Detroit sex ring operated like cult

Prosecutor: Victims who didn’t follow orders were beaten
The Detroit News, Jan. 17, 2003
By Ronald J. Hansen / The Detroit News

DETROIT — A multistate prostitution ring busted this week operated like a cult, enlisting some of its women to help force runaways and kidnapping victims to dance and have sex, officials said.

Chicago resident Henry Davis, 32, was arraigned Thursday on nine felony charges stemming from the unfolding investigation, which involves the FBI and is expected to last several weeks. Authorities say Davis led the sex ring and raped at least some of the women who worked for him. The sex workers included girls as young as 13, authorities said.

A 17-year-old boy was arrested along with Davis, but remains uncharged while police try to correctly identify him. Wayne County Prosecutor Michael Duggan predicted “significant additional defendants” will soon face charges as well.

“We are at the tip of the iceberg at this point,” he said.

The prostitution ring has attracted national attention since a security guard at a Highland Park shoe store helped rescue a 17-year-old Cleveland girl, whom police say was kidnapped last week and forced to commit at least three sex acts.

Police said the sex ring appears to be centered in Chicago but has included operations in Detroit dating to 1995. Authorities are investigating whether the ring extended from Ohio to Wisconsin.

“It appears to have operated much like a cult,” Duggan said. Women who disobeyed orders were beaten by the other women, a form of punishment known within the group as “violating.”

“Once he had control over these females, through serious threats of violence, Davis would force the girls to perform various sex acts for money,” Duggan said,

The ring kept the girls under watch at a house in the 4600 block of Nottingham on Detroit’s east side, police said. They danced and had sex for cash at another property on the west side, police said.

Police arrested Davis and the teen-aged boy in a raid of the Nottingham house on Monday night.

Authorities also found seven women, ranging in age from 13 to 21, two infant children, six men, a stolen handgun and diaries kept by some of the women that discussed their plight.

Detroit Police Cmdr. Gerard Simon said Davis, known to the women as “Chicago,” complained that police were focusing only on the prostitution.

Davis protested that “nothing is being discussed about the good I did for these women,” Simon told reporters. “The man is living on another planet.”

The Cleveland girl was allegedly abducted from that city last week after a woman approached her with an offer to sell jewelry. Her pleas at a Highland Park Foot Locker store convinced security guard Dorian McConnell to call police while keeping her from her abductors.

“I had no idea it was this big. I thought I was helping one young lady, and it turned out to be something much bigger,” McConnell said.

In fact, it proved to be the break police needed to piece together a prostitution investigation that had yielded only frustrating dead ends.

Another woman, a 20-year-old Detroit resident, told investigators that she was abducted in November on a similar ruse involving jewelry sales. The group promised her $300 a day and took her to a movie, then to the Nottingham house, where she could not leave.

Duggan noted the control the ring had over the women, pointing out that the Detroit woman required a hospital visit last month to treat her diabetes. Still, she ended back with the group.

Other women in the ring appear to have been runaways or willing prostitutes.

A 36th District Court judge set Davis’ bond at $1 million. Davis is charged with four counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, two counts of transporting a female for prostitution, kidnapping, pandering and accepting earnings from prostitution. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

Davis is scheduled for a preliminary examination Jan. 28.

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