On the outside, Ariel Castro’s life seemed normal – and almost boring. He drove a school bus for the Cleveland Metropolitan School district, worked on various vehicles from the comfort of his home’s garage, and even played some shows around Cleveland with a band comprised of a few friends. Without delving too deep, Castro’s life seemed that of the average 52 year old man without a family to take care of – except there was one big difference. Ariel Castro was keeping three women and a 6 year old child locked within the walls of his home, and had been for more than a decade.
Those from Ohio are certainly more familiar with the names Ariel Castro, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus than residents of other states, and for good reason. On May 6, 2013, Castro’s seemingly normal life was torn apart and people learned the truth. Amanda Berry, who had been missing for more than 10 years saw a window of opportunity and risked her own life as well as that of the others and decided to attempt escape. Berry’s plea for help was seen by two neighbors, and what was assumed by the two men to be a simple domestic dispute was revealed to be so much more.
Within hours of the initial 911 phone calls, it was learned that Berry, DeJesus and Knight had been prisoners within the home on the 2200 block of Seymour Avenue – in Cleveland’s trendy Tremont neighborhood – for years. Knight disappeared in 2002, Berry in 2003, and DeJesus in 2004, each from the same basic area of the city. While trapped within the walls, each woman had been subjected to numerous forms of physical, mental and sexual abuse, as well as forced to cook, clean and care for Castro and the home. The child found in the home with Berry was revealed to be her daughter – born after repeated rapes by Castro.
Castro was arrested on the same day that the women were rescued, and charges were brought only 2 days later. These charges included multiple rapes and kidnappings, and eventually murder. The final number of charges lodged against Castro was 977, and breaks down into the following list:
- 512 counts of kidnapping
- 446 counts of rape
- 7 counts of gross sexual imposition
- 6 of felonious assault
- 3 of child endangerment
- 2 of aggravated murder
- 1 of possession of criminal tools
Castro’s legal team entered a plea of “not guilty” on July 17th, meaning that the case was to go to trial, causing the women to re-live the nightmare of their captivity in the courtroom for the world to see and hear. Between the months of May and July, more details about Castro had been released, including past domestic violence reports that never led to any formal charges, reports that many neighbors had seen strange things going on at his home, but no police action had ever been taken, and details about Castro’s termination by CMSD for “bad judgement”, which included leaving children on his bus, failing to follow traffic laws, and even using the bus for personal purposes. While these previous actions didn’t quite paint him as a kidnapper, and torturer, they should have been enough to raise some suspicions.
Castro’s family was quick to condemn the man after the women were saved, too. Though none of his family members were residents of Seymour Avenue, the home had frequent visitors. Castro’s son spoke to police and confirmed that though he had visited the home many times, there were areas within the house (the attic, garage and the basement, specifically) that were always locked and considered “off limits” to everyone but Castro himself. In addition to having people over, Castro also became friendly with his neighbors, including Charles Ramsey, who ended up being one of the men to help Berry and the others to freedom. The men shared meals and drinks with each other often, which helped to keep up Castro’s image in the year that he and Ramsey were neighbors. It was later revealed by Ramsey that Castro used him as a guinea pig of sorts- he shared meals that the women prepared for him in an attempt to detect any form of poison concealed within the food.
The details of the case weave an intricate pattern that encompasses the entire city of Cleveland and its desire to help reunite the missing with their loves ones, yet what it all boils down to is the mind of one severely disturbed middle-aged man. Castro ended up pleading guilty to 937 of the counts against him and receiving a double life sentence plus 1,000 years in prison with absolutely no chance of parole. Though he admitted to understanding the gravity of the crimes he had committed, Castro maintained that the atmosphere within the home was that of a family, and that many of the sexual encounters with the women were consensual. He also stated that he never abused the women, although the conditions of the home’s interior as well as corroborating stories from each of the captives tells otherwise.
At his August 1 sentencing hearing, Castro addressed the court and spoke for over 20 minutes. He stated that he was not a bad person, and that his behavior was a direct result of his addictions to sex and pornography. Despite these statements, Castro was carted off to the Pickaway Correctional Institution, where he lived in solitary confinement and was checked on every half hour by prison guards. Though he was not on a suicide watch, the high profile case got Castro extra attention by the prison staff.
On September 3, 2013 – less than 4 months after Berry, her daughter, DeJesus and Knight escaped from his home, Ariel Castro was found dead in his prison cell, victim of suicide. In the span of 119 days, the three women not only gained their freedom, but were also given the greatest gift that they could ever receive – knowing that no matter what happened, Ariel Castro could and would never hurt anyone again.