|“||I hope they can find in their hearts to forgive me, because we had a lot of harmony going on in that home."||”|
— Castro at his trial
Ariel Castro, a.k.a. "The Monster of Cleveland", was a Puerto Rican serial rapist who abducted, tortured, and raped three young women in his Cleveland, Ohio, home for nearly a decade.
Castro was born in Duey, a village of Puerto Rico, on July 10, 1960. He was the third child of Pedro Castro, the biggest landowner in the locality, and his wife Lilian Rodriguez. In 1962, Rodriguez discovered that her husband was married to another woman, with whom he had four children; he abandoned Rodriguez to live with his second family. Shortly after, Rodriguez moved to work in Pennsylvania and left her four children in Puerto Rico, where they were cared by their maternal grandmother, Hercilia Carabello. It was during this time that Castro, then five years old, was repeatedly fingered in the anus by a nine-year-old boy nicknamed "Pucho". Castro never reported the abuse, and he developed an obsession with sex and a compulsion to masturbate from a young age. Rodriguez returned to her children in 1966; according to Castro, she was abusive and would insult and hit him daily with a belt, stick, or her open hand. Castro's family immigrated to the contiguous U.S. and settled to Cleveland in 1970, after being visited by his paternal uncle Cesi, who had opened a record shop there in 1969. Cesi gave him a guitar and Castro became a bass player, a career that he combined with different jobs.
In 1980, Castro dated his 17-year-old neighbor Nilda Figueroa, also Puerto Rican, and was forced to take her into his care by her family after she lost her virginity to him. When Figueroa gave birth to their first child in 1981, Castro's behavior changed radically and he became controlling and abusive. He would force her to stay at home, and selected the places she could shop in and even the programs that she could watch on TV, beating her whenever she strayed from his instructions. The violence escalated over time, with Castro often breaking Figueroa's bones and only allowing her to go to a hospital after she swore she wouldn't report him to the police. In 1989, Castro beat Figueroa in the presence of his brother and was arrested, but he was released after she refused to press charges. They moved with their four children to 2207 Seymour Drive in 1992. After arriving, Castro padlocked every door in the house and started working in the basement, where he installed a heavy trapdoor and added curtains and layers of bricks to soundproof it. Once finished, he forbid everyone else from entering the basement. Later, he tinted all the windows, forbid Figueroa to use the phone and began to lock up his family in the house while he was away doing gigs with his band, sometimes for up to four days.
Figueroa became pregnant again and Castro, not wishing to have more children, unsuccessfully tried to induce a miscarriage by punching and kicking her in the belly. In October 1993, Castro threw Figueroa down a flight of steps, and she broke her skull. A few weeks later, she began to have seizures and was diagnosed with a blood clot in her brain that had hardened into a malign tumor. On December 26, Castro came home drunk and attacked Figueroa again. His twelve-year-old son Ariel Jr. ran out to get help and Castro ran after him, a moment that Figueroa used to lock him outside and call the police. The officers found him pounding on the front door and arrested him when Castro fled. Figueroa was called to testify before a grand jury on February 1994, but Castro, having been released on $25,000 bail, reached her moments before she got in the building and threatened to kill her and the children if she said anything. Terrified, Figueroa declared that the attack had never happened and the charges were dropped.
Figueroa then moved to her mother's home with the children, and Castro cut almost all contact with them. He spent his time further fortifying the home, using items he stole from a next-door neighbor after he threatened him with a shovel. Later, Castro began installing multiple security alarms and strategically placed mirrors all over the house, until he was sure that nothing could happen in the house without him seeing it. While taking brain surgery in 1995, Figueroa started dating a security guard, Fernando Colon. Castro learned of their relationship the year after, when one of his daughters called him from Colon's home, and he became furious. He called Colon, claiming that Figueroa was his wife and that he had "stolen" her from him, but Colon reminded Castro that he never officially married Figueroa. Later, Castro saw Colon taking his children to school and attempted to run him over with his car, but Colon dodged him. Colon filed charges against Castro, but they were dropped due to a lack of evidence. In 1997, Figueroa was given full custody of the children and Castro was deprived of visitation rights.
Abductions, Capture, and Suicide
"You [Amanda] better shut up. I've gone this far, I don't know what I'm capable of now."
