|“||I hope they can find in their hearts to forgive me, because we had a lot of harmony going on in that home."||”|
— Castro at his trial
Ariel Castro, a.k.a. "The Monster of Cleveland", was a Puerto Rican ephebophilic and hebephilic serial rapist, abductor, and poisoner who tortured and raped three young women in his Cleveland, Ohio, home for nearly a decade.
Castro was born in Duey, a village of Puerto Rico, on July 10, 1960. He was the third child of Pedro Castro, the biggest landowner in the locality, and his wife Lilian Rodriguez. In 1962, Rodriguez discovered that her husband was married to a second woman, with whom he had four other children, and he abandoned Rodriguez to live with his second family. Shortly after, Rodriguez moved to work in Pennsylvania and left her four children in Puerto Rico, where they were cared for by their maternal grandmother, Hercilia Carabello. It was during this time that Castro, then five years old, was repeatedly fingered in the anus by a nine-year-old boy nicknamed "Pucho". Castro never reported the abuse, and he developed an obsession with sex and a compulsion to masturbate from a young age. Rodriguez returned to her children in 1966; according to Castro, she was abusive and would insult and hit him daily with a belt, stick, or her open hand. Castro's family immigrated to the contiguous U.S. and settled in Cleveland in 1970, following a visit from Castro's paternal uncle Cesi, who had opened a record shop there in 1969. Cesi gave Castro a guitar and he became a professional bass player, career that he combined with different second jobs.
In 1980, Castro dated his 17-year-old Puerto Rican neighbor Nilda Figueroa, also , and was forced to take her into his care by her family after she lost her virginity to him. When Figueroa gave birth to their first child in 1981, Castro's behavior changed radically and he became controlling and abusive. He would force her to stay at home, and selected the places she could shop in and even the programs that she could watch on TV, beating her whenever she strayed from his instructions. The violence escalated over time, with Castro often breaking Figueroa's bones and only allowing her to go to a hospital after she swore she wouldn't report him to the police. In 1989, Castro beat Figueroa in the presence of his brother and he was arrested, but he was released after she refused to press charges. In 1992, they moved to 2207 Seymour Drive with their four children. After arriving, Castro padlocked every door in the house and started working in the basement, where he installed a heavy trapdoor and added curtains and layers of bricks to soundproof it. Once finished, he forbid everyone else from entering the basement. Later, he tinted all the windows, forbid Figueroa to use the phone, and began to lock up his family in the house while he was away doing gigs with his band, which could last for up to four days.
Figueroa became pregnant a fifth time and Castro, not wishing to have more children, unsuccessfully tried to induce a miscarriage by punching and kicking her in the belly. In October 1993, Castro threw Figueroa down a flight of steps, and she broke her skull. A few weeks later, she began to have seizures and was diagnosed with a blood clot in her brain that had hardened into a malign tumor. On December 26, Castro came home drunk and attacked Figueroa again. His twelve-year-old son Ariel Jr. ran out to get help and Castro ran after him, a moment that Figueroa used to lock him outside and call the police. The officers found him pounding on the front door and arrested him after Castro fled. Figueroa was called to testify before a grand jury on February 1994, but Castro, having been released on $25,000 bail, reached her moments before she got in the building and threatened to kill her and the children if she said anything. Terrified, Figueroa declared that the attack had never happened and the charges were dropped.
Figueroa then moved to her mother's home with the children, and Castro cut almost all contact with them. He spent his time further fortifying the house, using materials stolen from a next-door neighbor after threatening him with a shovel. Later, Castro began installing multiple security alarms and strategically placed mirrors all over the house, until he was sure that nothing could happen in the house without him seeing it. While taking brain surgery in 1995, Figueroa started dating a security guard, Fernando Colon. Castro learned of their relationship the year after, when one of his daughters called him from Colon's home, and he became furious. He called Colon, claiming that Figueroa was his wife and that he had "stolen" her from him, but Colon reminded Castro that he had never married Figueroa. Later, Castro saw Colon taking his children to school and attempted to run him over with his car, but Colon dodged him. Colon filed charges against Castro, but they were dropped due to a lack of evidence. In 1997, Figueroa was given full custody of the children and Castro was deprived of visitation rights.
