An imposing, 10-foot privacy fence has been erected to guard the home of Cleveland rape and kidnapping suspect Ariel Castro, with windows and doors boarded shut to keep people out of the place that police say was once meant only to keep people in.
Patrols cars were still parked across the entrances to the block Monday to keep away onlookers.
The rundown house has become a two-story piece of evidence in the abduction and imprisonment case of three women, but neighbors who remain shaken by the horrors alleged inside want it torn down and erased from the landscape of Seymour Avenue.
“The girls that was in that house, when they ride by there, if they ever ride by there again, they won’t have to see that, to remind them or maybe scare them,” said Johnny Wright, 54, who can see the back of the house from his front door. “What they went through, I don’t think any human being should ever have been through that.”
The house and what becomes of it will be a daily talking point for the Seymour community, as city officials deal with the irony of keeping the dreaded site of the women’s imprisonment safe while neighbors almost uniformly want it torn down.
The issue isn’t simple.
First and foremost, the house is evidence against Castro, who investigators say kept the women in chains in a basement before eventually allowing them to live under close control upstairs. The 6-year-old daughter of one victim, Amanda Berry, was also freed; DNA tests showed Castro was her father, a dark twist on years of captivity during which Castro is also alleged to have induced multiple miscarriages in one of the women by repeatedly punching her belly.
Workers over the weekend began boarding up windows and doors and erecting a metal fence around the house.
The plywood and fence have a two-fold purpose, Councilman Brian Cummins said: preserving the scene as evidence and protecting it from the threats already circulating on the streets to burn it down in a stroke of vigilante justice.
“The issue is how do we respect the wishes of the survivors in this case, and it’s too premature to know what their wishes would be,” said Cummins, whose ward encompasses the property and who is in close contact with police and city officials about the situation.
There’s precedent for tearing down scenes of terrible crimes.
In 2011, Cleveland tore down a house on the city’s east side where 11 women were killed over several years by a serial killer now on death row.
But first it served as evidence against Anthony Sowell: In June 2011, jurors walked through the house wearing face masks to ward off the smell of decay as Sowell’s trial got underway.
That house also had to be protected before trial from people furious at Sowell.
As with the Sowell house, both prosecutors and the defense will want Castro’s home still standing until the trial ends, said Michael Benza, criminal law professor at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University.
“The prosecutors are going to want to preserve it so they can take jurors into it to view, and the defense would want it preserved so at least they could do their own investigation,” Benza said.
It’s unlikely the house would be needed once the trial ends; typically only evidence like weapons or fingerprints are preserved for appeals, he said.