On Wednesday, August 7th, spectators watched as an excavator tore down the house owned by Ariel Castro, the Cleveland, Ohio man who held three women captive in his boarded up basement for a decade. He abducted them when they were 21, 16 and 14.
In his basement he confined, abused and raped them, fathering a child with one of them, a six year old girl who was also rescued when one of the three women was finally able to escape. In 2008, the home belonging to Dr. William Petit in the upscale suburban neighborhood of Cheshire, Connecticut, was also torn down. A year earlier, two men, during a seven hour home invasion robbery, beat Dr. Petit senseless with a bat, tied him up in the basement, and then raped his two daughters and wife before setting fire to the home, one of the daughters tied helplessly to her bed as the flames spread, while Petit managed to crawl out of the basement.
A home is just concrete, wood and glass – a mute container. We all know, or most of us suspect, that there are no such things as haunted houses. But that’s our rational side. Our irrational, intuitive, emotional side – in a lighter vein – leads to things like me and my 13 year old son Gabriel leaving the theater after getting about halfway through “The Conjuring.” We were the third people to do so. Gabriel slept in the living room on a futon with the lights on for a week.
I did the same when I saw “Jaws” as a child.
Concrete, wood and glass may be mute, but our memories and our collective sense of horror and guilt, and our desire to erase the unspeakable, even to attempt to transform it, is anything but. As he watched the Castro house being leveled, Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins said, “It’s haunted them, I think, in the sense of how could they not have known.”
For ten years, neighbors lived next to this house of horrors, and suspected nothing, or, if they did, chose not to act on their suspicions. Another observer, Michelle Knight, said,“Dear Lord, give the missing people strength and power to know they are loved.”
Michelle Knight was one of the women imprisoned by Castro. “We hear their cry. They are never forgotten in my heart. They are caterpillars, waiting to turn into a butterfly. They are never forgotten, they are loved.” Generous, open hearted sentiments from a woman subjected to a decade long waking nightmare.
Rich Comp, who used to live two doors from the Castro house, simply said, “I feel sorry for the girls. They should tear it down.” And Castro? Prosecutors say he cried when he signed over the house deed as part of the plea bargain that spared him the death penalty. He mentioned his “many happy memories” in the home where he nearly ruined the lives of four innocents. I’m a Virgo. I’m a pretty rational guy. But there’s no amount of paint and remodeling that could exorcise the ghosts from the Castro and Petit houses. Tear those nightmares down. The Petit lot has been turned into a memorial to the four victims – the three who died, and the one who must every day bear the pain of their deaths.