On May 6, 2013, news traveled the world like wildfire: three girls were rescued, after being kidnapped and locked up for an average of ten years, in a house located in the city of Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States.
Michelle Knight disappeared on August 23, 2002 at the age of 21. She was held captive for more than ten years and nine months in a house located just four blocks from where she was abducted.
Eight months later, Amanda Berry was abducted on April 21, 2003, the day before her 17th birthday, leaving her job at a Burger King, on a street 3.5 miles (5.6 km) from where Michelle was abducted. She was held captive for a little over ten years.
Almost a year later, Gina DeJesus was kidnapped on April 2, 2004, just 14 years old, leaving her school. Her abduction occurred just five blocks from the site where Amanda was abducted. She was held captive for nine years.
The author of these kidnappings was a school bus driver named Ariel Castro, born in Puerto Rico. He was also a musician; he played bass in some Latin orchestras.
Apart from the girls and the kidnapper, there was a fifth person living in that house: Jocelyn Berry, the daughter that Amanda Berry had with the kidnapper, who was born on December 25, 2006 in the same house. Michelle acted as a midwife and fortunately mother and daughter came out of the trance well. The arrival of this new being in the world brought a little joy to the unfortunate girls.
In those days anyone could read in the newspapers (or hear on the news) the details of this case. And even today we can find out through the internet. But knowing what daily life was like in the “house of horrors” (as this house where the girls were locked up was later called) and some other details, is something that you will hardly find on the internet.
What follows is based on the books “Free at Last”, by Michelle Knight; “Hope”, by Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus and “The Lost Girls”, by John Glatt.
On many occasions the girls were victims of extreme and unnecessary cruelty by the kidnapper, especially Michelle. In all three cases, the kidnapper, through trickery and appearing to be a very friendly person, managed to get them into his car. In the cases of Amanda and Gina, they knew him by sight, since he was the father of their friends.
Thanks to the diary that Amanda wrote during her captivity, we have a better idea of what happened, even with dates. She wrote as much paper as she could get her hands on: fast-food sandwich bags and wrappers of all kinds. The kidnapper also gave her a notebook.
LOBO: The kidnapper gave Michelle a puppy which she named Lobo. At least she already had a company. When the kidnapper raped Michelle, he took the puppy to another room. But one night he came home drunk and forgot about Lobo; then, when trying to rape Michelle, Lobo defended her by biting him; Very annoyed, the kidnapper grabbed him and twisted his neck as Michelle cried. Then he buried it.
FIRST CHRISTMAS: On the first Christmas that Michelle spent there, the kidnapper came to her room with a cake that he had bought at the supermarket, left it on the floor and said: “Merry Christmas”.
THE SCHOOL CAMERA: The kidnapper abducted Gina a few minutes after she left school in the company of her friend Arlene Castro (daughter of the kidnapper). They said goodbye and Gina began to walk alone to her house. Shortly before, the kidnapper had entered the school to ask about his daughter. Leaving school he saw Gina (who was already walking alone), approached her and managed to get her into his car by asking her about his daughter Arlene. After kidnapping Gina, the kidnapper was sure that they would catch him, because he realized that they could identify him by checking the security cameras installed in the school. He was so scared that two days after kidnapping Gina he wrote a confession, arguing that he was a “sick” man; confession he intended to show to the police. However, in John Glatt’s book he says that the FBI did not check these cameras. And in Amanda and Gina’s book it says that the camera at the entrance to the school was down that day.
Be that as it may, it was very lucky for the kidnapper and very unlucky for the girls. Years later, after being caught, in the hearing that took place in front of a judge, Castro had the audacity to strongly criticize the FBI for not having solved the case at that time.
THE PSYCHIC: On November 17, 2004, Louwana Miller, the mother of Amanda Berry (tired of seeing that there were no results in the search for her daughter by the authorities) appeared on television, on “The Montel Williams Show” , which had as a guest the psychic Sylvia Browne. After the introductions, Louwana asked if they would find her daughter. Sylvia responded with many words, among which she said that she was not alive. Louwana misunderstood and asked again if she would see her daughter again. The psychic told her yes, but in heaven. After this, Louwana who was a fan and believer of Sylvia broke down. She gave up hope, went home and cleaned out her daughter’s bedroom, gave away her computer and said she was 98% sure her daughter was dead and she wouldn’t buy any more presents for her for Christmas (Christmas 2003 had bought a present for Amanda).
