Metro

Bodies of three women found at home of Springfield kidnapping suspect identified

The remains of three women found in a Springfield home last week were identified Monday as the man who lived there, Stewart R. Weldon, made a brief court appearance and was charged with kidnapping another woman earlier this year.

Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni’s office identified the women whose remains were discovered at the home as Ernestine Ryans, 47, and America Lyden, 34, both of Springfield, and Kayla Escalante, 27, of Ludlow.

Two of the women whose remains were found at Weldon’s home had been missing for months.

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Ryans had struggled with drug addiction, and her brother, Anthony, said he fears Weldon was preying on vulnerable women. She also had a 25-year-old daughter who lives in Pennsylvania and a 12-year-old daughter who lived with her in Springfield, he said, describing his sister as a “good mom.”

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“She had her demons, but she was a good person, a kind person, and a lot of people had nothing but positive things to say,” Ryans said Monday. “It’s a big loss for the family and the community as a whole.”

Springfield victims America Lyden aka America Canales (left), Ernestine Ryans and Kayla Escalante. (Springfield Police Department, left, Handout and Facebook)
Springfield Police Department, left, Handout and Facebook
Springfield victims America Lyden aka America Canales (left), Ernestine Ryans and Kayla Escalante.

In all, five women now figure in what authorities described Monday as a “sprawling investigation’’ — the three whose remains were found at the home and two others who police say were kidnapped by Weldon.

Weldon hasn’t been charged with any crimes related to the discovery of the three victims’ remains, though the deaths have been described in court documents as “potential homicides.”

The remains were found at a house on Page Boulevard in Springfield, where Weldon, 40, had been living until May 27, when he was arrested during a traffic stop. A badly injured woman who was in the car with Weldon that day told police that he had been holding her captive for a month and had sexually assaulted and savagely beaten her, court records show.

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On Monday, Weldon was charged with kidnapping another woman in February; authorities say that woman came forward after police began searching Weldon’s home last week.

Gulluni said at a news conference Monday that investigators do not know how or when the three women died. He confirmed that two of the women had been reported missing in the “distant past,” and said those reports were thoroughly investigated.

“We are obviously investigating these deaths as suspicious, at the very least,” Gulluni said.

Springfield police said the department’s Major Crimes Unit “extensively tried to find these women as referenced in our case notes, and in the case of Ms. Lyden we released information on social media and through our local media outlets.”

Springfield police said Lyden was reported missing on Dec. 1 by a woman who said Lyden had not been seen by friends or family since June 2017.

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On Monday, a teenager who identified herself as Lyden’s daughter posted a photo on
Facebook of the two of them smiling on the girl’s 5th birthday.

“My favorite picture of us,” the teen wrote. “It wasn’t supposed to end like this mommy.”

Ryans, meanwhile, was reported missing on March 18 after not being seen by family since March 8, police said. The woman who reported that Ryans was missing “also stated that Ms. Ryans had gone missing before, but never for this long,” police said.

Her brother said she had moved from Hartford to Springfield earlier this year with her 12-year-old daughter.

He said a few reported sightings of Ernestine in the Hartford area gave some family members hope she was still alive, but the family knew in “our heart of hearts” that she was probably gone.

On Sunday, police knocked on the door at the home of Ernestine Ryans’s mother in Connecticut and said her daughter’s body had been discovered on Weldon’s property, a street or two away from where Ryans had been living.

Gulluni said Monday that authorities have spoken with relatives of all three women, and he asked that their privacy be respected.

“Needless to say, they are distraught and heartbroken,” Gulluni said.

Asked during Monday’s news conference if investigators believe Weldon is a serial killer, Gulluni said, “I am not going to issue that kind of declaration at this point,” adding that the investigation remains “very active” and police are expected to remain at the Page Boulevard property “for many days to come.”

The search of the property has included the use of ground-penetrating radar.

The scene was quiet outside the house Monday night, but a heavy police presence, including a vehicle for a forensics team, was evident.

Weldon is being held on a combined $2 million bail in the two kidnapping cases.

A handcuffed Weldon, wearing a brown hooded sweatshirt, appeared in Springfield District Court for arraignment in the second kidnapping case. He stared ahead grimly as a not-guilty plea was entered on his behalf to charges of kidnapping and assault to rape.

No details of the allegations were released during the brief arraignment.

In a motion to impound police reports in the matter, Hampden Assistant District Attorney Maximilian J. Bennett wrote that the deaths of the three people whose remains were found at Weldon’s residence are being investigated “as potential homicides.”

“There are additional charges that may be brought based on the investigation,” Bennett wrote in his motion, which a judge approved Monday. “The details contained in these documents [regarding the February kidnapping case], if made public, could potentially taint additional witness interviews.”

Bennett said police “have been engaged in a sprawling investigation and have additional witnesses to interview.”

Weldon is scheduled to return to court on June 29.

His public defender, Matthew Fleischner, said “Mr. Weldon has entered his plea of not guilty and looks forward to addressing” the charges “as well as addressing bail at a later date.”

Jeremiah Manion and John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.