Abductions, Capture, and Suicide
"You [Amanda] better shut up. I've gone this far, I don't know what I'm capable of now."
After his family left, Castro became interested in BDSM and developed a fantasy of holding a teenage girl in his home as a sex slave. On August 22, 2002, Castro was at a dollar store when he overheard Michelle Knight asking how to get to a Social Services office. Knight's two-year-old son had earlier been taken by Social Services and she had an appointment for an evaluation to determine if she was fit to raise him. However, she was not familiar with the area and was lost. Castro assumed that Knight was around fifteen because of her short stature and offered to drive her there; she trusted him because his daughter Emily was her friend, though she had not met him in person before. In the car, Castro had a sign advertising puppies for sale and he said that he had to stop at home to feed them, but that it wouldn't be an issue because it was on the way to Social Services. Later, he convinced Knight to get in the house by offering her a free puppy, and he imprisoned her. Because she was an adult, the police assumed that she had left voluntarily and put little effort into finding her. Castro taunted Knight multiple times afterward about how "nobody cared" that she was missing, and even tried to use that fact as part of his defense in the trial.
Castro's next abduction took place on April 21, 2003. The victim was Amanda Berry, a workmate of his son Anthony at Burger King, and whom Castro had wanted to abduct for a while because she was blonde. Berry's seventeenth birthday was the following day. Castro offered her a lift home after she ended her shift; she accepted because she knew Anthony and also Castro's daughter Angie, who had gone to school with her. Castro told Berry that Angie was at his home and he proposed to stop there so she could greet her. Once in the house, Castro used a guard dog to distract Berry, took her cellphone, and imprisoned her. Unlike Knight's disappearance, Berry's caused a public commotion and her family appeared multiple times on TV. A week later, Castro used Berry's cellphone to call her mother and said that he had her, that she was fine, and that she would go home in a couple of days. The call proved that Berry had been abducted, and the FBI was called in to investigate. They triangulated the call to the area where she had been abducted and parked a van there. However, the phone's exact location could not be determined because Castro never called again. Meanwhile, Castro told Berry that he had phoned her family and told them that they should not look for her because they were now a couple.
On April 2, 2004, Castro's youngest daughter Arlene left school with her best friend, Gina DeJesus. DeJesus' father was a former schoolmate of Castro, and she was related to Tito DeJesus, the leader of Castro's band. The two eventually split: Arlene went to Colon's workplace so he could drive her home while DeJesus walked to her own house. Meanwhile, Castro left home with the intention of picking up Arlene from school. He spotted both girls and waited for them to split. Once they did, he pulled up next to DeJesus, telling her that he was looking for Arlene and he needed her help in finding her. After DeJesus got in, he drove down the direction opposite to what she had indicated, toward 2207 Avenue. When DeJesus asked why he was driving the other way, Castro kept switching stories between needing her help picking a loudspeaker, and his daughter Emily (who wasn't friends with DeJesus) being home and wanting to go to the mall with her. DeJesus was later imprisoned in the same room occupied by Knight after she was ordered to drill holes in the walls and put a second set of chains on them. Despite Knight figuring right away that he had abducted DeJesus (of whose disappearance she had learned about from TV) and confronting him about it, Castro denied it vehemently, and he claimed that DeJesus was his daughter when he brought her into the cell, days later.
