Children’s book author, her engineer husband accused of abusing, holding 3 adopted children prisoner

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. — Seminole County deputies said a children’s book author and her husband, who is an engineer at Lockheed Martin, have both been charged with abusing their three adopted children and holding them as prisoners.

A sheriff’s office spokesperson said what happened inside Joseph and Jennifer Wolfthal’s Casselberry home may be the worst case of child abuse she has seen in Seminole County.

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Two of the three children, all under the age of 12, are now in foster care and the third remains hospitalized from the alleged abuse she suffered.

Joseph Wolfthal faced a judge Tuesday afternoon on charges of aggravated child abuse, child neglect with great bodily harm and false imprisonment charges.

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Jennifer was arrested on similar charges on New Year’s Day after Joseph arrived at the hospital with one of the children. According to an arrest report, the child was suffering from sepsis, a staph infection, renal and liver failure and pneumonia in both lungs. The reports said the child had bruises, open wounds and skin infections and was malnourished.

According to the arrest report, Joseph and Jennifer allegedly locked their three adopted children up in their rooms for days and weeks at a time with no showers and little food.

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One of the children told investigators the main punishment occurred every night when their parents would pour cold water over them while they lay in bed. The girl told investigators she would have to drink the water from the puddle to breathe.

The child also told investigators she had not interacted with her siblings or other adults for years and that she tried to keep track of the days and months by counting in her head.

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Deputies said the doorknobs of the children’s bedrooms were installed with a locking mechanism on the outside of the door.

According to recently filed divorce filings, Jennifer now lives in Ponte Vedra, Florida after her arrest on New Year’s Day. Documents show the couple adopted the children through private adoption in 2014.

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Also in the divorce documents, Joseph is asking for sole custody of the three children that he is also accused of abusing.

A judge set bond for Joseph on Tuesday. The same afternoon Jennifer was arrested again and charged with false imprisonment. She remains in jail without bond.

The company that published Jennifer’s children’s book, “A Real Friend,” released a statement following her arrest saying they will cease further commercialization of the book. You can read the company’s full statement below:

“At Clavis, we believe that children are beautiful and deserve our utmost respect and care. That is why we publish books to enrich their lives and help them grow up learning to know themselves, how to interact with others in a good way and how the world works. We were made aware of horrific news regarding one-time, Clavis’ author Jennifer Wolfthal’s arrest and strongly condemn child abuse, abandonment and neglect, today and always. We will do what’s within our power to cease commercialization of her book further.”

Jeff Levkulich

Jeff Levkulich, WFTV.com

Jeff Levkulich joined the Eyewitness News team as a reporter in June 2015.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.