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The bizarre story of Maoism, a mysterious death, and modern day slavery in London

Police stand guard in front of a property in Lambeth, south London Nov. 23, 2013. Three women enslaved in London for 30 years appeared to have been part of a cult and bound to their captors by "invisible handcuffs" through beatings and brainwashing, police said on Saturday.

LUKE MACGREGOR/REUTERS

It was a phone call to an organization that supports victims of domestic slavery that finally ended more than 30 years of alleged captivity for three women in London.

The three victims – including a 30-year-old who is believed to have spent her entire life being held against her will – are speaking with police and undergoing intense counselling.

"We are painstakingly piecing together more information, but we believe emotional and physical abuse has been a feature of all the victims' lives," Metropolitan Police commander Steve Rodhouse told British media.

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Here are some highlights of the disturbing case:

• Investigators have said the three women were kept in "invisible handcuffs" through psychological terror and were allegedly beaten and refused permission to leave unaccompanied. They are not believed to have been sexually abused.

• The couple arrested last week on suspicion of holding the women captive are Aravindan Balakrishnan, 73, and his wife Chanda, 67. The pair, who came to Britain in the 1960s from India and Tanzania, were leaders of an extremist Maoist collective in the 1970s, according to British media reports.

• The two oldest victims – a 69-year-old Malaysian and a 57-year-old Irishwoman – met Mr. Balakrishnan "through a shared political ideology" and are believed to have voluntarily joined the collective some 30 years ago, police say.

• A retired Malaysian teacher believes her sister is one of the victims, the Daily Telegraph reported on Tuesday. Kamar Mautum said her 69-year-old sister Aishah moved to Britain on a scholarship in 1968 with her fiancé but soon fell under the spell of Mr. Balakrishnan, who was also known as Comrade Bala.

• Investigators are re-examining the death of Sian Davies, 44, who mysteriously fell from an upstairs bathroom window in a house in South London in August, 1997. Mr. and Ms. Balakrishnan also lived in the house. Ms. Davies's cousin, Eleri Morgan, told British media that she believes that Ms. Davies, who died after spending seven months in hospital, was the mother of the 30-year-old victim. The woman apparently believes Mr. Balakrishnan is her father.

• Over the years, the youngest victim wrote some 500 notes, including poems, to a neighbour with whom she was apparently infatuated, according to the Sunday Express. "I'm like a fly trapped in a spider's web – and I'm absolutely terrified to do anything in case these evil criminals do something to you," she wrote. The woman did not go to a local school and detectives are investigating how she was educated.

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• After managing to secretly get a cellphone, the Irish woman phoned Freedom Charity, which helps victims of domestic slavery, in October after seeing a television show featuring its work. After a week of more phone calls, the charity and police removed the women to a place of safety. Mr. and Mrs. Balakrishnan were arrested last week and are out on bail.

With reports from Reuters and The Associated Press

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