ZEBULON: Man who held a woman in warehouse appears in court - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

Police detail rescue of woman held in Zebulon warehouse

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ZEBULON, N.C. -

A Zebulon man charged with human trafficking and assault by strangulation shook his head 'no' in a Wake County courtroom Tuesday when the charges were read against him.

Robert Edward Whiteside, 44, appeared without an attorney and asked for a reduction in bond. That was granted, with his bond falling from $250,000 to $90,000.

Whiteside was ordered to wear a GPS-tracking ankle device and not leave North Carolina.

Whiteside told the judge that nothing like this had ever happened to him and he was not a troublemaker.

"All I do is work," he told the judge. "I own my own business and I work."

Zebulon Police, however, told a different story Tuesday morning at a news conference.

Whiteside kept his victim "within arm's reach at all times," Zebulon Police Chief Tim Hayworth said at a press briefing.

A 34-year-old German woman told police that Whiteside held her against her will. Police said she told officers that she had been in the United States since June 4, and that she had been physically and sexually assaulted, and stripped of her finances.

Hayworth said Whiteside told the woman that he had killed others, but that police believe this was a scare tactic to keep her in line.

"We think that possibly was a scare tactic, but we are exploring that and called out a cadaver dog to search the property," Hayworth said.

Hayworth said police believe that Whiteside acted alone. He said Whiteside lived in the warehouse in a secret apartment set up as a bedroom.

Search warrants executed at a warehouse found many travel documents, pornography, ammunition, firearms and additional storage devices.

The investigation began after the Zebulon Police Department received a tip Monday morning from a person in Germany claiming that a woman was being held against her will at a warehouse.

Following up on the tip, officers met Whiteside at the warehouse on Mack Todd Road. Police said the woman was kept inside a secret bedroom behind a closet wall inside the warehouse, which Whiteside used to refurbish bathtubs.

"It appeared to be part of a wall until you pressed on it, then it opened into a bedroom," described Scott Finch, the lead investigator on the case.

Hayworth added, "You wouldn't be able to hear anything in this building. You wouldn't be able to see anything in this building."

Hayworth said the woman was with Whiteside in his car when he was arrested Monday. Whiteside was subsequently charged with human trafficking and assault by strangulation. Police said Monday more charges could be filed as the case unfolds.

Hayworth said it appears Whiteside and the woman began chatting online after she responded to a personal ad he posted. Hayworth said officers found airplane ticket stubs showing Whiteside paid for her to come to the U.S.

Police said there is no evidence to believe there are any other victims.

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