After his family left, Castro became interested in BDSM and developed a fantasy of holding a teenage girl in his home as a sex slave. On August 22, 2002, Castro was at a dollar store when he overheard Michelle Knight asking how to get to a Social Services office. Knight's two-year-old son had earlier been taken by Social Services and she had an appointment for an evaluation to determine if she was fit to raise him. However, she was not familiar with the area and was lost. Castro assumed that Knight was around fifteen because of her short stature and offered to drive her there; she trusted him because his daughter Emily was her friend, though she had not met him in person before. In the car, Castro had a sign advertising puppies for sale and he said that he had to stop at home to feed them, but that it wouldn't be an issue because it was on the way to Social Services. Later, he convinced Knight to get in the house by offering her a free puppy, and then imprisoned her. Because she was an adult, the police assumed that she had left voluntarily and put little effort into finding her. Castro taunted Knight multiple times about the fact that "nobody cared" that she was missing.
Castro's next abduction took place on April 21, 2003. The victim was Amanda Berry, a workmate of his son Anthony at Burger King, and whom Castro had wanted to abduct for a while because she was blonde. Berry's seventeenth birthday was the following day. Castro offered her a lift home after she ended her shift; she accepted because she knew Anthony and also Castro's daughter Angie, who had gone to school with her. Castro told Berry that Angie was at his home and he proposed to stop there so she could greet her. Once in the house, Castro used a guard dog to distract Berry, took her cellphone, and imprisoned her. Unlike Knight's disappearance, Berry's caused a public commotion and her family appeared multiple times on TV. A week later, Castro used Berry's cellphone to call her mother and said that he had her, that she was fine, and that she would go home in a couple of days. The call proved that Berry had been abducted, and the FBI was called in to investigate. They triangulated the call to the area where she had been abducted, and parked a van there. However, the phone's exact location could not be determined because Castro never called again. Meanwhile, Castro told Berry that he had phoned her family and told them that they should not look for her because they were now a couple.
On April 2, 2004, Castro's youngest daughter Arlene left school with her best friend Gina DeJesus. Personally, DeJesus' father was a former schoolmate of Castro, and she was related to Tito DeJesus, the leader of Castro's band. The two eventually split: Arlene went to Colon's workplace so he could drive her home while DeJesus walked to her own house. Meanwhile, Castro left home with the intention of picking up Arlene from school. He spotted both girls and waited for them to split. Once they did, he pulled up next to DeJesus, telling her that he was looking for Arlene and he needed her help in finding her. After DeJesus got in, he drove down the direction opposite to what she had indicated, toward 2207 Avenue. When DeJesus asked why he was driving the other way, Castro kept switching stories between needing her help picking a loudspeaker, his daughter Emily (who wasn't friends with DeJesus) being home, and wanting to go to the mall with her. DeJesus was imprisoned in the same room occupied by Knight.
No AMBER Alert was issued for DeJesus, but the fact that she vanished within sight of Berry's workplace, less than a year after her, made the media and their families connect the cases immediately. Castro became paranoid that a security camera at the school had recorded him (it was actually out of order) and wrote a bizarre four-page-long confession and possible suicide note. In it, he ranted about his childhood, his relationship with Figueroa, and the reasons why he was holding his victims captive. However, Castro provided lies about his relationship with Figueroa, claiming they were married and that he hit her in self-defense; and provided multiple contradictions about himself and the women imprisoned in his home, claiming at once that they were there voluntarily and that he paid them to have sex, and that they were there against their will but that it was their fault because they decided to get in a stranger's car. Castro kept the note in a kitchen drawer until it was discovered by police nine years later. In the meantime, he attended vigils for DeJesus, offered his support to her family, and posted "Missing" fliers.
Period of Captivity
In the time around DeJesus's abduction, Castro became obsessed with resuming contact with his now teenage daughters. He would show up unannounced at their home or their school, pick them up, and give them money and other items for no apparent reason. After unsuccessfully trying to convince Figueroa to leave Colon and come back to him, Castro convinced his two youngest daughters to claim that Colon abducted and fingered them in the vagina while asking if they were still virgins. Despite the absence of material evidence, Figueroa and Ariel Castro Jr.'s testimony in favor of Colon, and multiple procedural irregularities, Colon was found guilty of four counts of sexual abuse, sentenced to a few months in probation, and registered as a sex offender (the minimum legal penalty). As a result, Colon lost his job and Figueroa ended their relationship. Colon later tried to get the verdict overturned in 2015, but was denied.
