MAYS LANDING — Just as winter weather creeped in, three women said they were sleeping in the cold Mays Landing woods at night late last year.
During the day, 36-year-old El Joshua arranged “dates” for them at Atlantic City casinos and along Atlantic Avenue, forcing them to have sex with customers in exchange for heroin, according to court documents.
Inside the Pearce Road home where he allegedly detained the women, they had to ask permission to use the bathroom and endured threats Joshua made using an airsoft gun.
On Thursday, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office charged the Mays Landing man with three counts of human trafficking, two counts of criminal restraint and one count of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.
In statements to police, two of the women said Joshua “used their addiction to heroin to physically control them.”
An affidavit of probable cause details the conditions in which the women lived.
Two of the women told authorities that Joshua forced them to sleep in the woods at times and in one of his vehicles. Other times, he made them sleep in a closet or in his unfinished basement, the affidavit says. It’s unclear how long Joshua is accused of holding the women captive.
On Dec. 19, 2018, one of the women escaped through a window while fending off an attack from Joshua and told Hamilton Township police she was being held against her will at the Pearce Road home, the affidavit says.
She had visible injuries and informed a detective that two others were still at the house.
Police attempted a “knock and talk” at the house, but nobody answered, the affidavit said. A detective said there were noises inside the residence and a search warrant was then authorized.
After authorities left the house to prepare for the search, Joshua drove the two remaining women to a nearby hotel “in case police came back to his house,” according to the affidavit.
Before departing, the two women wrote their names on a whiteboard in a bedroom to show authorities they had been at the house. In their search, officials recovered cellphones, computers and other electronic devices, a preliminary law enforcement incident report said.
Nineteen days later, the two women were located, the affidavit said. It is unclear where and how they were found.
A week later, the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force met with the Hamilton Township Police Department. Joshua was arrested Feb. 21.
“Suspect was interviewed post Miranda and provided a statement that was not consistent with statements of the victims and known facts,” the affidavit says.
Joshua has a criminal history in Marion County, Florida.
In 2003, Joshua and another man, Johnny Shell, were charged with murder and robbery in the shooting death of a young couple a year prior. The State Attorney’s Office in Florida dropped the murder charge after Joshua testified against Shell. Joshua was sentenced to 10 years detention and served eight years and eleven months.
Outside the Mays Landing home Monday, news vans idled along the back road. Joshua’s home appeared vacant, with two boats leaning off their blocks in the backyard and stacks of tires and empty dog cages littering the ground.
A neighbor, Carl Torian, 60, said he saw the home raided a few months ago. On his Facebook page, Joshua posted Feb. 11 that he was flying to Fort Lauderdale and returned the following day.
“This guy just got indicted and arrested last week, so there’s a time lapse in there, depending on what’s related,” said Torian, a former Pleasantville police officer.
He was not shocked at what happened next door. There are only six homes on the quiet street, and police presence is rare.
“I’m surprised, but I’m not,” Torian said. “I have law-enforcement experience, so it’s just another report.”
Joshua is being held at the Atlantic County jail. His detention hearing is Wednesday.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, a story about a human trafficking operation in Mays Landing that ran on Page A1 of Tuesday's edition misstated the length of El Joshua's detention in Florida. Between Marion County Jail and Florida state prison, Joshua served eight years and 11 months.