HIGGINSVILLE, Mo. -- A family business puts two adults in handcuffs and three children in protective custody – after a couple is accused of making those kids help them grow and process marijuana inside their Higginsville home.
Lafayette County prosecutors said mother Christine Antwiler told her kids, who are ages 8 to 13, they had to do the work to help “support the family.”
Investigators also said Antwiler hung a decorative sign in their dining room that read, “Unruly children will be forced to pick weed.”
Antwiler, along with her partner Martin Gatlin, are now facing a slew of criminal charges, including endangering the welfare of a child involving drugs, keeping a public nuisance, and manufacturing or possessing a controlled substance with the intent to distribute.
The criminal charges come after deputies received a complaint and executed a search warrant on Tuesday at Antwiler and Gatlin’s house on Jennings Road in rural Higginsville.
Among the stretches of gravel road, and the miles upon miles of farmland, neighbors said the home has usually blended into its rural surroundings.
“If it looked obvious to me, I probably would`ve done something about it,” said a man who lives and works nearby, but asked FOX 4 not to publish his name. “It didn`t look so obvious to me. It just looked like another house.”
But it’s a house where prosecutors said Antwiler and Gatlin were hiding a marijuana grow operation.
“It happens everywhere,” the neighbor said. “People who don`t look like they`d be drug users or drug dealers, maybe are…”
When deputies searched the house, they found guns, ammunition, drug paraphernalia and marijuana that they said was grown inside a Coachman camper that sits on the property.
But prosecutors said the duo took it a step further, with Antwiler forcing her own children to help with the family business.
According to a probable cause statement, a 13-year-old boy told investigators he helped plant 40 marijuana plants, 18 of which were cultivated.
The boy said his mom Antwiler, his 8-year-old sister and another sibling would clip the marijuana, and Antwiler would complete the finishing touches.
The teenager said that Gatlin was “the boss” and didn’t work to process the marijuana, but did sell it once it was weighed and bagged.
On one occasion, the boy said he accompanied Gatlin during a sale.
“My heart really goes out for the kids,” their neighbor said. “I`ve actually spent some time praying for the kids because I can`t imagine being raised in a family where that was the case. So I really feel sorry that children have to be raised in that environment.”
Deputies found nine canned jars and a vacuum sealed bag of marijuana between a master bedroom and adjoining bathroom with various labels like: “Maui-Wami”, “Thia”, “Nason”, “Juicy Fruit”, which were identified as exotic strains of marijuana in court documents.
A search of the Coachman camper revealed it to be an indoor marijuana grow house with three dismantled grow lights and at least five marijuana stalks with roots.
In all, investigators processed 450 grams, or about 15 ounces, of marijuana. Digital scales, smoking pipes, and baggies with methamphetamine residue were recovered.
Deputies also found a 12 gauge shotgun and .45 caliber pistol in the bedroom. Gatlin is facing two additional weapons charges related to the firearms.
As for the sign hanging in the dining room that threatens the kids with picking weed if they are unruly, the neighbor said that’s upsetting.
“That just breaks my heart,” he said. “When that`s in a [dining] room, the children are destined for failure.”
“They`re in a safer place now knowing that they have people around them, I would hope, whether that be DFS or county officials that can help them and maybe steer them back on a better path.”
Antwiler is being held on a $50,000 bond, and Gatlin on a $75,000 bond. Both are due in court on October 26.
Gatlin has a pending case against him in Johnson County, Mo., for three drugs charges, and has a previous drug conviction, according to court records.
Antwiler has a previous conviction for manufacturing amphetamine or methamphetamine.
Court records show she served time in the Missouri Department of Corrections, violated her probation in March, and was incarcerated as recently as July.