How Well Do You Know Your Neighbors? Ariel Castro’s Kidnappings

Ariel Castro’s Mugshot | Courtesy of Biography.com

Imagine being chained to the wall of a dirty room that wasn’t your own, being mentally tormented by a man who is widely considered to be a positive influence in the community. Imagine being impregnated by your captor, then giving birth in a kiddie-pool in the basement of the house that has become your worst nightmare. Three young women were held captive by Ariel Castro, a local school bus driver and band bassist, for over ten years.1

Ariel Castro’s house of horrors where he held captive the three young women. | Courtesy of BBC.com

Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Georgina DeJesus were the three strong and inspiring young women that survived this nightmare. In Cleveland, Ohio, Ariel Castro captured his first victim, Michelle Knight, as she was walking home from her cousin’s home in 2002. He held her in his basement to torment and rape her, which allowed him to develop power over her. Castro then moved her upstairs in his home, where the abuses continued. Some of the early abuse that Knight endured ended in pregnancies, but Castro would beat her until she miscarried.2

The second victim, Amanda Berry, was last seen by her co-workers at Burger King the day before her seventeenth birthday in 2003. On her way home from work, she accepted a ride home from community member, Ariel Castro. However, the ultimate destination was not what she had expected. Within the time Castro held Berry captive, he impregnated her. She gave birth to her daughter, Jocelyn, in the basement of Castro’s home in a kiddie-pool with the assistance of Knight. Castro had threatened Michelle Knight’s life, insisting that if the baby didn’t survive, neither would she. So when Berry’s daughter wasn’t breathing at birth, Knight successfully performed CPR on the infant, saving her life.3

Georgina DeJesus was a friend of Castro’s daughter, a fact he used to lure her into his car. In 2004, DeJesus was walking home from school when Castro approached her and offered her a ride home. The fourteen-year-old girl recognized him and accepted the offer, little did she know that she wouldn’t be returning to her home for another nine years. The three women only had each other from 2002 until they were rescued in 2013.4

The women who Castro held captive for over ten years; Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight. | Courtesy of Fox News Insider

Each woman’s nightmare began similarly as Castro had a system of abuse that he used to overpower them. This system made them fear him so much that they wouldn’t fight back or attempt to escape. One of the tactics Castro used to prevent his victim’s from escaping was that he intentionally left their doors unlocked, and then he patiently waited by the front door for them. When Castro discovered that one of them trying to escape, he violently beat them, using it as an example to the other captives as to what would happen if they chose to flee.5

Castro successfully hid his monstrosities from the community he lived in for the eleven years he held the women captive. His friends and family noticed that he didn’t have people over often, but that wasn’t abnormal for Castro. After his wife divorced him, Castro spent most of his time outside of his home, attending local concerts with bands as the bassist, and even attending searches and vigils for the women he held captive in his own home. The community had no reason to suspect that he had anything to do with the women’s disappearances. Roughly two weeks before the rescue of the women, Castro had an individual over because he was interested in purchasing their bass guitar. The man said he had no idea that there was anyone in the home other than Castro, hearing only a sound like a dog upstairs.6

Amanda Berry with daughter, Jocelyn, and her sister, Beth. | Courtesy of Daily Express

The community will never forget the day Castro made a simple mistake. On May 6, 2013, Castro left a door unlocked. The women upstairs, contemplating whether it was another one of Castro’s wicked tricks or an honest mistake, remained in their rooms. Eventually, however, Amanda Berry built up the courage to try to escape. When she discovered that it was a mistake on Castro’s end, she and her daughter headed for the door. It was the middle of the day when Berry had opened the front door and started yelling for help, her daughter at her side. Castro’s neighbors noticed the strange scene and immediately came to Berry’s aid.7

The screen door was locked from the outside so the neighbor’s kicked in a corner to free Berry and her daughter, Jocelyn. Berry then immediately called the police to get the other girls rescued from their real life nightmare. Upon the girls’ escape, the neighborhood was stunned. Throughout those eleven years, none of Castro’s surrounding neighbors had any indication or idea that three women were being held captive just a few yards away.8

Nobody knew what to think. The community felt like they had failed these three women. Ultimately, Ariel Castro plead guilty to 937 counts of kidnapping, rape, and aggravated assault. He was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison without the possibility of parole. After a month in prison Castro hung himself with his bed sheets in his cell. While kidnapping is a horrific crime, it is not uncommon in the United States. In 1999, it was estimated that 11.4 children per 1,000 in the United States are reported missing. So, how well do you know your neighbors?9

