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Cleveland’s ‘house of horrors’ starts revealing clues of women’s captivity

Sheriff deputies stand outside a house in Cleveland Tuesday, May 7, 2013, the day after three women who vanished a decade ago were found there. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, who went missing separately about a decade ago, were found in the home just south of downtown Cleveland and likely had been tied up during years of captivity, said police, who arrested three brothers.

Tony Dejak/AP

From the outside, the white two-story house decorated with small Puerto Rican and American flags hanging off the front porch looks like any other on the tree-lined street. But police describe it as a "house of horrors," where three women, bound by ropes and chains, were held in captivity for nearly a decade. And as details on the mysterious home on Seymour Avenue emerge, so too have clues on how suspect Ariel Castro allegedly managed to keep the women confined inside of it for so long.

Mr. Castro purchased the home at 2207 Seymour Ave. in 1992 for $12,000, just a year after he started working as a school bus driver for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Neighbours describe a friendly neighbour who they would often see working on his cars or motorcycle out back.

But inside the house, police allege, was a far more gruesome picture. The approximately 1,400-square-foot home has four bedrooms and one bathroom, according to Cuyahoga County records. There's also an unfinished attic and a basement where Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus were allegedly chained for their first years of captivity.

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Eventually, they were freed from their chains and allowed to live on the second floor, but in separate rooms, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.

The doors were always locked, a source, citing police reports, told the Plain Dealer, but Mr. Castro would sometimes "test" the women by failing to lock the door. If he saw any of the women try to escape, they would be punished. The doors had holes cut into them to slide food in and out for the women.

The New York Times, citing the same police report, said that the six-year-old daughter Ms. Berry gave birth to while in captivity was allowed out of the home occasionally, but that Mr. Castro ensured she didn't know the real names of the missing women in case anyone tried to talk to the little girl.

According to police, the women were only allowed outside of the house on two occasions during their time in captivity. Both times, it was to walk to the home's garage, and they were made to wear a disguise.

Neighbours say the curtains were almost always drawn on the home, and some windows boarded up.

Family and friends say Ariel rarely invited people into his home, and when he did, made sure parts of it were off-limits. "The house was always locked. There were places we could never go," his son Ariel "Anthony" told the Daily Mail. "There were locks on the basement. Locks on the attic. Locks on the garage."

Mr. Castro was eventually fired from his job as a school bus driver in November of last year, and had recently been receiving unemployment compensation. According to Cuyahoga County records, his home was flagged for foreclosure, with Mr. Castro owing over $2,500 in taxes.

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The home, according to records, was worth $36,000.

The women were finally able to escape after Mr. Castro allegedly forgot to lock the "big inside door" of the home before leaving Monday afternoon, WKYC reported. Ms. Berry seized the opportunity, screaming for help from neighbours who eventually managed to break down part of the screen door.

After police arrived, they went up to the second floor and yelled 'Cleveland Police,' according to WKYC. "Knight ran and threw herself into [Officer] Espada's arms," the report said. "We then asked if there was anyone else upstairs with her, when [DeJesus] came out of the bedroom."

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About the Author
National Food Reporter

Ann Hui is the national food reporter at The Globe and Mail. Previously, she worked as a national reporter and homepage editor for theglobeandmail.com and an online editor in News. More

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