Having failed in his plan to resume his "marriage" with Figueroa, Castro told his prisoners that Berry was his new wife, and began raping Knight and DeJesus in the backyard rather than inside the house. Though some of Castro's neighbors saw chained women outside the house, nobody called the police. Berry eventually became pregnant in 2007. In contrast to Knight, who was forced to miscarry five times through violence, poisoning, and starvation (one while Berry was also pregnant), Castro refrained from raping Berry and improved her nutrition to ensure that the pregnancy was carried to full term. His initial intention was to leave the baby on the steps of a church after it was born. However, as the time of birth came near, he manifested his excitement about becoming a father again. When Berry went into labor on Christmas Day, he took her and Knight to a children's inflatable pool in the basement, and told the latter to help the former give birth. Berry gave birth to a baby girl, who had to be resuscitated by Knight via CPR when Castro threatened her. Berry named the girl Jocelyn and was left to be raised and schooled by Berry in her cell, with Castro allowing Berry out of her chains and providing old toys as his only help. Jocelyn's baby clothes were made out of old clothes cut and sewn by the three captives.
Discovery, Arrest, and Suicide
As Jocelyn grew into a toddler and became more aware of her surroundings, Castro forced Knight and DeJesus to take the names "JuJu" (after Jujubes candy) and "Chelsea", respectively, but allowed Berry to use her own. He took their chains out when Jocelyn pulled Knight's chain one day and asked, "JuJu lock?" Afterwards, he also allowed them limited movement through the house, but always under his supervision, and kept a gun visible in his waist at all times. When Jocelyn was four years old, he started taking her out of the house and would introduce her to relatives as his granddaughter or his new girlfriend's daughter. Whenever people asked why they never saw them with her mother, Castro said that she was busy. Eventually, Jocelyn complained about all of the doors being locked when Castro wasn't in the house, and he decided to unlock some of them. On May 6, 2013, Castro forgot to lock the large front door, though the outer storm door was bolted. Berry took her daughter and banged on the storm door until she alerted two neighbors, Ángel Cordero and Charles Ramsey. Cordero and Ramsey kicked the storm door repeatedly until they made a hole, allowing Berry to crawl out. She called police from another neighbor's house, and they rescued Knight and DeJesus, who both remained inside the house the whole time because they believed the incident was a test of loyalty by Castro.
Knight, Berry, DeJesus, and Jocelyn were all hospitalized MetroHealth Medical Center. On the same day, Castro was pulled over and arrested in a parking lot. He was accompanied by his brother Onil, who was also arrested for unrelated offenses along with another brother, Pedro. This led the press to initially misreport that all three brothers were suspects in the abductions. While in custody, Castro insisted that his brothers were not involved in his crimes. He confessed in much the same way that he had written the note years before, recognizing the facts but deflecting responsibility from himself, portraying himself as a victim and blaming law enforcement and the victims themselves for their situation. Two days after his arrest, Castro was charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape, but by June 7, this was upgraded to a total of 329 counts of various crimes. Castro's lawyer eventually encouraged him to take a guilty plea in order to avoid the death penalty, which is an admissible penalty for an intentional induction of miscarriage in Ohio. Castro was subsequently sentenced to life in prison without parole, plus 1,000 years. The plea bargain deal offered also required that Castro's house be demolished. A month into his sentence, Castro used his bed-sheets to hang himself.
Castro's abductions followed a strict script. All of his victims were women between 14 and 21 years old, of short stature and with large breasts, who knew at least one of his children but not him personally. He offered them a lift in one of his vehicles, which had been altered so they could only be opened from the driver's seat from the inside, and then led them in his home under some pretext. He would then masturbate and rape them once before restraining them with duct tape and leaving them in the soundproof basement, chained, gagged, and with a bike helmet covering their head. After some time, he decided that they could be "trusted" and moved them upstairs.
Then, they were kept chained by the waist at all times, in padlocked bedrooms with a hole in each door to spy them. They were given old clothes from Castro, fed fast food and leftovers only, forced to use a plastic bin as a toilet, and raped four or five times a day. After each rape, he would throw small bills at them to maintain his belief that the sex was consensual, which the victims could exchange for goods through a limited barter system. Castro often pretended to leave and waited outside to discourage them from escaping. Whenever he was not in the house, or whenever he had visitors, he would play loud music on the radio to make sure nobody heard them. If the captives disobeyed him in any way, they were savagely beaten, starved, and threatened to be killed with a .44 Magnum. He allowed them to interact with one another at times, but he punished them if he found them being too friendly with each other.