Amanda was watching the show on television (the kidnapper had provided her with a television) and, in despair, she couldn’t believe her eyes. She begged the kidnapper to let him write to her mother to tell her that she was alive, but he did not accept. Less than two years later, on March 2, 2006, Louwana died of a heart attack at the age of 44, not knowing where her daughter was, and whether she was alive or dead.
Sylvia Browne (a la izquierda) y Louwana Miller en “The Montes Williams Show”
CELEBRATION: The kidnapper celebrated each anniversary of the kidnappings by buying a cake, as if it were a birthday. On those dates, the families of Amanda and Gina held a vigil in the company of the neighbors, in the places where they were kidnapped and it was broadcast on television. Castro and the girls watched them on television, to the joy of the kidnapper, for having spent another year without being discovered, and to the tears of the girls, as they watched their relatives praying and asking for his prompt return.
SHOW FAVORITO: A veces, ellos se sentaban en la sala a ver su show favorito “Kepping Up with the Kardashians”, mientras Castro hacía comentarios obscenos sobre Kim Kardashian.
HYPNOSIS: Three weeks after Gina’s kidnapping, the FBI were so desperate due to the lack of clues and the neighbors’ protests that two girls had been kidnapped in the same neighborhood, that they came up with the unusual idea of hypnotizing to Arlene (the friend with whom Gina was shortly before she disappeared), to see if through hypnosis she could remember any details that she had not mentioned. They hired a psychologist and Arlene was very willing to help, but all to no avail; she just repeated what she had already told the police.
EXPENSIVE EQUIPMENT: A week later, in the midst of that desperation, the FBI agents came up with another idea: Since the distance between the places where Amanda and Gina were kidnapped was only five blocks, they deduced that the kidnapper often passed by that area and they realized that there was a house, whose windows had an excellent view of that main avenue (Lorain avenue). They spoke with the owner of the house, who received them visibly drunk and very happily accepted the proposal: In exchange for a sum of money, he would allow the FBI to install equipment and television cameras valued at thousands of dollars in his house (keep in mind that It was the year 2004), to film all the people and cars that passed by and detect if there was anything suspicious. Agents reviewed hundreds of hours of footage but to no avail. The operation lasted several weeks. One day, when a technician went to change the tapes for blank ones, he discovered that the expensive equipment was gone. The homeowner explained that the thieves had entered his house the night before and took everything.
DEPRESSION: In October 2004, one year and six months after she was kidnapped, Amanda was so depressed and lonely that she asked her kidnapper to hold her; although she herself couldn’t believe what she was saying, she told him that she needed a hug. Loneliness and isolation leads to those extremes. On those dates, Michelle and Gina were already in the house of horrors, but the kidnapper did not allow them to be together.
VISITOR: In August 2005 the kidnapper had the audacity to allow one of his daughters, Emily, to sleep in the house for two nights. For this he moved the girls to an old van that he had in the back of his house. Always threatening them with his pistol, he ordered them not to make any noise, otherwise he would go and shoot all three of them to death. He even found time to rape Amanda in the van, in front of Michelle and Gina, while her daughter slept at home.
JEALOUSY?: In July 2006, three years and three months after her kidnapping, Amanda (already four months pregnant) wrote in her diary that it bothered her a lot that the kidnapper lied to her and tried to hide from her that he had sex with Michelle and with Gina. She adds (wondering if there was something wrong with her head) that she wanted to be with him too.
CHAINS: Since arriving at the “house of horrors” the girls have been chained by the ankles to wall-mounted heater pipes (90 feet (30 meters) of chains were found in the house after their release). That’s how they were most of the day and that’s how they slept. When Amanda had her daughter Jocelyn and she was a little older, she always covered the chains with some clothes so that her daughter would not see them, but one day, when Jocelyn was two and a half years old, she saw them and asked her mother what was that, to which Amanda replied: “it’s my bracelet”, trying not to give importance to the matter.
