LEBANON, Mo. • The trailer sits alone on a hill about 10 miles outside of town, tucked into the rolling farmland, obscured by trees from the gravel road running below. The green-and-white rectangular box is unremarkable, except for what federal authorities say happened inside.

This is the trailer where, according to a federal indictment, a mentally deficient woman was held as a sex slave and tortured for years, subjected to stomach-churning cruelties, the center of acts called by the U.S. attorney "among the most horrific ever prosecuted" in this part of Missouri.

Knowing this, the trailer suddenly looks different — sinister. Evil, even.

But step inside the trailer, talk with the last person living there, and another story unfolds. Visit people around this small town, a conservative "church town" midway between Rolla and Springfield, and that damning picture becomes less clear. Listen to the waitresses, store clerks and acquaintances who know the people at the heart of this case, and you can hear their doubt, even as they cast a disapproving eye on what took place.

"They no more held that woman captive than a man on the moon," says Lorrie Bredvick, 46, who runs La Mexican Kitchen restaurant in town and got to know the woman over several years as a frequent patron who shared shocking details from her private life. "She was very proud of what she did."

Yet experts say sex trafficking cases can project appearances that camouflage what is truly taking place.

"Traffickers really know how to manipulate people and their circumstances so it is not easily seen," said Suzanne LeLaurin, head of the St. Louis human trafficking coalition and a senior vice president at the International Institute in St. Louis, which helps trafficking victims.

Adding another layer of complexity is that many of the charges in the case stem from acts that involve role playing where actual consent can be difficult for authorities to discern.

But start at the trailer.

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That is where Marilyn Bagley is just waking up after another nervous night on the couch, a handgun within reach. She doesn't like being alone. Not a coffee drinker, she sips from a Pepsi can. She has worked nights at a local factory since her husband, Edward Bagley Sr., was arrested in September.

He is accused of being the ringleader, the man who allegedly welcomed a teenage runaway into his home, then forced her to work as a stripper and submit to his sadistic sexual fantasies — including rape, electrical shock and mutilation. He is charged with 11 federal crimes, including 'sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion," and faces a life sentence. His trial is set for May. Four other men, including one from Kirkwood, are charged with related crimes.

Marilyn Bagley says she has been told to expect her own indictment soon if she doesn't testify against her husband. She has so far refused.

"We didn't do nothing wrong," she insists.

On this morning, Marilyn Bagley is waiting for her husband's phone call from a prison in Kansas, where he is being held without bail.

She is 45, petite with long brown hair and a smoker's hoarse voice, padding on the trailer's green carpet in blue sweat pants and purple socks. She walks over to a wall covered by two neat rows of white rectangles, places where family photos recently hung, the shapes etched out by the brown stain of cigarette smoke.

The FBI had seized several boxes of personal items with a search warrant, but Marilyn removed these particular photos herself as she prepares to move to a relative's house.

"Family is everything to me," she says. Married for 25 years, she and her husband raised two sons, now in their early 20s. And part of that family, she says, was the young woman now claiming abuse.

The Post-Dispatch is not identifying the woman because she is an alleged sexual assault victim. In court filings, she is described only as "F.V." — female victim. She has not responded to Post-Dispatch requests for interviews. Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys declined to comment for this article.

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"You ever watch Big Love?" Marilyn Bagley says suddenly, referring to the HBO show about a polygamous Mormon family. "Ed wasn't married to her or anything like that. But that's what it was. It was just us. ... It was just a normal, happy family."

But the Bagleys long had an unusual sex life. They swapped partners. They were into bondage — leather and whips and restraints. "Everything was fun, enjoyable. If it wasn't, you didn't do it," Marilyn Bagley says.

In December 2002, the girl moved into the trailer. She was 16. She knew the family from briefly dating one of their sons. She told them she was having trouble with her adoptive parents, Marilyn says. And so one day, the teenager loaded three bags of clothes and her cat Muffin into the Bagleys' car. The woman's family knew where she was, even visiting her occasionally, according to Marilyn.

The girl moved into her own room, one of the trailer's four bedrooms, Marilyn says.

Federal authorities claim Ed Bagley seduced the girl with promises of "a great life" dancing and modeling, that he would make "her dreams come true." Shortly after she turned 18, in 2004, the woman signed a 'sex slavery contract" that forever bound her to Ed Bagley, according to the indictment. Within a year, Ed Bagley allegedly had the woman get three tattoos "to mark her as his property," including a bar code tattoo on her neck, the mark of a master and slave relationship. And the indictment alleges the torturous sex acts escalated if she cried for help or did not cooperate.

Marilyn Bagley shakes her head. Those events happened, to some extent, but only at the woman's insistence, she says. Marilyn Bagley also flatly denied the indictment's accusations that the woman ever had abortions or that her husband killed the woman's pets to ensure her compliance.

Marilyn Bagley says the sex-slavery contract, which was a role-playing piece printed from the Internet, and the tattoos were the woman's ideas. And it was the woman who sought out the sexual relationship with Ed Bagley shortly after she turned 18. All three shared the same bed, but the sex was only between the woman and Ed Bagley.

Eventually, that relationship moved into bondage.

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Across from the barren photo wall is a small bedroom. It was converted into a bondage room, a place for play and taking provocative photos. Whips and other bondage tools hung from a back wall. The items were seized by the FBI, and now the wall is covered only by a white bedsheet, once used as a backdrop.

"She wanted to do the pictures," Marilyn Bagley says. "So they did."

A little before noon, the phone rings.

"Hey, baby. How are you?" Marilyn Bagley says.

It's Ed Bagley. They talk briefly before she hands the phone to a Post-Dispatch reporter.

"Everything was consensual," says Ed Bagley, 43.

