May 8, 2013

Block where women found a friendly, careful place

Jesse Washington / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Sheriff deputies stand outside the house on Seymour Avenue in Cleveland where three women who vanished a decade ago were found.

AP

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"I thought it was vacant," said Perez. "I thought he came by a few times a week to check on it."

But another neighbor did notice the plastic bags after he heard pounding on the home's doors. Still another neighbor said a naked woman was seen crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard of the house a few years ago. Both times, neighbors say, police were called and showed up but never went inside.

Their claims were reminiscent of four years ago, when 11 bodies were found at a serial killer's home in another poor Cleveland neighborhood. Despite the stench of rotting bodies, the house went unsearched for months, and police were accused of not properly investigating because the women were poor drug addicts.

On Tuesday, city Safety Director Martin Flask said that investigators had no record of anyone calling about criminal activity on Seymour, but that authorities were still checking the records. Police Chief Michael McGrath was more forceful, disputing the neighbors' claims Wednesday in comments on NBC's "Today" show and saying he was sure police did everything they could to find the women.

That made no sense to Lupe Collins, who is close with the victims' families. "Everyone in the neighborhood did what they had to do," she said. "The police didn't do their job."

On Tuesday, Seymour was crawling with police, media, and neighborhood folks trying to make sense of what was both a tragedy and a miraculous ending.

Some said their guard would be up — permanently.

"I got daughters, man. I work the second shift. I told my wife don't come out the house when I'm not there. The kids used to ride around on the scooters. No more," said Christian Ortiz, who lives a few blocks away.

But others planned to lower their walls, if just a bit.

"It takes a village. We gotta go back to the village mindset," said Perez, who can see the captives' house from his front porch.

"I'm going to take initiative," he said. "We need to unite. I'm gonna be the role model he tried to be, but not have the mask covering up the monster."

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