It was only in mid-2009 that the kidnapper stopped chaining them, telling them that he trusted them a little more, but threatening that he would chain them again if they did not comply with the strict house rules he had imposed. I mean, the girls lived and slept six years in chains (on average). They commented that they felt very strange without the chains.
HURRY TO GET HOME: Sometimes the musical group in which Castro played bass would perform in the city of Youngstown, 75 miles from Cleveland. As the presentations ended late, he was offered free hotel accommodation, to return to Cleveland the next day. But he never accepted and, whatever time it was, he returned to his house driving at dawn. He had to feed the girls.
SCHOOL AND GRADUATION: Amanda was always concerned that her daughter Jocelyn receive the same education that every girl her age receives, as much as possible. For this she covered the walls of her room with drawings and photos as if it were a school room. And acting as a teacher, she started classes with her only student on the same day that the real schools started. They had the same class hours and the same breaks and recesses as in public schools. They respected the holidays and used some books that the kidnapper took from the library. Already at the end of the school year, she organized her daughter’s graduation for the last day of school. She tried to make it as formal as possible; she made a black graduation hat and made a diploma. She as the teacher, her daughter as the student and the assistants were Michelle, Gina and the kidnapper. After a few words, she handed the diploma to her daughter and the assistants applauded. Very excited, Jocelyn bowed and said “thank you.” After graduation they started eating and chatting. Castro had gotten plenty of food and sodas from the end of the school year party (he was a school bus driver) that he had at his job the day before. According to Amanda, it was the only time they were all in the same room, eating, chatting, and laughing. Miracle that was possible thanks to Jocelyn.
ADVICE: In July 2012, the kidnapper advised his daughter Jocelyn, who was already over five and a half years old, with these words: “Never get into someone’s car you don’t know.”
HALLOWEEN: As is known, every October 31 at night, children go out in groups to knock on the doors of their neighbors, asking for some candy. Amanda also wished that her daughter could go out and do the same, but poor Jocy all she could do was go knock on Michelle and Gina’s bedroom door. The kidnapper turned off all the lights in the house that night, to prevent any child or groups of children from knocking on his door.
“DADDY, DADDY”: When Amanda managed to leave the house, carrying her daughter (the kidnapper had gone to her mother’s house to get food), she did not stop screaming: “Daddy, daddy, I want my daddy, where is my daddy?” And it is that, although it is hard to admit it, the kidnapper had managed to win the affection of his daughter. He was very happy even from the moment he found out that Amanda was pregnant. He played with her, took her in her car to the park, to stores, to the library and to church. He always spoke to her in a very affectionate tone. He filmed her birthday parties at the house of horrors (the guests were Michelle and Gina). Once, to Amanda’s astonishment, he bought her $40 light-up sneakers. A fortune, considering that he was very stingy (among other things, he measured the girls soap and dishwashing detergent, to the millimeter. The girls asked him to buy them used clothes at some “garage sale”, with the dollars he had given them for their “services”).
CONSENSUS SEX: During the last years of their confinement, the girls (especially Amanda) often heard their abductor say that the sex they had was consensual. Of course they protested and claimed him saying that it was a violation because they were deprived of liberty. But after the girls managed to escape, at a hearing in front of a judge (with Ariel Castro present), Castro’s defense attorney, Craig Weintraub, questioning Detective Andrew Harasimchuk (who had interviewed the girls, one by one, a few hours after her release), he asked him what Amanda had told him, when she found out she was pregnant with Jocelyn. The detective replied that she told him that the sex she had with her kidnapper on that occasion was consensual, which made Castro smile.
It is understood that Amanda had to say this to avoid admitting that her beloved daughter Jocelyn was the result of rape. Whether the kidnapper understood it that way or not, we will never know, because he committed suicide four months after being caught, hanging himself in his cell.
