood by Akron police.
Today, the five boys are between 22 and 30 years old. The only girl, Marissa, died in a traffic accident last year at age 26.
Four of the five boys met with or contacted Summit County prosecutors and Summit County Common Pleas Judge Amy Corrigall Jones to make clear their opposition to Jenkins’ request for an early release.
Danny Rowles, 29, said when his mother requested early release last year, the court never notified any of the children in time for them to voice their thoughts. Mary Rowles was denied early release.
He said they only knew about Jenkins’ request because of a story in the Akron Beacon Journal.
While it’s upsetting reliving those memories with prosecutors, the process has reunited some of the siblings. Danny and brother Caleb Eging, for instance, saw each other this month for the first time since being separated into foster homes 15 years ago. Jesse Eging has vowed to organize a reunion for all of them next year.
Caleb, 22, and Danny said they also welcomed the opportunity to tell their story to authorities from an articulate, adult perspective, and not the numb half-explanations of a battered child.
“You can’t say your full piece, what’s on your mind, as a kid,” Caleb said.
Jesse’s father wasn’t in the picture when the children escaped, and Caleb’s father didn’t qualify for custody because of previous criminal convictions.
They spent a year at a foster home in Tallmadge. They can still remember their first full meal there: sloppy Joes and tater tots. They learned to ride a tricycle, went to school and made friends with neighborhood children.
“It was a good chance at what childhood we had left,” said Jesse Eging, 24, who now lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Jesse and Caleb were then adopted by the Egings, a Chardon family that has fostered 40 children over the years, adopting 12 of them.
“We just did normal, basic family and boy stuff — dinner, Boy Scouts, trying to get Eagle Scout,” Jesse said.
His new mom, Victoria Eging, said Jesse used to fear Alice Jenkins’ threat that she would come and get him. At school, he was given a desk by the window so he could assure himself she was not coming.
Jesse was a student at Chardon High School when a classmate killed three others in a 2012 shooting. Jesse knew all of the students involved.
He didn’t graduate from Chardon, but later received his GED. His adoptive parents moved to Scottsdale and he followed them in 2015. He’s studying physical therapy and coaches children in parkour.
“I love helping kids be healthy and active and creative and showing them there are no limits too big,” he said.
Jesse’s had a steady girlfriend for two years; they hope to marry and have children.
He’s kept in touch with most of his siblings.
Caleb spoke briefly when he attended an interview that his brother, Danny, had with the Beacon Journal, but declined a full interview.
He’s 22, engaged to be married, and working for an Akron-area landscaper.
Victoria Eging, his adoptive mother, said Caleb was given therapy for severe reactive attachment disorder and struggled throughout his teenage years, once spending 18 months in a residential treatment facility for troubled youths.
When Caleb turned 18, he got into legal troubles. After pointing to his abusive childhood, he was placed on probation.
Victoria Eging, who wasn’t satisfied with Caleb’s sentence, is no longer in contact with him.
She said she took the boys back to the Florida Avenue home once so they could see it and end the power it had over them. Jesse told her, “It doesn’t look scary at all.”
“This did more for them than counseling had in five years,” Victoria Eging said.
Another strategy a counselor employed was to have the boys write down on pieces of paper all the things they hated that were done to them, then burn them in the fireplace.
“They had so much bottled up inside them that we didn’t know where to begin,” she said.
Danny Rowles still has his mother’s last name — Rowles — and he hates it.
He would love to share a last name with the family that he has created. His fiance of six years is Dianna Hickman. He gave their two children his father’s surname, Shaffer.
But until he can afford the costly process of shedding the Rowles’ name of his mother, marriage will wait, he said.
Today, Danny is 29 and living in Cambridge, Ohio, where he works in a shipping department loading and unloading trucks. He’s had the same job for seven years.
After Rowles and Jenkins were imprisoned, the father shared by Danny and the oldest of the five brothers sought custody. Danny went to live with his father. The eldest brother refused and remained in foster care until age 18.
Danny said he and his brother lived with their father when they were younger, but they moved back in with their mother around 1998 when she claimed to be “dying” of multiple sclerosis.
“Mary certainly wasn’t mother of the year, but there wasn’t the abuse like there was with Alice,” Danny said. Alice Jenkins moved in with them and, when together, “they were evil women,” Danny said.