The woman called him "Master Ed," and she was his slave, but "it's role-playing," he says. It wasn't an everyday thing. In fact, he says, in the last two years she lived in the trailer, they had stopped role-playing as she focused on working at the strip club and doing fetish modeling.

"To be honest with you," he says, "I thought we had a wonderful relationship."

It all came to an end on Feb. 27, 2009, when the woman, then 23 years old, suffered a heart attack. The federal indictment alleges it was caused by suffocation and by Ed Bagley. Both Bagleys say the woman was alone in the living room, about to head to work at the strip club, when she collapsed in a seizure. Ed Bagley performed CPR. Marilyn Bagley called 911. The woman was eventually flown by a medical helicopter to a Springfield hospital.

In early March 2009, she walked into the Laclede County Courthouse to file for a protection order against Ed Bagley. The county clerk, called in to handle the after-hours paperwork, remembers that the woman, accompanied by two other women, still wore her hospital wristbands. In the complaint, the woman claimed Ed Bagley "will come after me and hurt me. He has locked me in cages and has used shock devices on me and refused to let me leave."

The protection order case languished for months as Ed Bagley took the unusual step of fighting the order, which required him to stay away from the woman. The woman returned to the trailer just once, in May 2009, to collect her belongings, accompanied by her attorney and a sheriff's deputy.

In June 2009, both sides agreed that if Ed Bagley continued to have no contact with the woman for three months, the case would be dismissed. So a full hearing on the merits of the order never took place. In September, a county judge dismissed the order.

Then, later that month, the FBI arrived with a search warrant for the trailer.

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One of the contentions of the federal case is that the woman 'suffered from mental deficiencies." At a detention hearing last month for one of the defendants, an FBI agent answered a question about the woman's mental state by noting that he was told the woman "was a very sloppy eater. She didn't even know how to walk properly, whether in heels or not in heels."

A relative of the woman, who spoke on the condition she was not identified, said the woman suffered neglect growing up as one of several children in a large family. The woman spent much of her youth in foster homes before being adopted at age 9. She did poorly in school and was diagnosed with a learning disability and ADHD, the relative said.

But acquaintances of the woman said she never showed signs of being slow or "mentally deficient." "Not book-smart," Marilyn Bagley says, displaying copies of what she said was the woman's handwritten algebra homework, leftovers from the times she tried to get the woman to earn her general equivalency degree through local and online courses. Education officials declined to say whether the woman was a student.

At the Smoker's Outlet in town, where Ed Bagley and the woman frequently stopped to talk while picking up a carton of Marlboros or Exeters, manager Aron Reeves said he never sensed the woman was impaired.

"I used to talk to her like a friend," adds cashier Julie Dennison, 25, who also saw the Bagleys and the woman eating together when she waited tables at Western Sizzlin.

The smoke shop workers said Ed Bagley and the woman seemed to be open about their relationship and unusual bedroom practices.

"It was no big secret," said Reeves, 30, recalling how Ed Bagley walked in one day complaining the FBI had seized $13,000 in bondage equipment from the trailer.

And then there was the magazine shoot. In December 2006, the woman and Ed Bagley, along with another defendant, traveled to California for a hard-core bondage photo and video shoot. That trip and another visit to California resulted in federal charges, such as "enticement to travel for sexual activity."

The woman appeared in at least two issues of the Hustler-owned Taboo magazine, including a July 2007 cover shot.

Marilyn Bagley admits being a little ambivalent about the young woman's move from stripping into hard-core shoots. "I wasn't really happy about it. But the thing is, everybody's got to do their own dreams," she says.

According to many, the woman was ecstatic.

"She was so proud when she went out there and got into Taboo magazine. She was on cloud nine," said Richard Parker, 66, who, with his wife, owns B&B Boutique, the town's sole lingerie shop, where the woman and Ed Bagley often bought outfits for her strip club acts.

The magazine appearance was used to promote her strip club appearances. Kelly Myers, a 25-year-old fellow dancer who went by the stage name Shye, said the woman loved being on stage. "It was her passion. Seriously."

Myers got to know the woman during the year they danced together at After Dark Gentleman's Club, about 50 miles away, near Fort Leonard Wood. The woman did not have a drivers license, so Ed Bagley drove her to the club, which he helped maintain.

Myers said the woman told her about the trips to California. "She said she had a blast. How nice California is. How you need to go out there."

Myers, who also has a barcode tattoo on her neck but is not into the bondage lifestyle, said news of the federal charges "blew my mind."

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The charges also shocked Bredvick at La Mexican Kitchen.

Ed Bagley and the woman always sat at Table 46, a booth in the back of the smoking section, a red sombrero hanging above them on the orange wall, Bredvick says.

Bredvick says that she always waited on the couple and that the woman "told me her life story for five years."

She heard stories about the hard-core photo shoots, about electrical shock, about things that just sounded disgusting to her.

"I was embarrassed. I was in shock. My mouth dropped open," Bredvick says.

But the woman appeared to be "very happy in her life. She did not do without anything," Bredvick says. "This is the way she wanted it."

The woman's relative said she has talked with the woman since leaving the Bagleys, and the woman "is angry, saying (Ed Bagley) is an SOB." The relative said she does not believe the woman was involved in a consensual relationship or had her sights on being a porn star.

"I just can't believe they're saying stuff like that," the relative said. "That sounds like an excuse."

Back at the trailer, Marilyn Bagley recalls how deflated she and her husband felt after the woman left and filed for the protection order in early 2009. Federal charges were still a year off. Their sons had moved out. The trailer, alone on the hill, felt empty.

In some ways, she says, it was a good thing. "We actually got to know each other again."

But it was difficult to just forget their relationship with the woman.

"We both loved her. We gave her everything, done anything she wanted, and it just broke our hearts."

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Elizabethe Holland and Robert Patrick of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.