Of Cleveland’s three Castro brothers, it was the middle one, Ariel, 52, who seemed to have his life in order.
Neighbors describe the other siblings—Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50—as kind and polite but nearly always drunk. No one could remember how they earned a living. Ariel, on the other hand, who was charged Wednesday with the rape and kidnapping of three women he allegedly held hostage in his home for nearly a decade, worked a day job for 20 years as a schoolbus driver until he was fired in November. While his brothers got around town on bicycles, Ariel owned a motorcycle and cars, including a Jeep Cherokee and a red Toyota pickup. He had at one time filled in on bass in a local band, Grupo Fuego. He didn’t drink nearly as prolifically as his two siblings did.
He had girlfriends, and as far as others knew, took care of a beautiful little girl named Jocelyn. Later, of course, it would be found that the girl was birthed in captivity by Amanda Berry, one of the three women Castro is accused of kidnapping.
“He brought her over to see his mother and to play,” says Dolores Essenburg, who owns a home on Kinkel Street, where Pedro and Onil lived with their mother, Lillian Rodriguez, for years. “I saw her a number of times over there, and she was beautiful.”
No one ever saw Onil and Pedro with female companions, though several people believed that Onil was married at one time. A search of marriage records in Cuyahoga County did not support the claim.
Instead, it was Rodriguez, friends and neighbors say, who held the most sway in the family. A Jehovah’s Witness, she was widowed by her husband, Nona Castro, in 2004. She owns the house on Kinkel as well as another property a few blocks away. On Kinkel Street, Rodriguez and her two most wayward sons were sometimes joined by the two sons of Onil, although neighbors are unclear as to exactly who lived in the three-bedroom house and when.
Before news broke of Ariel Castro’s alleged crimes, the Castro family was seen as flawed but harmless. “They were always drinking,” said Essenburg of Pedro and Onil. “Anything. Liquor, beer. They drank a lot.” But, she recalled, “they are polite beyond belief. They would help anyone. They are always around and willing to work.”
Added Samira Abdul Karim, who said she has been friends with Lillian for 30 years: “Even if they are drunk all the time, they’re nice. They would come to my house and sit outside with me and talk, and even when they were drunk, they had a sense of humor. They laughed all the time.”
Clean was key to the Castros, she said. The inside of the house on Kinkel was always immaculate, with everything in place, even after Lillian moved to her new house on nearby Hyde Avenue. The outside is just as kept, even now. Several lounge chairs, a couple of birdfeeders, paver bricks, and a beige metal shed stand in the spacious backyard under a spreading maple tree. A shrubbery-shrouded Cyclone fence rings the property.
Onil kept the place up. But it’s still unclear how the two brothers made a living. Abdul Karim said that just last week Pedro came by her home looking for work he could do that would earn him a quick $20. “He wanted to clean my yard,” she said.
City records show Pedro has had 10 cases filed against him since 1994. Onil has had four. None were felonies.
Early Wednesday, as word began to spread that Pedro and Onil would be released from police custody, the mood outside the Kinkel Street home began to shift. Around 10:30 a.m., a patrol officer said threats had been made against the family. “We want to make sure these guys are safe when they do get let go,” he said.
Shortly after that, a white Chevy Blazer pulled in the back gate of the property on Kinkel and pulled and locked the gate shut. Two men got out and one looked at a lone local television reporter standing in an alley adjacent to the property.
“You’ll look like fools later today,” he screamed at the reporter, but never said why.
The angry young man then sicced a small brown mongrel dog on another television reporter from New York who had inadvertently wandered onto the Kinkel property. He then threatened a neighbor for “starting this whole thing and getting all these reporters around here.”
The evening before, the shed at the back of the home had been burgled, likely by thieves who were aware that Onil was in jail. Another man walked by and pointed to the house, asserting to a reporter that “these guys are kidnappers.”
This is the tension the situation has created in these neighborhoods.
Four hours later, police charged Ariel Castro with kidnapping and rape in connection with the case, while Onil and Pedro were not charged. They would be held overnight on outstanding misdemeanor warrants—both for unrelated open-container cases—and will likely go free after those issues are resolved.
According to a Los Angeles Times report, Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba described Ariel Castro as “the big bully ... This guy, he ran the show ... He acted alone. These guys [the brothers] didn’t have anything to do with it. We had enough probable cause to bring them into custody. We found no facts to link them to the crime.
“There is nothing that leads us to believe they were involved or they had any knowledge of this, and that comes from statements of our victims, and their statements and their brother’s [Ariel’s] statements. Ariel kept everybody at a distance.”
Now, it seems, the alleged kidnapper’s family may need to keep themselves at a distance from their own neighbors.