No AMBER Alert was issued for DeJesus, but the fact that she vanished within sight of Berry's workplace and less than a year after her, made the media and their families connect the cases immediately. Castro also became paranoid that a security camera at the school had recorded him (it was actually out of order that day) and he wrote a bizarre, four-page-long confession, and possible suicide note. In this, he ranted about his childhood, his relationship with Figueroa, and the reasons he was holding his victims captive. Castro lied several times about his relationship with Figueroa, claiming that they were legally married, she abused him, and that he hit her back in self-defense. He also provided multiple contradictions about the women imprisoned in his home, claiming at once that they were there voluntarily and that he paid them to have sex, and also that they were there against their will, but that it was their fault because they made the decision to board a stranger's car. Castro kept the note in a kitchen drawer until it was discovered by police nine years later. In the meantime, he attended vigils for DeJesus, offered his support to her family, and posted "Missing" fliers. When asked about the note, he claimed that he kept it because he believed it showed his innocence.
Period of Captivity
In the time around DeJesus's abduction, Castro became obsessed with resuming contact with his now teenage daughters. He would show up unannounced at their home or their school, pick them up, and gift them money and objects for no apparent reason. After unsuccessfully trying to convince Figueroa to leave Colon and return to him, Castro convinced his two younger daughters to claim that Colon abducted and fingered them in the vagina as a virginity test. Despite the absence of material evidence, Figueroa and Ariel Castro Jr.'s testimony in favor of Colon, and multiple procedural irregularities, Colon was found guilty of four counts of sexual abuse, sentenced to a few months in probation, and was forced to registered as a sex offender. As a result, Colon lost his job and Figueroa ended their relationship. Colon later tried to get the verdict overturned in 2015, but he was denied.
Having failed in his plan to resume his "marriage" with Figueroa, Castro told his prisoners that Berry was his new wife, and he began raping Knight and DeJesus in the backyard rather than inside the house. Though some neighbors saw chained women outside the house, nobody called the police. Berry eventually became pregnant in 2007. In contrast to Knight, who was forced to miscarry five times through violence, poisoning, and starvation (one while Berry was also pregnant), Castro refrained from raping Berry and improved her meals to ensure that the pregnancy was carried to full term. His initial intention was to leave the baby on the steps of a church after it was born, but as the time of birth came near, he manifested his excitement about becoming a father again. When Berry went into labor on Christmas Day, he took her and Knight to a children's inflatable pool in the basement, and told the latter to help the former give birth. When Castro found that the baby, a girl, was not breathing, he told Knight that he'd kill her in the spot if the baby didn't survive. Subsequently, Knight resuscitated her with CPR. Berry named the girl Jocelyn, in defiance of Castro's insistence about giving her a Spanish name, and she raised and schooled her alone in her cell. The only help provided by Castro was to allow Berry out of her chains and giving some old toys. The baby's clothes were cut and sewn out of old clothes by the three captives.
Discovery, Arrest, and Suicide
As Jocelyn grew into a toddler and became more aware of her surroundings, Castro forced Knight and DeJesus to take the names "JuJu" (after Jujubes candy) and "Chelsea", respectively, but he allowed Berry to use her real name. He took all chains out when Jocelyn pulled Knight's chain one day and asked, "JuJu lock?" Afterward, he also allowed them limited movement through the house, but always under his supervision, and kept a gun visible in his waist at all times. When Jocelyn was four years old, he started taking her out of the house, and would introduce her to relatives as either his granddaughter or his new girlfriend's daughter. Whenever people asked why they never saw them with her mother, Castro said that she was busy. When Jocelyn complained about all doors in the house being locked when Castro wasn't there, he unlocked some of them. On May 6, 2013, Castro forgot to lock the large front door, though the outer storm door was bolted. Berry took her daughter and banged on the storm door until she alerted two neighbors, Ángel Cordero and Charles Ramsey. Cordero and Ramsey kicked the storm door repeatedly until they made a hole, allowing Berry to crawl out. She called police from another neighbor's house, and they rescued Knight and DeJesus, who had remained inside during the escape because they believed that it was yet another test from Castro.
