Witnesses said the 24-year-old lived as a prisoner in degrading conditions, including being forced to defecate in the backyard and wash himself in the rain, German daily Neue Ruhr/Neue Rhein Zeitung reported on Friday.
A preliminary investigation into the "horrifying" situation has been started, Essen senior public prosecutor Angelika Matthiesen said on Friday. She said criminal charges against the man's mother are possible, adding that city social workers responsible for the man's care may also face charges of neglect in the case.
The man was removed from his home and hospitalized after he was caught stealing an elderly woman's handbag and aggressively harassing people in his neighborhood, the paper reported. Apparently, he had dug a tunnel out of the cellar to flee.
Witnesses said he had escaped several times before and was beaten each time he was returned to his family. The family of 10 lived together in a cramped old miner's tenement building.