"The bottom line is, I am a sexual predator who needs help but I don't bother to get it."
In 2005, the FBI released a sketch and description of a suspect in DeJesus' disappearance, identifying him as male, Latino, aged 25 to 35 years old, 5'10", and 165 to 185 pounds, with green eyes, a goatee, and possibly a pencil-thin beard. Castro was actually 45 at the time, 5'7", and had brown eyes.
Experts rejected Castro's claim that he committed the crimes because he was sick. Jim Van Allen, the former director of the Ontario criminal profiling unit, described Castro as a sexual sadist and likened him to Paul Bernardo. To Mary Ellen O'Toole, Castro was a typical psychopath. He was very arrogant, had no empathy or remorse, and was incapable of taking responsibility for his own actions, yet he appeared to live a normal life from the outside. An unnamed prison psychiatrist diagnosed him with "Narcisistic Personality Disorder with Antisocial Features", but also noted that Castro had a "somewhat fragile self-esteem".
- Unspecified dates:
- 1981-1994: Grimilda "Nilda" Figueroa (his common-law wife; imprisoned and battered repeatedly; died of a brain tumor derived from the abuse on April 25, 2012)
- 1992: Arlene Castro (his then-unborn daughter; attempted to miscarry through violence)
- May 16, 1996: Fernando Colon, 31 (Figueroa's second common-law husband; attempted to run him over with his car)
- 2002-2004: Three women abducted and raped repeatedly, all were rescued on May 6, 2013:
- August 22, 2002: Michelle Knight, 21 (left partially blind and deaf as a consequence of the abuse)
- April 21, 2003: Amanda Marie Berry, 16
- April 2, 2004: Georgina "Gina" Lynn DeJesus, 14 (was not impregnated)
- September 2002-Fall 2012: Five unborn children (all fathered with Michelle Knight and aborted through violence and starvation)
- December 25, 2007: Jocelyn Jade Berry (his daughter with Berry; born into captivity; was rescued on May 6, 2013)
- The BAU was consulted during the investigation of DeJesus's disappearance.
On Criminal Minds
Castro's crimes were mentioned in the Season Ten episode Boxed In as an example of abductors who didn't need a lot of space to keep his victims imprisoned for a long time, and held said victims captive in an urban area while escaping suspicion from law enforcement for a long time. He also has some loose similarities to the episode's unsub John David Bidwell: both were abused as children, had a previous compulsion to imprison a female family member (Bidwell's sister and Castro's common-law wife), were set off by the abandonment of their longtime partners, and abducted three victims in three consecutive years (though Bidwell kept one victim at a time while Castro held all three victims at once). These victims were kept in a makeshift cell with a plastic bin to use as a toilet. Also, in both cases, the abductions of their first victims were the less planned; these victims received the most brutal treatment, and were left with lasting injuries derived from their imprisonment.
Castro was mentioned again in the Season Eleven episode Hostage and compared to the episode's unsub, Michael Thompson, whose actions were heavily based on Castro's. Both abducted three females (one of whom named Gina) and held them captive in a home basement for the span of around a decade, during which time they physically and sexually abused them. One of their victims suffered at least one miscarriage, while another of their victims gave birth to at least one baby who was also held captive. Their crimes were eventually uncovered when one of the victims managed to escape, which led to the rescue of the other victims and the arrest of both abductors.
Though Castro's crimes weren't uncovered by the time the Season Five episode Cradle to Grave aired, it has been noted, following Castro's arrest, that the episode's plot bore striking similarities to the case. Like Castro, the episode's unsub, Robert Reimann, abducted and held a certain number of victims captive in the basement of a home, impregnated one of them, forced the other victim(s) to assist in the childbirth, and raised the children afterwards as captives themselves.
- Wikipedia's article on Castro and the abductions
- The Lost Girls: The True Story of the Cleveland Abductions and the Incredible Rescue of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus (2015)
- Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland (2015)
- Finding Me: A decade of darkness, a life reclaimed (2015)
- ABC News article on Castro's domestic abuse
- CBC News article about experts rejecting Castro's testimony
- ↑ Castro was present while his daughters gave their statement to police, despite having no custody over them, and picked them by force when they tried to run away days before the trial. They slept in Castro's home the night before, while the three prisoners were chained inside Castro's van in the garage.