One neighbor says a naked woman was seen crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard of the house a few years ago. Another heard pounding on the home’s doors and noticed plastic bags over the windows.
Both times, police showed up but didn’t go inside, neighbors say. Police also went to the house in 2004, but no one answered the door.
Now, after three women who vanished a decade ago were found captive Monday at the run-down house, Cleveland police are facing questions for the second time in four years about their handling of missing-person cases and are conducting an internal review to see if they overlooked anything.
City Safety Director Martin Flask said Tuesday that investigators had no record of anyone calling about criminal activity at the house but were still checking police, fire and emergency databases.
The three women were rescued after one of them kicked out the bottom portion of a locked screen door and used a neighbor’s telephone to call 911.
“Help me. I’m Amanda Berry,” she breathlessly told a dispatcher in a call that exhilarated and astonished much of the city. “I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.”
Berry, 27, Michelle Knight, 32, and Gina DeJesus, about 23, had apparently been held captive in the house since their teens or early 20s, police Chief Michael McGrath said.
Three brothers, age 50 to 54, were arrested. One of them, former school bus driver Ariel Castro, owned the home, situated in a poor neighborhood just south of downtown. No charges were filed.
A relative of the three brothers said their family was “totally shocked” after hearing about the missing women being found at the home.
Juan Alicea said the arrests of his wife’s brothers had left relatives “as blindsided as anyone else” in their community. A 6-year-old girl believed to be Berry’s daughter also was found in the home, police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba said. He would not say who the father was.
The women were reported by police to be in good health and were reunited with family members but remained in seclusion.
Police would not say how the women were taken captive or how they were hidden in the area where they had vanished. Investigators also would not say whether they were kept in restraints inside the house or sexually assaulted.
Castro, 52, was known in the mainly Puerto Rican neighborhood. He played bass guitar in salsa and merengue bands.
Tito DeJesus, an uncle of Gina DeJesus, played in bands with Castro. He recalled visiting Castro’s house but didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.
Also arrested were Castro’s brothers Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50.
Ariel Castro’s son, Anthony Castro, said in an interview with London’s Daily Mail newspaper that he now speaks with his father just a few times a year and seldom visited his house. He said on his last visit, two weeks ago, his father wouldn’t let him inside.
“The house was always locked,” he said. “There were places we could never go. There were locks on the basement. Locks on the attic. Locks on the garage.”