Neighbors, Court Records Lend Clues To Castro Brothers

May 8, 2013

The block where authorities say three young women who vanished a decade ago were held captive by a man and his two brothers has many faces.

On one end, magnificent stained-glass windows rise two stories up a handsome brick church. At the other, truck bays open into a bleak warehouse. In between are about 20 houses, some tidy, some with boards or broken glass instead of windows.  In the middle of the Seymour Avenue block stands the home where the women were found, and nearby residents remain in disbelief.  Ida Lieszkovszky reports.

Ariel Castro’s house is cordoned off by police barriers. A helicopter hovers overhead while reporters and curious passersby gawk at the small white house with an American flag waiving in the front, trying to imagine what it could have been like for three women to spend a decade in there – locked up. Two of them were just teenagers when they disappeared.

For Ariel Castro’s neighbors it’s hard to get a grasp on what has happened.

“Great gut. Nice guy. Perfect gentlemen. The mask he had on was amazing.”

Juan Perez has lived two doors down from Ariel Castro for 22 years.

“Parents trusted him enough to let me play with his kids. Real cool guy, Helped me with a flat tire. He was just a really nice guy. And I thought the house was vacant.”

Several people thought that. The windows of his house were covered with plastic sheets.

For a long time, Ariel worked as a bus driver for Cleveland schools, but he was fired a few years ago.  Once he left a child on a bus while he took a lunch break.

Back in the 1990’s he was charged in a domestic dispute case with beating Grimilda Figueroa, the mother of his children. His son, Anthony, has told reporters that Ariel would sometimes beat him too.

Ariel’s Facebook page shows a love of guitars and family. Occasionally he’d play with a local band. But mostly, neighbors say, he kept to himself.

A couple streets over on Kinkel Avenue is the second brother, Onil Castro’s home. Neighbors say they never had a problem with the man living in the small peach colored house. 

“Real nice guy, would give you the shirt off his back. Drank every day.”

This neighbor who asked that we not use her name lives a few doors down, you can see into Onil’s backyard from her own. She says Onil and his brothers always seemed nice. 

“They would sit there and say ‘hey if you need help just come knock on my door. If you need your gutters cleaned out I’ve got the ladder.’ Sober or drunk they were nice as hell. It’s just weird.”

Onil had minor run-ins with the law. According to public records, he was found guilty of drug abuse and disorderly conduct and intoxication in 1999 and in 2001 he was charged with possessing fireworks.

A similar story can be heard not too far away on Hyde Avenue, where the third brother – Pedro – lived with his mother Lillian Rodriguez.

Alisa Laboy, Pedro’s neighbor says he didn’t work, and he too often appeared to be drunk – and got cited for it.

“Most of the time he was like sitting on the porch or he was walking to the corner store he’d pass by and say hello or something like that.”

Laboy remembers talking to Pedro about the missing girls last year, when police got a tip that one of them is buried nearby and started digging only to come up empty handed.

“I remember me and my husband talking to Pedro about that and he said ‘oh she’s not even in there, that’s probably messing with people’s minds.’ And he kept walking to the store.”

Laboy and her sister-in-law used to pick peaches in his back yard, and say his mother was quiet, and kind.

Back on Seymore, Ariel’s street where the women were held, neighbors are second-guessing themselves.

Here’s Juan Perez again.

“The thing is I’m excited that they found the girls alive but I can’t really be happy because I’m so ticked off at myself and everybody else that we could have saved these ladies sooner.”

But for the most part, neighbors are just amazed at the apparent horror, and the miracle in Cleveland. 

For Ohio Public Radio, I’m Ida Lieszkovszky.