What will become of Ariel Castro’s house of horrors?
For now, the Cleveland home where the 52-year-old former schoolbus driver allegedly held Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight hostage for a decade, beating them and raping them until they were freed last week, is still considered an active crime scene. The windows and doors have been boarded up (by the same construction crew that shuttered the home of serial killer Anthony Sowell in 2009), and a 10-foot-high chain-link fence has been erected around the dilapidated two-story, four-bedroom home on Seymour Avenue.
But even as police continue their investigation, neighbors are anxious for the Castro home to be wiped off the map.
“As a representative of the county, it is my job to understand what the residents want—and this community wants it down,” says Cleveland city councilman Brian Cummins. Of course, he notes, nothing will happen until the criminal case is resolved. “We can’t take it down until it’s cleared for evidentiary purposes.” He says he would also like to get input from the survivors. “I don’t want to make a decision without them,” he says. “Right now we are in total mode to serve their needs.”
Still, there are immediate concerns. Cummins has already heard of at least three threats of arson directed at the property. “It started on the second day” Cummins says, meaning the day after Castro’s alleged crimes were discovered last Monday. “Hopefully, they are just peeved.”
Police, however, are keeping tabs on the property with around-the-clock surveillance.
Some neighbors are, too. Elsie Cintron, who lives three doors down, says she and her sons plan on keeping an eye out to ensure the house doesn’t get torched. She wants to see it gone just like everyone else, but she doesn’t want vigilante justice. Plus, she worries that if someone sets the place on fire, the blaze could take out other homes on the block—including that of neighborhood hero Charles Ramsey. “People are talking out of anger because it was under our eyes and no one knew anything,” Cintron says of the threats.
Emotions were running similarly high in 2009, when the remains of 11 women were found in the home of Sowell, who lived in the city’s Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. But no one went through with the arson threats that were bandied about back then, says Cummins. The house was eventually demolished in 2011, five months after Sowell was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The bill for the demolition was sent to the Sowell family or whomever was listed as the property owner.
In Castro’s case, Cummins says, it is unlikely he will get a demolition bill. “I can’t imagine he has much assets right now. The city will surely have to pay for the demolition.”
Castro bought the house on Seymour Avenue for $12,000 on April 29, 1992, and it is currently valued at $36,100. Castro owed $2,501.01 in back taxes and last paid real-estate taxes in 2010. The house fell into tax delinquency that same year and was flagged for foreclosure this May.
Cummins adds that he has spread the word to the community that burning down the house out of anger is not an option. “We have enough reach out there to make sure people are vigilant,” he says. “If you have a friend out there, pull him in.”
The anger is palpable, though. “There are too many painful memories,” says 22-year-old Latasha Ball, who lives a few blocks away. “Those girls went through too much suffering,” added 27-year-old Arleigh Presser.
Cintron, who says she only met Castro once, says she thinks he ultimately got caught because of his own doing. She believes that when he got fired from his job with the school district in November, it disrupted his whole routine, and that eventually gave Berry the opportunity to escape out the front door. “If you don’t follow a routine, it can mess you up, and because of it that girl got the upper hand to get out of there,” Cintron says.
Over the years, Cintron says, she noticed a little girl peering out of Castro’s attic window. But “she looked kind of happy,” she says. “She didn’t look like she was trying to get help.” Cintron says she asked her sons about the little girl and they said Castro told them she was his girlfriend’s granddaughter.
Even Castro’s own uncle, Julio Castro, who owns a grocery store down the street, thinks the house should be torn down. He believes it won’t be, for now, because police are still looking for more victims. “Remember there is one girl missing so they won’t want to touch the area,” says Julio, referring to Amanda Summers, who disappeared from the same neighborhood in 2007. “They’re digging in the backyard and looking through the abandoned properties,” he speculates. (Police have said they have no evidence that ties Castro to Summers’s disappearance.)
“Those girls are very fortunate he didn’t kill them,” adds Julio. “If you ask me, if something crossed him, he would have done it.”
When police searched Castro’s home, they reportedly found a 2004 suicide note in which he confessed his crimes, yet blamed the victims for being kidnapped. Upon his eventual death, Castro also wrote that all of his money should be distributed to his victims. But according to Julio, he doesn’t think his nephew would have gone alone to the next world.
“If I am a psychopath and am going to die, I will take them with me,” he says. “It’s like a continuation: Connecticut, Boston, and Cleveland,” he adds, referring to the elementary-school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in December and last month’s bombings at the Boston Marathon.
There are other ideas kicking around about what could happen to the home on Seymour Avenue.
Carla Smith, who started a petition to have Michelle Knight reunited with her son whom she lost custody of before she was kidnapped, says she would like to see a memorial erected at the site. “Probably a plaque saying ‘Hope for the three girls,’ because all they had was hope and prayer.
Cintron agrees. “I think they should put a memorial there,” she says. “Those girls came out alive.”
Besides, Cintron says, no one will ever want to live there again, even if the land is redeveloped. “No one will want to live there,” she says. “The developer would have wasted his money on nothing. They would have to wait at least a decade.”
“I don’t think any store would work either,” she says. “The only thing that would make it there is a Halloween store. That would make it there. That person would be a millionaire.”