  1. Phillip J. Resnick M.D. and George W. Schmedlen Ph.D., “Competency Report,” Court Psychiatric Clinic, (2013); 2-3.
  2. Biography.com Editors, “Ariel Castro Biography”, The Biography.com Website, (2014) https://www.biography.com/people/ariel-castro-21311121.
  3. Corky Siemaszko, “Michelle Knight still recovering five years after being freed from Ariel Castro,” ABC News, (2018), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/michelle-knight-still-recovering-5-years-after-being-freed-ariel-n870906.
  4. Melanie Eversley and Doug Stranglin, “Autopsy: Ariel Castro hanged himself in prison cell,” USA Today, (2013), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/09/04/ariel-castro-hung-prison/2761177/.
  5. Biography.com Editors, “Ariel Castro Biography”, The Biography.com Website, (2014) https://www.biography.com/people/ariel-castro-21311121.
  6. Corky Siemaszko, “Michelle Knight still recovering five years after being freed from Ariel Castro,” ABC News, (2018), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/michelle-knight-still-recovering-5-years-after-being-freed-ariel-n870906.
  7. Melanie Eversley and Doug Stranglin, “Autopsy: Ariel Castro hanged himself in prison cell,” USA Today, (2013), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/09/04/ariel-castro-hung-prison/2761177/.
  8. Corky Siemaszko, “Michelle Knight still recovering five years after being freed from Ariel Castro,” ABC News, (2018), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/michelle-knight-still-recovering-5-years-after-being-freed-ariel-n870906.
  9. Andrea Sedlak, David Finkelhor, Heather Hammer, and Dana Schultz, “National Estimates of Missing Children: An Overview,” NISMART, (2002): 5-10.
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60 Comments

  • It is so sad to think that a person so loved and known by the community is capable of being such a monster. This is truly sickening, the saying” you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors” is true. This neighborhood house was hiding three girls and children, I cant imagine the torment these women went through. Birthing your kidnappers child. The psychological and emotional pain these women will forever have to endure is heartbreaking. This was a wonderful read thank you for your article.

  • 937 accounts??? I remember hearing about this case on the news and being astounded with how a community figurehead could go so long unnoticed, but at the same time, it made sense. I still can not get over the huge amount of kidnaps and rapes this single man did. It is shame he hung himself in jail because he deserved to have spent out the rest of his days in a cell like the women he held did. Unjust, but I am glad he was caught and is now publically deemed a monster.

  • I remember my grandma talking about this story and warning me to always be careful. This article is like a reminder to always be cautious, and this situation should be brought to light. These girls knew this man, so they trusted him, but it seems we never truly know people, because it turns out that they couldn’t trust him. It’s scary to think that anyone you know could be this twisted. I feel bad for the community as well because they did feel like they failed the girls but its because they too, trusted the man.

  • It is scary how smart Castro was about these kidnappings, and how well planned they were. It is amazing how long he got away with this. It is heartbreaking to think about what those three women had to endure, especially Michelle Knight, who had to fight for the longest time out of the three of them. I hope the victims of this heinous crime can find a way to push past the trauma and find a way to live their lives as normally as possible, and I hope the little girl is not affected by having such a terrible father. Hopefully, there are not any more undiscovered victims.

  • This article was undoubtedly thought invoking. It does make me wonder how well I know my neighbors, and or what could be going on in their homes behind closed doors. It is shocking to realize that someone so close you could do something so horrific to a group of women or anyone. On the other hand, I am an individual who values my privacy and goes to great lengths to respect the privacy of another. Thus, I can understand how our neighbor, for example, the neighbors of Ariel Castro were not aware of his kidnapping raping or beating of his victims. Additionally, if his house were at all insulated, it would stand to reason that a lot of things could go on within the house without anyone ever knowing.

  • I remember watching the documentary on this story, and the entire time, I was in utter shock. It’s horrifying that he participated in the searches for the girls even though he had them hostage the entire time. Reading that he beat the first victim until she miscarried is so gruesome, but I also question why it is that he allowed his second victim to go through her entire pregnancy and threatened to take his first victims life if the baby didn’t make it. I wonder if there’s anything on why that was.. Overall, your article was written really good, and I enjoyed reading it.

  • These articles always have me thinking…maybe even overthinking everything in my surroundings. It is unimaginable what these three women went through. Giving birth after being raped and kept captive by your predator, how awful but at the same time brave. Knight saved the life of the baby, even if she wanted to live she also wanted the innocent baby to live, while Berry showed a lot of bravery. Berry did not only give birth, but was also brave enough to go out that unlocked door even if it meant it was a trap and a beating awaited her. I am glad he got captured, upsettingly he committed suicide and was not able to pay for the almost 1000 cases he pleaded guilty for…or maybe he is paying even after his death

  • It is terrible thing that happened to those three young women. It is scary to know that there are people out there and are not even suspected of anything, like Castro. Having been one of the neighbors, living that close to a person like him, must have been terrifying after they found out what he was doing for all those years. It is a scary thing to know that there are people out there that are capable of disgusting and horrific acts like the ones to those poor girls.

  • I believe this article is very interesting as it poses a lot of points that we do not consider in our day to day lives. I have seen many cases similar to this were these crimes are committed by people so close to us, but no one is ever suspecting of their neighbors. They move into the neighborhood and prove themselves to be these innocent people, however, we never really truly know what may be going through someones head. The fact that this guy kidnapped his own daughters friend and raped her is disgusting to me and makes me think of the type of people that are here now. How can we truly trust others, especially when we go on to have kids.

  • I had heard about this before reading this article, but it is still sickening. I do not know how a man could keep three girls captive in his home and appear normal to the rest of society. How did the neighbors never know? It is even more terrible that he used people’s trust against them. He kidnapped his daughter’s fourteen year old friend and rapped her. It is disgusting that he could do this to three women, then, when accused and sentenced, take the easy way out and kill himself.

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