Some of the most famous disappearances in recent history concerns those of Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus, all of which were kidnapped between 2002 and 2004, only to be found in 2013, when it seemed that all hope had been lost.
This case serves as a reminder that as long as no physical body is found, that there is always the chance – however slim it may be – that a missing person will show up.
Throughout the various disappearances profiled on this site, many cases appear to have gone cold, with seemingly no chance of finding the truth. But this case proves that anything can happen.
The three girls were kidnapped between 2002 and 2004 in Cleveland, Ohio, by a man named Ariel Castro, who lived in Cleveland at the time, having been born in Puerto Rico.
Castro had a criminal record, including a domestic violence charge, after he frequently attacked his girlfriend Grimilda Figueroa in the 1990s.
Castro beat Figueroa so severely, that on one occasion Figueroa had a blood clot on the brain, causing a tumor, which would eventually lead to her death in 2012.
Somehow, Castro avoided prison time for this, but Figueroa was at least able to move out in 1996, and had custody of her children.
In the following years, Figueroa claimed that Castro often abducted their children, and attempted to take out a restraining order against Castro.
Between 2002 and 2004, Castro kidnapped three girls. All three were offered lifts by Castro, purportedly for a journey home. In actuality, Castro took them to his house, before taking them to the basement of the house he lived in alone.
All three girls would then spend between nine and eleven years in the house, without ever seeing the light of day.
The three victims
The three girls all came from the Cleveland area. Despite efforts being made to find the girls, efforts remained fruitless for many years.
In 2002, Castro kidnapped Michelle Knight, who was 21 at the time. She had been due to appear in court the day after her disappearance for a child custody case. She failed to show up, having been last seen at a cousin’s house.
Castro struck again in 2003, as he took Amanda Berry, who was just 16 at the time. Berry was last heard from on the evening of her disappearance, having called her sister to tell her she was getting a lift back to her home from her job at a Burger King joint.
Berry was taken on the eve of her 17th birthday. Within a week of her vanishing, Castro called Berry’s mother, proclaiming that he had Amanda, and that she would be coming home soon – though she did not return.
Then in 2004, Gina DeJesus, who was 14 at the time, was kidnapped by Castro as she walked home from school.
DeJesus was classmates with one of Castro’s estranged daughters, which unfortunately led to DeJesus trusting Castro, who said that he would take her home, only to lead her to captivity.
Events in the basement
Over what would have been a hellish decade, the three girls were kept captive by Castro, where all manner of horrors took place.
The Police were unable to get any leads on the disappearances of the girls, and as they happened over a three year period, they didn’t appear to be linked.
The girls went days without food, were sexually assaulted regularly, physically abused and being chained to walls. As well as physical abuse, the girls were also subjected to psychological and verbal abuse.
Berry gave birth to a child while in captivity, in 2006, with Castro fathering the child. The birth took place in a small inflatable pool; it was somewhat of a miracle that the child survived.
Unlike any of the others, Berry’s child was sometimes taken outside. This didn’t arouse any suspicion however, with Castro merely passing the baby off as his granddaughter.
Meanwhile, Knight later stated that she had been impregnated by Castro on at least five occasions, but lost the child following forceful beatings, resulting in a miscarriage.
DeJesus was also sexually assaulted, but denied that she was ever pregnant while in captivity. She did attest to the extreme violence experienced however.
The basement was locked off from the rest of the house, which made it impossible to escape. Attempted escapes led to heavy punishment. There were several doors – some fortified – separating the victims from outside.
Finally, the three girls were able to escape on May 6th 2013. Castro left the house during the day, and forgot to lock a door that led to the front door – which was bolted shut.
Amanda Berry led the escape with her 6-year old daughter. Having gone to the front door, there was difficulty as not only was it bolted shut, it was a storm door, designed to keep out force and harsh weather. But the design allowed Berry to see outside through it.
Berry screamed, which led to neighbour Angel Cordero to investigate. However, Cordero spoke very little English, and, under the presumption that it was a domestic dispute, played a marginal role in what happened next.
Instead, it was another neighbour, named Charles Ramsey, that led the charge. Ramsey spoke to a reporter in the aftermath, stating that he was eating a McDonalds, before hearing screaming. He saw Berry trying desperately to get out.
Charles opened the porch door, but at first was unable to open the storm door. The door was eventually breached, with the bottom being breached. Berry and her daughter crawled out, and the Police were alerted.
The Police soon arrived, and Berry told them that two other girls were also being held captive. To the astonishment of all, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus emerged from the house, with all four immediately taken to hospital.
Castro was quickly arrested, and was charged with a litany of crimes, including forced captivity, kidnapping, rape, attempted murder and assault.
Within a month, Castro faced an indictment consisting of 329 counts. By June 2007, Castro faced 977 counts. While pleading guilty to some counts, Castro denied others.
A plea bargain being accepted led to Castro avoiding the death penalty. Castro was sentenced to consecutive life terms in prison, plus 1,000 years without ever being eligible for parole.
Berry, her child and DeJesus were discharged from hospital the following day, with Melissa Knight joining them four days later.
The trio released a video thanking the wider public for the support that they had received, though they requested privacy.
In the following years, the three have occasionally engaged in interviews, though have largely attempted to fly under the radar.
The families of the victims were delighted to see the return of their family member. Tragically, Amanda Berry’s mother – Louwana Miller – passed away in 2006, seven years before Amanda’s rescue.
The local community, as with so many disappearances, reacted in shock. Neighbour Charles Ramsey stated that they did not suspect Castro at all – saying that he saw Castro “every day”. He went on to say that they barbecued together, ate ribs, and even listened to salsa music together, all with no indication of what was going on behind closed doors.
Castro was found dead just one month into his sentence in September 2013, having hanged himself. Castro’s house was demolished following the case.
The Importance of this Case
As mentioned earlier, this is an incredibly important case for when it comes to disappearances. For all intents and purposes, it looked as if all three girls had died.
Each family went through a horrific grieving process, and some tragically went to the grave without knowing the truth. But ultimately, the girls were rescued.
Therefore, throughout any investigation of a disappearance, regardless of the amount of time between a person vanishing and the present day, there is always hope.
This case is the only disappearance listed on this website where the case was solved with a positive outcome.
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight would have struggled immensely in their years of captivity, and the outside world appeared resigned to never seeing them again.
But, as could happen with any disappearance, the truth eventually came out, and resulted in a safe return to normal life for the victims. Hopefully, other cases will follow this lead.