May 10, 2013

Relatives say Cleveland suspect was secretive, full of rage

By Meghan Barr and Mike Householder / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Elida Caraballo talks about the abuse her late sister, Grimilda Figueroa, suffered at the hands of Figueroa's common-law husband, Ariel Castro, during an interview at her home in Cleveland on Thursday.

The Associated Press

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In this undated photo provided by Elida Caraballo, her sister, Grimilda Figueroa, is shown with two of her children, Ryan, left, and Rosie. Figueroa, who died last year, was the common law wife of Ariel Castro, accused of kidnapping and holding three women captive for a decade in his Cleveland home.

The Associated Press

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He kept his wife and children imprisoned, cut off from friends and family, according to relatives. Figueroa couldn't even unlock her own front door, they said.

"When I go over there to visit her, and I ask her, 'Nilda, I'm here, open the door,' she's like, 'I can't. Ariel has the key,'" Elida Caraballo recalled.

Castro forbade Figueroa to use the telephone, relatives said. After warning her not to leave, he would test her to see if she obeyed.

"He would go creeping downstairs, not telling her that he's home, spying on her," Caraballo said. "See who she's calling. Next thing you know, he'll pop upstairs."

One day, Figueroa was returning home with her arms full of groceries when Castro jumped into the doorway with the mannequin, frightening her so badly that she fell backward and smashed her head on the pavement, Caraballo said.

The mind games are echoed in the police report this week on the escape of the three women held at his home. According to the report, their big break came when Amanda Berry, 27, discovered that the main door was unlocked, leaving only a bolted screen door between her and freedom.

But she feared it was a test: Castro occasionally left a door unlocked to test them, Berry said. But she called to neighbors on a porch for help and was able to squeeze through.

Castro was strange in other ways, relatives said. He would take his nephew and nieces to fast-food restaurants and let them split a fountain soda, forcing them to pass the drink around. He would let each one sip just enough until the line of soda reached an exact marking on the paper cup.

Then he would tear a hamburger into four pieces and watch them eat it, said Angel Caraballo.

"I was always quiet and nervous around him," he said. "Always."

The nice-guy image Castro presented to the rest of the world enabled him to remain close with the family of Gina DeJesus, another one of the women he is accused of imprisoning. Castro comforted the girl's mother at vigils, passed out missing-person fliers and played music at a fundraiser dedicated to finding DeJesus.

He was a school bus driver for more than two decades, saying on his job application in 1990 that he liked working with children. He was fired last year after leaving his bus unattended for four hours.

"Let me tell you something: That guy was the nicest guy – one of the nicest guys I ever met," said Ricky Sanchez, a musician who played often with Castro.

But on a recent visit to Castro's run-down home, Sanchez said, he heard noises "like banging on a wall" and noticed four or five locks on the outside door. Then a little girl came out from the kitchen and stared at him, silently.

When Sanchez inquired about the banging, Castro blamed it on his dogs.

"When I was about to leave, I tried to open the door," Sanchez said. "I couldn't even, because there were so many locks in there."

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