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.

By MANUEL ROIG-FRANZIA JERRY MARKON and LUZ LAZO The Washington Post

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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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Figueroa was in and out of domestic violence shelters, her sister says. But she always went back to Castro; she did it for their four kids, relatives say. It was a cycle. Beatings. Fleeings. Returnings.

Relatives lost track of how many times the police were called. "Vienen y se van (They come, and then they leave)," Figuero's father, Ismael Figueroa Sr., says with a wave of his hand.

The couple separated for good sometime in the mid- to late-1990s, but that was not the end of the violence. As late as 2005, Figueroa got a protective order after Castro broke her nose, fractured her ribs, dislocated both her shoulders and struck her so viciously that a blood clot formed in her brain, according to court records. She said Castro had threatened to kill her and her children, but the order was rescinded three months later for reasons that are unclear from court records.

Violence also spread into the next generation. The daughter of Castro and Figueroa -- Emily Castro -- is serving a 25-year prison sentence in Indiana after being convicted of stabbing her baby with a knife in 2007. Emily Castro thought she'd succeeded in killing the child, telling her mother, "She's gone," according to court records. But the 11-month-old survived.

In the years before and after Ariel Castro and Figueroa split up, relatives would occasionally go over to the house on Seymour Avenue. And it was a place that made them uneasy.

Sometimes Castro wouldn't let them go beyond the kitchen, as if he was hiding something. And there was Castro's creepy, flesh-colored mannequin. It had unruly hair and long eyelashes, and sometimes Castro would dress it up to make it look more realistic. He would leap out from behind closed doors with the mannequin, startling his nephew, Angel Caraballo, to the point of tears when he was less than 10 years old. "I hated it," Caraballo says.

Windows in the house were nailed shut. Long before police believe that Castro began kidnapping girls and chaining them in his basement, relatives were beginning to call his place the "prison house."

POLICE HAD HUNDREDS OF LEADS

It did not take long for Louwana Miller to get a signal that her daughter, her Mandy, might be alive. A man called Miller's house a few days after Amanda Berry's April 21, 2003, abduction. As Miller would recount over and over for interviewers, she begged to speak to her daughter. The caller refused, but he promised he'd bring her home safely in a few days.

He told her something else, too: He wanted Mandy to be his wife.

Miller would learn that the phone call was placed on Amanda Berry's cellphone. But the promised return of the teenager -- whom a middle school friend, Amber Paukner, recalls as a "friendly" and "popular" classmate -- never happened.

Investigators chased hundreds of leads. They found an apron. Maybe, just maybe, it was Amanda's. They circled back to the Burger King where she worked, says a Cleveland police spokesman, Sgt. Sammy Morris, but figured out that the fast-food restaurant used a different type of apron. Another time, they heard about a boy who had a crush on Berry, a pretty sandy blonde with twinkling eyes. The boy had been flirting with her at the drive- through window. But, Morris says, the kid was cleared. In coming years, two yards would be excavated after tips that one or more of the young women had been buried there.

In November, Miller, desperate to try anything, consulted a well-known psychic, Sylvia Browne, on the Montel Williams television show. "She's not alive, honey," Browne told her.

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