Cleveland kidnapping: why did it take a decade to find them?

THE RESCUE of three kidnap victims from a house in Cleveland, Ohio after a decade in captivity raises questions about how the young women could be held against their will without the police and community solving the case. A brief press conference in Cleveland today threw little light on their ordeal and why they could not be rescued before.

How were they discovered? When Ariel Castro, one of three brothers arrested, went out to eat at a local McDonalds yesterday afternoon, Amanda Berry started screaming from behind the locked front door at 2207 Seymour Avenue: "Help me get out! I've been here a long time!" Nextdoor neighbour Charles Ramsey heard her cries and with another man kicked in the door. Berry crawled out, bringing a girl aged four or five with her. Police were called and found two other women, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight.

  • Kidnapped Amanda Berry's call to 911 operator – video
  • How I rescued Amanda Berry by Charles Ramsey – video

Who are they? Amanda Berry, now 27, disappeared in April 2003 on the eve of her 17th birthday after calling her sister to say she was getting a lift home from her job at Burger King. Gina DeJesus, now 23, was 14 when she vanished in 2004 on the walk home from school. Her mother, Nancy Ruiz, has said previously that she believed Gina was taken by human traffickers. Both women's cases have been covered widely by the Cleveland Plain Dealer and other local media over the intervening years. The case of Michelle Knight, now 30, is different: she left home in 2002 of her own accord, apparently angered when local authorities removed her son into care.

Are the women all right? According to Cleveland police, all three have been examined in hospital and appear to be in good health. However, the exact nature of their ordeal is not yet known. Some media suggest they may have been held in chains hanging from the ceiling. Early reports suggest Amanda Berry may have had a child during her years in captivity. When Charles Ramsey found her, she said of the little girl with her: "This is his daughter" - an apparent reference to Ariel Castro.

Is this the longest kidnapping case in the US? No. Jaycee Lee Dugard, who was kidnapped near her family home on South Lake Tahoe in 1991, was held by Phillip Garrido for 18 years until her rescue in 2009. She had two children in captivity, both fathered by Garrido. He was sentenced to 431 years imprisonment.

How did the Cleveland kidnappers get away with it? This is the mystery. Neighbours say they have never seen any of the three young women and describe how Ariel Castro would always park his motorcycle or pickup truck behind the house and enter through the back door. House windows were blacked out. According to the Daily Mail, Charles Ramsey said there were no signs any women being hidden in the house. "I've been here a year," he said. "I barbeque with this dude [Castro], we eat ribs and what not and listen to salsa music." Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said yesterday: "We have many unanswered questions regarding this case, and the investigation will be ongoing."

Is it true the police once visited the house? The Mail reports that child protection services were sent to 2207 Seymour Avenue in 2004 when Ariel Castro, then a school bus driver for the city, inadvertently left a young boy on a bus when he returned it to the depot. Officers visited the house but, getting no answer, left and did not return. It is possible all three young women were incarcerated there at the time. This evokes similar anecdotal evidence from the kidnapping of Jaycee Lee Dugard (above). · 

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