How Ariel Castro Remained at Liberty in Cleveland All These Years

The domestic-violence and abduction allegations didn’t stop him. Nor did telling a kid on the bus he drove, ‘Lay down, bitch.’ Michael Daly on how Cleveland proved the perfect home for the alleged kidnapper.

05.09.13 8:45 AM ET

Cleveland seems to be a great city to be a monster.

Ariel Castro remained at liberty there for year after year, even though three kidnapped women were imprisoned in his house and his ex-wife had told the domestic-violence court that he had brutalized and terrorized her and their children.

Police in protective suits investigate houses down the street from the house where three women were held captive for close to a decade May 8, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Matt Sullivan/Getty

Police in protective suits on May 8 investigate homes down the street from the house where three women were held captive for close to a decade in Cleveland.

Deputies were dispatched to serve Castro notice of a hearing on the ex-wife’s petition, and they first went to the Cleveland schoolbus depot on Ridge Road. They were told he no longer worked out of that location, having been suspended and then transferred the year before, after an incident that began when he failed to drop off a grammar-school special-education student.

Castro is said to have told the student, “Lay down, bitch,” and left the youngster on the bus while he grabbed a bite at a Wendy’s. Castro had then driven around for a time before finally delivering the child. That would certainly seem to have constituted endangering the welfare of a child, but the police who went to Castro’s house to interview him decided there was no criminal intent and let the matter drop.

The Castro house was visited on three occasions by the deputies seeking to serve the hearing notice. Castro did not answer the door, perhaps because by that time three women were imprisoned there. Or he may have already been in court on another matter, as the witness in a sex-abuse and kidnapping case against his ex-wife’s husband, Fernando Colon.

That’s right, even as three three missing women were being held in Castro’s house and his ex-wife was accusing him of beating her, he was on the stand in a case where Colon was accused of detaining and molesting two of Castro’s three daughters.

Investigators had first taken an interest in the Castro family when they learned that one of the daughters, Arlene, was the last person to see Gina DeJesus before she vanished in 2004. Arlene was said to be Gina’s best friend. The two had spoken of Arlene going to Gina’s house after school.

“She gave me 50 cents to call my mom and so my mom said no, that I can’t go over to her house,” Arlene would tell the TV show America’s Most Wanted on the first anniversary of her friend’s disappearance. “So I told her I couldn’t and she said, ‘Well, OK, I’ll talk to you later,’ and she just walked.”

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Arlene said that after giving her the 50 cents, Gina no longer had enough money to take the bus and had set off for home on foot. A police dog would later track Gina’s scent halfway up the block before there suddenly was no trace of her.

Investigators interviewed Arlene, who was living with her mom. The investigators began to take an interest in her stepfather, Colon, after there were suggestions that he may have been molesting two of the Castro daughters. Colon would later insist that Ariel Castro was behind the allegations.

Colon reportedly agreed to take a polygraph test, which is said to have indicated that he had no involvement in Gina’s disappearance. The sex-abuse allegations remained, and court records show that Colon was indicted on November 1, 2004. He subsequently went to trial on August 30, 2005, a day after his wife filed the domestic-abuse allegations against Castro.

Those who testified in Colon’s defense included his wife, Castro’s ex, Figueroa. Colon was convicted on September 6, 2005. He would continue to insist that he had been set up by Castro. He could not be reached for comment.

Exactly a week after Colon’s conviction, Castro contacted the domestic-violence court to acknowledge notice of the hearing. But after all that, the hearing was canceled, apparently because Figueroa’s lawyer, Robert Fererri, failed to show. The lawyer was apparently the same Fererri who had been suspended twice while a judge and would subsequently resign from the practice of law following questions about a case in which he represented two defendants with conflicting interests. He did not return repeated calls for comment.

By then, the investigators seem to have nixed Colon as a suspect in the disappearance. Had they taken a look at Castro—as they should have if they had investigated everybody with a possible connection to the missing Gina—they would have seen Figueroa’s allegation in the court papers that he frequently abducted his daughters.

It would not take much imagination to consider the possibility that Castro might have been waiting outside the school to abduct Arlene and then decided to kidnap Gina instead. Castro always had to return his daughters to their mother. But Gina he could keep, along with the other two captives who might have served as an available rush of power to offset no longer being able to control his ex-wife.

Castro was never interviewed and he was able just to continue on, allegedly growing only more monstrous. He is said to have impregnated one of his hostages five times, forcing at least one of four ensuing miscarriages.

Around 2007, one pregnancy went to term, and Castro allegedly ordered another hostage to deliver the baby in an inflatable plastic swimming pool, threatening her with death if the child died. The hostage turned midwife is said by police to have breathed air into the infant to get the babe breathing, perhaps saving both of their lives. The child survived to become a fourth kidnap victim.

By some reports that police officially neither deny nor confirm, investigators found a draft of an apparent suicide note in Castro’s house in which he complained of an unhappy childhood and blamed the captives for his troubles.

Yet, to many who encountered him outside his dungeon, he seemed generally cheery. He certainly seemed chipper enough on his Facebook page when he talked about the joys of listening to a cardinal herald the approach of spring or rhapsodized, “miracles really do happen. God is good :)”

Maybe the miracle was that he was able to keep it up for so long without being caught.

Were it not for Amanda Berry’s courage when she finally saw an opportunity to escape with the child and for Charles Ramsey’s courage in coming to their aid, Cleveland might have kept on being a good town to be a monster.

In fairness, Cleveland also seems a good city to be a striver, as others of the Castro family proved after becoming one of the first Hispanic families to settle there, coming from the town of Yauco in Puerto Rico after World War II. Ariel’s father, Nona Castro, opened a used-car lot. One of Ariel’s uncles, Julio “Cedi” Castro, opened the Caribe Grocery and became a prominent figure in the community. He was honored in 1996 as one of the top 12 Hispanics in Ohio.

Among the other highly regarded members of the Hispanic community in Cleveland is Victor Perez, the city’s chief prosecutor. Perez stood as both a proud citizen of Cleveland and an equally proud native of Puerto Rico as he announced the charges against Castro on Wednesday.

The word from the jail is that Castro is beginning to learn that a monster also can find Cleveland to be a very bad place indeed once he is found out.