Knight, Berry, DeJesus, and Jocelyn were all hospitalized at MetroHealth Medical Center. On the same day, Castro was pulled over by Police and arrested in a parking lot. He was accompanied by his brother Onil, who was also arrested for unrelated offenses along with a third brother, Pedro. This caused journalists to misreport that all three brothers were suspects in the abductions. While in custody, Castro insisted that his brothers were not involved in his crimes. He confessed in much the same way as he had written the note years before, recognizing the facts but deflecting responsibility from himself, portraying himself as a victim, and blaming law enforcement's poor work and the victims for their own situation. Two days after his arrest, Castro was charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape, but by June 7, this was upgraded to a total of 329 counts of various crimes. Castro's lawyer eventually encouraged him to take a guilty plea in order to avoid the death penalty, which is admissible in Ohio for an intentional induction of miscarriage. Castro was subsequently sentenced to life in prison without parole, plus 1,000 years. The plea deal also required the demolition of Castro's house. A month into his sentence, Castro used his bed-sheets to hang himself in his cell.
Castro's abductions followed a strict script. All of his victims were women between 14 and 21 years old, of short stature and with large breasts, who knew at least one of his children but not him personally. He offered them a lift in one of his vehicles, which had been altered so they could only be opened from the driver's seat from the inside, and led them in his home under some pretext. He would then masturbate and rape them once before restraining them with duct tape and leaving them in the soundproof basement, chained, gagged, and with a bike helmet covering their head. After some time, he decided that they could be "trusted" and moved them upstairs.
Then, they were kept chained by the waist at all times, in padlocked bedrooms with a hole in each door to spy them. They were given old clothes from Castro, fed fast food and leftovers only, were forced to use a plastic bin as a toilet, and were raped four or five times a day. After each rape, he would throw small bills at them to maintain his belief that the sex was consensual, which the victims could exchange for goods through a limited barter system. Castro often pretended to leave and waited outside to discourage them from escaping. Whenever he was not in the house, or whenever he had visitors, he would play loud music on the radio to make sure nobody heard them. If the captives disobeyed him in any way, they were savagely beaten, starved, and threatened to be killed with a .44 Magnum. He allowed them to interact with one another at times, but he punished them if he thought they were too friendly with each other.
Castro also tortured Berry and DeJesus psychologically by making them watch TV reports on their disappearance and hanging their "missing" posters on their cells, while Knight was taunted about how she wasn't being searched. At one point, he made Knight dig a grave in the backyard and tried to strangle her, but he couldn't bring himself to do it.
"The bottom line is, I am a sexual predator who needs help but I don't bother to get it."
In 2005, the FBI released a sketch and description of a suspect in DeJesus' disappearance, identifying him as male, Latino, aged 25 to 35 years old, 5'10", and 165 to 185 pounds, with green eyes, a goatee, and possibly a pencil-thin beard. Castro was actually 45 at the time, 5'7", and had brown eyes.
Experts rejected Castro's claim that he committed the crimes because he was sick. Jim Van Allen, the former director of the Ontario criminal profiling unit, described Castro as a sexual sadist and likened him to Paul Bernardo. To Mary Ellen O'Toole, Castro was a typical psychopath. He was very arrogant, had no empathy or remorse, and was incapable of taking responsibility for his own actions, yet he appeared to live a normal life from the outside. An unnamed prison psychiatrist diagnosed him with "Narcissistic Personality Disorder with Antisocial Features", but also noted that Castro had a "somewhat fragile self-esteem".
