May 13, 2013

Cleveland suspect's past hinted of dark traits

Before taking three girls captive for a decade, Ariel Castro had a domineering attitude toward his wife and others.


CLEVELAND - Shorty needed a ride home.

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Sheriff’s department workers board up the home of kidnapping suspect Ariel Castro at 2207 Seymour Ave. in Cleveland after FBI personnel removed several items Friday.

Washington Post photo by Michael Williamson

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She got confused sometimes, the result of some undefined mental condition, and wasn't always sure where she'd wandered. Her family knew this about Michelle "Shorty" Knight, all 4 feet 7 inches of her, and that's why they worried.

She got in a car.

It begins there, with that simple act, a 21-year-old -- in many ways still very much a girl -- got in a car. Aug. 22, 2002. If she'd looked up in that last moment of freedom, she would have seen a church steeple.

Eight months later, another girl. Same road. Two-tenths of a mile away.

Mandy had just finished her shift at Burger King, still wore her Burger King hat and shirt. Tomorrow would be Amanda "Mandy" Berry's 17th birthday; a party was planned.

She got in a car.

The predator of girls had found a rich hunting ground, a stretch of road clotted with used-automobile lots, discount jewelers, fast-food joints -- and schoolgirls.

A year later, April, 2, 2004, the hunter was back. Gina, just 14, was walking home with friends from Wilbur Wright Middle School, a stately brick building set on a shaded street two blocks from Burger King. Georgina "Gina" DeJesus broke off on her own, steps away from the spot where Knight was taken.

A car pulled up. The driver was the father of one of her best friends. She got in the car.

For the next nine years, authorities say, Knight, Berry and DeJesus together endured an excruciating ordeal as captives in a seemingly normal house on a seemingly normal street in a busy residential neighborhood less than four miles away. Until their remarkable rescue last week, authorities say, they were physically, sexually and psychologically abused by their captor, Ariel Castro, a school bus driver who played salsa music in nightclubs and harbored a dark past that foreshadowed the crimes he's now accused of committing.

At Castro's home on Seymour Avenue, he chained the young women in his basement, according to a police report. Eventually, investigators say, he moved them to the second floor of his house, a two-story place with a small backyard, a saggy porch, peeling paint and faded white siding. Most of the time, they were trapped inside, and on the rare occasions they were allowed to venture into the yard, Castro forced them to wear wigs and sunglasses, the report says. He told them to keep their heads down.

Castro, now 52, raped all his captives, authorities say. Five times he impregnated Knight, she told police, but he never let her have a baby. He'd starve her. He'd punch her in the stomach over and over until she miscarried, the police report says.

But if he didn't want Knight to conceive, he seemed fixated on Berry fathering his child. Six years ago, Berry gave birth to a baby girl that DNA tests have confirmed was fathered by Castro. The baby was born with Knight's help in an inflatable pool inside the house that had become their prison, the police report says.

Castro threatened to kill Knight if the baby died, police say. At one point, the newborn stopped breathing, but Knight "breathed for her," the report says, presumably in a reference to some form of CPR.

Baby Jocelyn survived.

The hunter of girls now had four. And this one, he wasn't going to hide.


Yauco was home -- that small colonial-era town in southwestern Puerto Rico, where the best that poor young men could hope for was another day of work stooped in the coffee fields. One after another, the Castros fled. First Julio Cesar "Cesi" Castro in the 1950s, then his brother, Pedro, the one everyone called "Nano." Pedro brought with him a little boy named Ariel, Cesi Castro says.

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