Former Eagle River resident Anya James sits in court May 18 during her arraignment in Anchorage Superior Court after being charged with 10 counts of kidnapping and six counts of first-degree assault. James physically and emotionally abused at least six of her adopted children over a decade, including forcing them to use buckets as toilets and limiting their diet so severely that it stunted their growth, authorities said.
Associated Press photo/Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth
Anya James, the 50-year-old single mother accused of emotionally and physically abusing her six adopted children, spent her family's early years in Eagle River before moving to the Anchorage Hillside about 10 years ago.
Among the accusations against her: James starved the children to the point that malnourishment stunted their growth, delayed puberty, and caused some of them to be hospitalized after they were taken from the home last year.
James also forced the children to use cat litter instead of a toilet at times, confined them in small rooms, and homeschooled her adopted children, severely restricting their contact with the outside world, Anchorage police said.
Between 2000 and 2010, James fostered and adopted six children, collecting more than $750,000 in adoption subsidies from the state, police said. She was living in a home on Homestead Trail valued by municipal assessors this year at $566,400.
But the family spent its earlier years in Eagle River. James and a number of children lived in Eagle River in the 1990s until at least 2001, according to police.
The family lived for several years in a log cabin on Chain of Rock Drive in one of Eagle River's oldest subdivisions, a quiet and wooded neighborhood off Eagle River Road with a rural feel.
A neighbor on Chain of Rock who asked not to be named said the log cabin had a big yard. She noticed nothing unusual about the family except for one runaway attempt by one child. The home inside looked fine.
State records show the during her time in Eagle River, James held a license for a business she called the Art of Healing Counseling Center from 1995 until the end of 1996 and again from 1998 until the end of 1999. The business was located in two locations over time: the Meadowcreek Building on VFW Road and on a property on Lynne Drive just off Monte Road that's since become abandoned with any former structures demolished.
The living conditions for James' foster and adopted children appeared to deteriorate significantly after she left Eagle River and moved to the Hillside, police said.
"Our focus really was on the Hillside," said Anchorage police Det. Chris Thomas.
James was arrested on May 17 on a state indictment charging 10 counts of kidnapping and six counts of first-degree assault. She has pleaded not guilty.
The arrest resulted from an eight-month investigation triggered by a report from one of James' adopted children, now an adult. The woman, who left in the Hillside home a few years ago, filed a report last fall with the state Office of Children's Services.
"She was just concerned about the conditions that her siblings were living in," Thomas said.
OCS, the state agency that safeguards children in foster care, had been called to visit the Hillside home in the past, Thomas said, but case workers didn't get to interview the children outside of James' presence.
"I know she coached them," he said.
After receiving the report last year, however, state authorities saw the conditions in the Hillside home and immediately removed four children, he said.
The detective wouldn't describe the children's ages, but they ranged from 13 to 20, according to media descriptions of court documents. Two adult children moved out previously.
James' attorney, Rex Butler, couldn't be reached by press time. He told the Anchorage Daily News that James "took in difficult children ... kids who 'mentally and emotionally needed a lot of watching and care.'"
As of Wednesday, James remained jailed at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in lieu of $100,000 bail. She had a bail hearing scheduled for today.
State OCS officials couldn't pinpoint the number of children fostered by James in Eagle River but confirmed reports that 24 passed through her homes in Eagle River and Anchorage since she became a licensed foster parent in 1994.
While in Eagle River, James' Chain of Rock home did attract visits from police at least three times during James' stay, according to APD reports. A history of calls to the address shows a drug sale/possession report in 2000 but James' name was "not mentioned or attached as an involved person," said APD spokeswoman Marlene Lammers. James also was not listed as being involved in a 1998 agency assist there, Lammers said. It wasn't clear what agency was involved.
James was, however, listed as the complainant in a harassment case reported in March 1999, Lammers said. A brief summary described the situation as one of the children in the home reporting verbal harassment by a former foster child, she said.
No additional information was available by press time on the three reports, which are now stored in a warehouse not accessible to the public, Lammers said.
Authorities say whatever was happening in the house in Eagle River, the treatment of the children worsened over time once the family moved to Anchorage.
"I wasn't in the house in the 1990s and I don't know what it looked like," Thomas said. "I just can't imagine that it would be possible that her house would look like how we found her house (on the Hillside)."
Police say they believe James may have adopted additional children before 2000. They ask anyone with information about children living in the James home before 2000 to call Det. Thomas at 786-2628.
Zaz Hollander can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, May 25, 2011.