Harrop: Three girls lost in Cleveland

Published: Monday, May 13, 2013 5:30 a.m.CDT

The story of three girls grabbed from the streets of Cleveland and caged in their neighborhood for some 10 years demands scrutiny beyond expressions of shock.

We can’t let this gruesome tale of Ariel Castro allegedly imprisoning, impregnating and tormenting young women simply pass into the annals of true crime – not just yet.

But how are we to process it? The man was clearly a sicko, but what kind of sicko was he?

In this story of threes, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson publicly asked three questions: “Why they were taken, how they were taken and how they remained undetected in the city of Cleveland for this period of time?”

All good questions, especially the last one. Castro kept his prisoners in a boarded-up, foreclosed-upon cottage in a packed neighborhood. It was no isolated farm, far from neighbors’ eyes or the girls’ screams.

We recall the recent house-to-house search in Watertown, Mass., as police tried to nab one of the accused Boston Marathon bombers. Had that been tried in this Cleveland neighborhood, chances are decent the captives at the decrepit house on Seymour Avenue would have been found.

It may have never occurred to authorities to do that. And frankly, such a concentrated effort wouldn’t have been tried in Boston, had the community not been so focused on an act of terrorism.

Two of the victims apparently led normal lives. Amanda Berry disappeared at age 17 after working a shift at a Burger King. During her ordeal, she apparently gave birth to a daughter, also found in the house. Gina DeJesus, 14, vanished as she walked home from middle school. Only Michelle Knight, then 20 and now 32, had serious troubles.

Castro seems to fit the profile of a “collector” and abuser of women. Of course, he’s not the first.

There was convicted sex offender Phillip Garrido, who, with his wife’s help, grabbed 11-year-old Jaycee Dugard as she headed home from her school bus stop in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. In the astounding 18 years of her confinement, Dugard bore two children.

There was Brian David Mitchell, a certified psychotic and alleged pedophile who pulled Elizabeth Smart from her bedroom in Salt Lake City and worked her over for nine months.

Forensic psychologist Kris Mohandie, an expert in such cases, talks of the men’s “long-standing fantasies of capturing, abusing and dominating women.” He told reporters, “Total control over another human being is what stimulates them.”

Chains and ropes were found in the Cleveland house. And the women may have had as many as five pregnancies.

Castro was a school bus driver who lost his job for “lack of judgment,” but not for anything pointing to psychosis. Like the Boston Marathon suspects, he apparently played a game with the outside world, seeming normal, taunting the public. He attended a fundraiser held for one of his victims, handing out flyers containing her photo.

The three women from Cleveland, now in their 20s and 30s, have a lot of anguish to work through. For the time being, they are thrust into the happy world of welcome-home balloons and joyous family reunions. It was their good fortune, if such a term may be used, to have not been killed, as so often happens in such disappearances.

Castro will presumably have the rest of his life behind bars to contemplate his sickness, if he is capable of complicated thought. His abduction of the three girls is an unusual story, but, sadly, it’s not unique.

• Froma Harrop is a member of the Providence Journal editorial board.

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