215 North Hill Street
April 18, 1911
Ladda Trcka didn’t realize when he played in the vacant lot adjacent to his home in Columbus, Ohio, that he was being watched. The angel faced ten year old boy was too young and innocent to find anything sinister in the behavior of his forty-four year old widowed neighbor, Nellie Hersey. He thought nothing of being invited into her parlor, where she would caress him and offer him more candy than he could consume in a single sitting.
One day Nellie suggested to Ladda that they go off together and see the world. How could any ten year old boy pass up an adventure like that? Ladda crept stealthily out of his family home one night and biked to Toledo, where he was joined by Nellie. It was then that Ladda’s slavery began.
At first Nellie and Ladda moved from town to town, and he did see some of the world as he’d been promised. Then in 1898 he and Nellie arrived in Redondo Beach, where he was immediately forced to go to work. He worked every day, and each week he dutifully turned his paycheck over to his captor. Keeping Ladda as her slave proved simple for Nellie – she provided the boy with few clothes and no pocket money, and didn’t even take him to a barber to have his hair cut.
For several years the boy followed the routine dictated to him by Nellie. To prevent him from becoming restless and attempting to leave her, the woman told Ladda that she had heard that his entire family had passed away. Making him believe that he was an orphan was another way in which Nellie made the boy dependent upon her.
The boy was unaware that his family was alive and that, even as the years rolled by, they continued to search for him. Ladda’s brother Otto even became a detective so he could solve the case of his missing brother.
Finally, in April 1911, Nellie was at her home at 215 North Hill Street when she received word that she was being sued by Ladda for damages in the amount of $13,090 – payment for his years of captivity.
The news that Ladda was alive and well in Southern California reached Ohio. Otto came out to offer his support as a brother, and his services as a detective.
Evidently, Ladda’s circumstances first began to change when he fell in love with a girl, Belle Strathorn, whom he’d met on the beach. Belle helped him to acquire new clothes, and a haircut!
The Los Angeles Times’ coverage of the twisted tale made veiled references to some of the darker aspects of Ladda’s years as Nellie’s slave. The newspaper described details of the law suit as “lurid” — the story hinted that Nellie’s interest in Ladda had been anything but maternal, yet never went further.
That Nellie was infatuated, even obsessed with the boy seems obvious. Less obvious is the date when he and Nellie cease to cohabitate. When did she move to Bunker Hill? And why did Ladda decide to sue for eleven years, and not the full sixteen years that he appears to have been a captive? Also, according to Ladda, Nellie had been married several times, and she’d taken many lovers as well. Was Nellie married or involved in affairs while simultaneously keeping Ladda as a prisoner?
There were so many tantalizing questions without answers, as the newspaper never followed up on the story beyond the initial report.