- Unspecified dates:
- 1981-1994: Grimilda "Nilda" Figueroa (his common-law wife; imprisoned and battered repeatedly; died of a brain tumor derived from the abuse on April 25, 2012)
- 1992: Arlene Castro (his then-unborn daughter; attempted to miscarry through violence)
- 1994: Unnamed neighbor (threatened with a shovel and stole some of his materials)
- May 16, 1996: Fernando Colon, 31 (Figueroa's second common-law husband; attempted to run him over with his car)
- 2002-2004: Three women abducted and raped repeatedly, all were rescued on May 6, 2013:
- August 22, 2002: Michelle Knight, 21 (attempted to strangle; left partially blind and deaf from abuse)
- April 21, 2003: Amanda Marie Berry, 16
- April 2, 2004: Georgina "Gina" Lynn DeJesus, 14 (was not impregnated)
- Note: In addition, Castro told Knight that there had been "others" before she was imprisoned, and he showed her a female name written on a wall under the word "RIP"; the name was never released by law enforcement. However, Police found no evidence that a fourth abduction victim had been held in the house, let alone murdered. While Castro was still unidentified, the FBI had also considered likely that Berry and DeJesus's case was related to Ashley Summers, a 14-year-old girl who disappeared in the same area in 2007, but Castro and all three abductees denied any relation to her case.
- The BAU was consulted during the investigation of DeJesus's disappearance.
On Criminal Minds
- Season Five
- "Cradle to Grave" - While not directly mentioned or referenced (as his crimes had not been discovered by the time the episode aired), Castro is very similar to the episode's main unsub, Robert Reimann - Both were serial rapists and abductors who abducted and held a certain number of victims captive in the basement of a home, impregnated one of them, forced the other victim(s) to assist in the childbirth, and raised the children afterward as captives themselves.
- Season Ten
- "Boxed In" - Castro's crimes were mentioned as an example of abductors who didn't need a lot of space to keep his victims imprisoned for a long time, and held said victims captive in an urban area while escaping suspicion from law enforcement for a long time. He also has some loose similarities to the episode's unsub John David Bidwell - Both were abductors who were abused as children, had a previous compulsion to imprison a female family member (Bidwell's sister and Castro's common-law wife), were set off by the abandonment of their longtime partners, and abducted three victims in three consecutive years (though Bidwell kept one victim at a time while Castro held all three victims at once). These victims were kept in a makeshift cell with a plastic bin to use as a toilet. Also, in both cases, the abductions of their first victims were the less planned; these victims received the most brutal treatment, and were left with lasting injuries derived from their imprisonment.
- Season Eleven
- "Hostage" - Castro was mentioned again and compared to the episode's unsub, Michael Clark Thompson - Both were serial rapists, abductors, and killers who abducted three females (one of which was named Gina) and held them captive in a home basement for the span of around a decade, during which time they physically and sexually abused them. One of their victims suffered at least one miscarriage, while another of their victims gave birth to at least one baby who was also held captive. Their crimes were eventually uncovered when one of the victims managed to escape, which led to the rescue of the other victims and the arrest of both abductors.
On Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders
- Season One
- "Love Interrupted" - While Castro was never directly mentioned or referenced on Beyond Borders, he appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Antonio Cayetan - Both were Hispanic serial rapists who pre-selected their victims, used their vehicles to get them, and were set off by the loss of their longtime partners. Both also chained their victims by the waist in their basements until they decided to take them upstairs, where they were allowed limited freedom even though many rooms and all ways out were padlocked. In addition, both lived in a two-story house surrounded by a metal fence and guard dogs; abducted three women, who developed Stockholm Syndrome over time; and had one daughter with one of their victims, who was raised in captivity in the same house but was not abused otherwise. Their names also seem to slightly mirror each other.
- Wikipedia's article on Castro and the abductions
- The Lost Girls: The True Story of the Cleveland Abductions and the Incredible Rescue of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus (2015)
- Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland (2015)
- Finding Me: A decade of darkness, a life reclaimed (2015)
- ABC News article on Castro's domestic abuse
- CBC News article about experts rejecting Castro's testimony
- Castro was present while his daughters gave their statement to police, despite having no custody over them, and picked them by force when they tried to run away days before the trial. They slept in Castro's home the night before, while the three prisoners were chained inside Castro's van in the garage.