Little by little, day by day, month by month, year by year, the kidnapper managed to subdue the girls, punishing them mercilessly when they did something he didn’t like or when they didn’t want to do something he ordered. The punishments were: deprive them of food, or give them the last leftovers (cold), move them to the basement (an ominous place none of the girls wanted to go), take away the television for a few days, not turn on the fan in summer, not allow them to bathe, frequently insulting them for any reason, cutting their hair in the worst way, slapping them, especially Michelle, chaining them (as already mentioned), calling them not by name but with offensive nicknames, Michelle did not receive clothes with to get dressed for the first two years she was there (the poor girl was naked all that time), the kidnapper told her that she could get dressed when he trusts her.
When the girls just arrived at the house he put them to the test: he left the door unlocked, the chains wrongly put on and he pretended to leave. The radio was playing at full volume so the girl couldn’t hear if he was gone or not. After several minutes or hours, when the girl ventured out of that room and tried to reach the street, she realized that the infamous man was waiting for her and received her punishment.
The kidnapper had the girls separated and told each one that the others spoke ill of her. The evil one played to give more food to one and then gave more food to another and in this way caused a resentment between them. Of all the punishments, the worst was lack of food. Just try to imagine how we would feel if we didn’t eat for 12 hours or a whole day. He also told them (each one separately) that they had to have sex with him because the others didn’t want to at that moment; this was only done to annoy them even more.
He also gave them money after each rape (that’s how it was in the early years). He gave them a few dollars telling them: “here is the payment for your services”, as if they were prostitutes.
And he threatened them with his pistol; he always told them that he didn’t mind dying in a gunfight with the police.
Michelle became pregnant five times and each time the kidnapper made her abort. He wouldn’t feed her and after a few days he hit her in the stomach; the first time she was with a large weight and the other times she was kicking.
1) I have always liked books where the truth is told and it seems to me that Amanda has told it. Confessing in her book that she came to want to be with the kidnapper is something that I think not all women would admit. It was after more than three years of being locked up. I think her reaction was perfectly normal, after living so long between four walls and there is nothing to blame her for.
2) Amanda has also confessed that there were brief moments when she felt very close to Castro (emotionally). It started when she realized that she was pregnant and the kidnapper received the news with joy, and even he satisfied the “cravings” of her pregnancy. It continued when she could see the tremendous affection that the kidnapper had for her daughter and for this reason he treated her (Amanda) better. But she also mentions that a few days later some disagreement arose and the kidnapper returned to his old ways, treating her badly.
3) This story reveals a reality that many people ignore. According to FBI data, an average of 600,000 children or youth under the age of 17 are reported missing annually in the United States. Of these, a large majority are young runaways, who return home within a few days. There is also a large number who are kidnapped by their relatives or someone they know. But a few hundred abductions by strangers remain. This means that, at the moment you are reading this article, somewhere in this country there is a girl or a boy who is locked up just like the three girls in this article were. That place could be close to your home. Who knows how long they have been locked up and how much longer they will stay that way. And if they will have a happy ending like the one in this story. If we project ourselves to the entire world, the number could be in the tens of thousands. In the 21st century, slavery continues.
4) In his hearing before Judge, Ariel Castro said more than once that he was not a monster, that he was a sick person; surely remembering everything he experienced in the house of horrors, especially in recent years, when he already had his little daughter. But I believe that a person can be called a monster if he has done something monstrous, like kidnapping three girls (one of them only 14 years old), raping them and locking them up for so long, and cruelly beat one of them five times to make her abort. And we should keep in mind that we now know it, but at the time, each of these girls did not know if they were going to come out of this trance alive and they felt the terror of thinking that they could die right there, after being raped. Terror of death that began when, already in the house, the kidnapper slammed the door and changed from a kind gentleman to a ruthless rapist. I mean, you don’t need to be a monster 24 hours a day to be declared a monster, just a few minutes of having done something monstrous.
5) It is very easy to judge the facts after they have already happened. To say that this or that should have been done, or why that was not thought of. What is truly interesting and valuable is saying or thinking all these things before knowing the truth. With that said, I just want to comment on the food. To the amount of food that the kidnapper brought to his house, taking into account that everyone knew that he lived alone; he had to feed five people (including himself). Most of the time he bought it at fast food restaurants, he also ordered food from his mom and sometimes he took her out of his work. How lucky he was that no one suspected anything.