After being returned to his father in 2004, Danny said life in his dad’s Canton home was a struggle. He didn’t get along with his stepmother, and she and his father eventually divorced.
Danny and two half siblings living with his father ended up moving in with their grandmother, Paula Tolliver, in Cambridge.
There, Danny got his GED at age 19, but had trouble settling down or holding a job. He called himself “a young, dumb fool” who dabbled in drugs and alcohol.
Six years ago, he met his now-fiance and his life changed. The couple attend church twice a week, where Danny plays guitar in a band. A minister has helped him to forgive — though not forget — his mother’s abuse.
They’ve been raising Hickman’s 8-year-old daughter, as well as their 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.
He said when he was in foster care, he was told about the high risk of him becoming an abusive parent himself.
“I told them when they told me that: ‘Like hell,’” said Danny, who said he errs on the side of leniency and mostly disciplines his children by giving them “a look.”
“Being a parent to me is the most amazing thing because the greatest accomplishment you can have in this world is what you leave behind,” Danny said. “My children, they’re my everything, the reason I get up every day, go to work every day.
“My children saved my life,” he said.
Danny added that he was surprised that any of the boys were able to have children. He said Jenkins frequently battered their genitals, and he assumed it had rendered them sterile.
The oldest of the children abused by Rowles and Jenkins is now 30 and declined to be interviewed for this story, saying he had a family now and didn’t want to relive the past. For that reason, the Beacon Journal is not using his name or identifying where he lives.
In 2007, at the age of 19, he filed suit against Summit County Children Services for failing to protect him. He sought damages in excess of $25,000 as he detailed abuse that extended over five years — a period during which children services visited the home multiple times but took no action.
“During each of these home visits, there was open, obvious and overwhelming evidence of on-going abuse of, and neglect to (the victim) and his siblings,” the lawsuit said.
There is no record of the suit being resolved; it may have been settled out of court.
In 2004, Marissa was returned to her father, Brady Postlethwaite, and his then-wife, Lisa.
Marissa attended counseling and did well at Kenmore High School, where she was in the National Merit Society four years in a row and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian.
At 18, she was pregnant and gave birth in her senior year but didn’t bond with the child, and after graduation she disappeared for a time, leaving the Postlethwaites to care for their grandchild.
When Marissa returned a year later, she had a different attitude, embraced her child, and devoted herself to supporting her baby and two more children that followed.
“She became an excellent mother. She spoiled those kids horribly,” Lisa Postlethwaite Palomo said.
Marissa wrote to Rowles, her birth mother, a couple of times over the years, Palomo said.
“She still loved her. Of course she did. That’s her mother. That’s part of her. If you can’t love your mom, how do you love yourself?” Palomo asked.
In the summer of 2018, Marissa married Eric Ashford, and posted pictures on Facebook of her smiling in a champagne-colored gown, sitting next to her new husband in a tux and three children dressed for the occasion.
“Feeling really good as Mrs. Ashford,” Marissa said in the post.
Six weeks after the wedding, on a Friday in September, Marissa dropped off her children at day care, stopped at a gas station to buy flowers for her new husband, then headed home in her Kia Sedona minivan.
She was driving along Kelly Avenue in East Akron when she was hit head-on by an Akron man who lost control of his Jaguar while racing another car, according to a police report. The Jaguar was going 90 mph when it crossed the yellow line and hit Marissa’s minivan.
Marissa Postlethwaite Ashford and the Jaguar’s driver, 24-year-old Kyle Congrove, were killed.
Lisa Postlethwaite Palomo — she and Brady divorced after 18 years of marriage — said she was nervous going to Marissa’s funeral. She felt guilty that her repeated efforts to get Summit County Children Services involved because she found out the abuse only escalated after each of her complaints.
“I was terrified to see the boys at Marissa’s funeral,” she said. “But they were all gracious and gave me hugs. I felt a lot better.”
Ty Rowles, 26, declined to be interviewed for this story but agreed to allow the Beacon Journal to use his name and photos.
After Marissa’s death, Ty posted an old, blurry photo of he and Marissa on his Facebook page.
“My blood sister lost her life Friday. I’m really hurt over this,” he said. “I’ll never forget how u always stood up for me when we was little.”
Later, he posted a close-up picture of his hairline and what appears to be a tattoo of Marissa’s birth date and death date, along with a big heart inked in black.