CLEVELAND » The man accused of holding three women captive for a decade in his home terrorized the mother of his children, frequently beating her, playing twisted psychological games and locking her indoors, her relatives say.
Several relatives of Grimilda Figueroa, who left Ariel Castro years ago and died last year after a long illness, painted a nightmarish portrait of life with Castro as authorities made public horrifying details of the abuse endured by the imprisoned women.
In interviews with The Associated Press on Thursday, the relatives described Castro as a "monster" who abused his wife and locked his family inside their own home. Their views were at odds with those of some of Castro’s family and a neighbor, who knew the former school bus driver only as a happy and respectful man.
Figueroa’s relatives said Castro savagely beat her, pushing her down a flight of stairs, breaking her nose and dislocating her shoulder, among other injuries. Her sister, Elida Caraballo, said Castro once shoved Figueroa into a cardboard box and closed the flaps over her head.
"He told her, ‘You stay there until I tell you to get out,’" said Caraballo, who cried as she recounted her sister’s torment. "That’s when I got scared and I ran downstairs to get my parents."
Castro, to frighten his wife, kept a mannequin wearing a dark wig propped up against a wall and sometimes drove around the neighborhood with it, relatives said.
"He threatened me lots of times with it," said Angel Caraballo, Castro’s nephew, who used to play with his cousins at the house where the kidnapped women were found. "He would say, ‘Act up again, you’ll be in that back room with the mannequin.’"
One day, Figueroa was returning home with her arms full of groceries when Castro jumped into the doorway with the mannequin, frightening her so badly that she fell backward and smashed her head on the pavement, Elida Caraballo said.
Prosecutors said Thursday they may seek the death penalty against Castro as a police report alleged that he impregnated one of his captives at least five times and made her miscarry by starving her and punching her in the stomach.
The police report that also said another one of the women, Amanda Berry, was forced to give birth in a plastic kiddie pool.
Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty said his office will decide whether to bring aggravated murder charges punishable by death in connection with the pregnancies that were terminated by force. McGinty said Castro will be charged for every act of sexual violence, assault and other crimes committed against the women, suggesting the counts could number in the hundreds, if not thousands.
Castro, 52, is being held on $8 million bail under a suicide watch in jail, where he is charged with rape and kidnapping.
"Capital punishment must be reserved for those crimes that are truly the worst examples of human conduct," McGinty said. "The reality is we still have brutal criminals in our midst who have no respect for the rule of law or human life."
Tests on a sample of Castro’s DNA confirmed that he is the father of Berry’s 6-year-old daughter, who was rescued from his house, authorities said today. Officials also were entering the DNA profile into a national database to see if it links him to other crimes.
The three women said Castro chained them up in the basement but eventually let them live on the home’s second floor. Each woman told a similar story about being abducted after accepting a ride from him.
Berry, now 27, told officers that she was forced to give birth in a plastic pool in the house so it would be easier to clean up. Berry said none of the women — or her daughter — went to a doctor during their captivity.
Michelle Knight, now 32, said her five pregnancies ended after Castro starved her for at least two weeks and "repeatedly punched her in the stomach until she miscarried." She also said Castro forced her to deliver Berry’s baby under threat of death if the baby died. When the newborn stopped breathing, Knight said, she revived her through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
The FBI has not recovered human remains in its search of the house, spokeswoman Vicki Anderson said today. Agents have removed more than 200 pieces of evidence, she added, declining to say what was found.
Berry and former captive Gina DeJesus, 22, went home with relatives Wednesday. Knight was released from a Cleveland hospital today.
A statement issued today by MetroHealth Medical Center on behalf of Knight said she was in good spirits and grateful for the Cleveland Courage Fund created to aid the victims. Knight also asked that her privacy be respected.
A missing-person report on Knight filed one day after she disappeared in 2002 said without elaboration that she had a mental condition and was often confused about her surroundings.
Knight was removed from a national missing persons database in 2003 after Cleveland police couldn’t locate anyone to confirm whether she was still missing, based on police policy in such cases, the department said today.
"Despite this, Cleveland police kept Michelle Knight’s missing person’s case open and checked on the case numerous times," the city said today. Police checked on the case as recently as November, the city said.
Some relatives of Castro have said they were shocked by the allegations against him. An uncle, Julio Castro, said it’s been difficult news to absorb.
"Of course we have taken it hard," he said. "We only knew one Ariel, my sweet nephew. He was a sweet, happy person, a musician. We didn’t have the slightest idea of the second person in him."
Juan Perez, who lives two doors down from Castro, said Castro was always happy and respectful. "He gained trust with the kids and with the parents. You can only do that if you’re nice," Perez said.