The Lost Girls
By John Glatt
St. Martin’s Press
336 pp, $26.99
By Lee Coppola
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“The Lost Girls” details the horrendous 10 years plus that three girls spent as prisoners in the Cleveland house of a sexual psychopath. It’s a gripping, horrendous tale of mistreatment, sexual abuse and psychological torture at the hands of a vile creature who drove a school bus for a living, entertained with a salsa band on weekends and gave no hint to the outside world of the horrors that went on inside the walls of his boarded-up house.
It’s a terrifying and sad story with a happy ending, but saddest, if that’s possible, for the first girl abducted, Michelle Knight. The other who were reported missing and were the objects of extensive searches, vigils and vast media coverage. But nobody was looking for Michelle, and when the three finally escaped, no one was there to embrace her.
Michelle was treated the harshest, beaten and raped at will and then pummeled and starved by her captor to end the five pregnancies he initiated. The other two, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, also were his sex slaves. He called Amanda his “wife” and fathered a child by her.
The three were freed in 2013 when Amanda managed to attract a neighbor who helped her bash an opening in a barricaded door so she and her six-year-old daughter could crawl to safety. The other two, afraid their absent captor was trying to trick them, hid when police entered the house.
The torment they endured almost defies belief. They were chained, kept in the dark for most of their days, fed sparsely, slept on mattresses infested with bugs and toileted in a plastic bowl that was seldom emptied or cleaned.
Their sole connection to the outside world was a small television on which they watched the coverage of the many vigils, marches and demonstrations conducted on their behalf. Except for Michelle.
Their captor, Ariel Castro, served them cake every year on the anniversary of each of their abductions to feed his warped idea they were a “family.” The baby girl he sired was born in the basement in a plastic swimming pool. Michelle delivered her, but when at first she didn’t breathe, Castro threatened to kill Michelle if the baby died.
His captives only saw daylight when he occasionally led them, leashed like animals and disguised in wigs, into the backyard. Worried they might be seen by neighbors, Castro erected a fence to shield the yard.
Besides the physical restraints, he employed other methods to control his prisoners. When with them, he always carried a gun, and he raped and beat them in front of each other to further keep them in fear. Experts who analyzed his crimes later theorized he created a sort of Stockholm Syndrome in the girls by making them depend on him for their existence.
Glatt, a veteran investigative reporter and the author of more than 20 books, pieced together the horror the girls endured without talking to any of them. Their words come from interviews given to television and newspapers and from books written by and about them. But he gleans much from police reports, court documents and interviews with neighbors and family members of both the girls and their captor to provide readers with a chronological examination of what went on inside and outside the house.
He paints two portraits of Castro – the bass-guitar player, school-bus driver the outside world saw and the fiend those who lived with him knew. Ironically, a woman he planned to marry and fellow band members often spent time in his house without knowing others were held captive upstairs. That’s because Castro never allowed visitors to venture to the second floor and attic and always had the volume on the radio turned high to override any sounds from elsewhere in the house.
One captive who did see the outside world was the daughter born to an imprisoned mother. Castro took her often to a nearby park to play with other children, telling anyone who questioned him the little girl was the daughter of a girlfriend. She knew him as “daddy,” and when she and her mother were rescued she tried to run back to the house while calling for him.
“As crazy as it may sound,” Castro said at his sentencing, “ my daughter made every day for me. She never saw any thing that was going on in the house . . . because that’s how I try and raise her in those six years, so she won’t be traumatized.”
In his sick mind, he rationalized what he did by claiming he provided for his family, as if keeping them in bone-chilling cold in the winter and sweltering heat in the summer was providing. As if stuffing their mouths with filthy socks, then sealing with duct tape to keep them quiet was providing for them. As if forcing them to wear motorcycle helmets while chained to beds or a basement pole was providing for them.
After his arrest and exhaustive interviews with police, he was given a chance to include an apology in the statement admitting his wrongdoing. He chose not to. Castro was sentenced to life in prison without parole, but served less than a year. He hung himself in his cell with a bed sheet.
But it was left to Michelle McKnight to put a nail in his coffin at his sentencing. She who had been mistreated the most, she who had no one looking for her, she who was the only one of three to face Castro at sentencing.
“Ariel Castro,” she said as she stared at him. “From this moment on, I will not let you define me or affect who I am. I will live on. I spent eleven years in hell and now your hell is just beginning. I will overcome all this that has happened, but you will face hell for eternity.”
Gene Warner is a News staff reporter.