Esther Combs talked to
ABC television's PrimeTime Thursday Reporter Sylvia Chase in an interview aired Thursday.
Chase followed Combs story over the period of two years and offered a glimpse into her past and present. She also talked with the detective that cared enough to not give up on Esther Combs' case.
Combs, 22, was raised by a former Hyles Anderson College bible teacher and his wife, both were convicted in Sullivan County, Tennessee in March of abusing and kidnapping Esther.
Rev. Joseph Combs, 51, was also convicted of aggravated assault, aggravated perjury, seven counts of rape and one count of aggravated rape and sentenced to 106 years in prison while his wife Evangeline, 50, was convicted on four counts of aggravated child abuse and received a sentence of 65 years.
"I cried all the time growing up. I never smiled," Esther told Chase.
In 1978 when Esther was just a baby the Combs' took her from the Baptist Children's Home and Family Ministries in Porter County, but said they never legally adopted her because of the cost. During their trial Esther testified of the harrowing abuses she suffered being raised as the family's slave. She was beaten, raped and had her flesh ripped with pliers.
During her interview on PrimeTime she said they used "anything that looked like it hurt," to beat her.
She told Chase about her earliest memory of abuse.
"I just remember getting in trouble, she (Evangeline) spanked me, then she sat me in the high chair and then she tied me to it and put me in the closet," Esther said.
Once her mother got tired of her she then threw her down the stairs, Esther said.
Bristol Detective Debbie Richmond never gave up on helping the young woman who at first denied she had suffered any abuse.
Richmond knew something was wrong when doctors told her of layers of scars they discovered on Esther's body after she was hospitalized in February 1997 due to a failed suicide attempt.
"When I saw the scars on her body I cried," Richmond said.
She said after that she had many sleepless nights.
Although Esther initially denied being abused and returned to live with the Combs' after her suicide attempt, Richmond said she remained suspicious and was afraid she would never see her alive again. Because Esther was no longer a minor Richmond was powerless to intervene.
Seven months later, police filed a petition for guardianship for Esther, who was to appear in Sullivan County Chancery Court but she never made an appearance.
During the October 1997 hearing, Joseph Combs told the judge he did not know where Esther was, but later on the witness stand, he said his testimony that day was "not the whole truth" and said he had arranged for Esther to leave the state.
"I knew she could disappear very easily because she didn't have a legal identity," Richmond said.
Instead of attending the hearing, Esther spent a few days at a church member's home in nearby Virginia, then spent several weeks with one of Combs' friends, a South Carolina pastor.
"I didn't leave Joe sent me away," Esther said.
After that, Esther was sent to live with Combs' relatives in Georgia, where she called Bristol police in February 1998 and made the abuse allegations.
"Out of the blue she called me on the phone from Georgia and said I want to tell you everything that happened to me from the time I was a baby," Richard said. "I laid the phone down and I screamed because I knew I could help her then."
Since the trial and sentencing Esther who is now 22 has returned to Tennessee. She is living alone and is rebuilding her life, according to the report and Richmond has been a big part of the picture.
"She (Richmond) saved my life. She means the world to me I can never repay her for what she did for me," Esther said.
Elizabeth Eaken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 933-3318.