On Sept. 3, convicted rapist Ariel Castro hung himself with a bed sheet in his cell at an Ohio correctional facility. He was barely one month into a jail term that would last for the remainder of his life, without parole, plus another 1,000 years. His sentence was part of a deal to which he agreed to plead guilty to 937 criminal counts of rape, kidnapping and aggravated murder for the abduction, imprisonment, torture and rape of three women — Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus.
Castro forcibly kidnapped all three women between 2002 and 2004 and imprisoned them for years in his home, a ramshackle chamber of horrors in which he locked his captives in brutal conditions to be victimized at will. On Christmas Day, 2006, Amanda Berry gave birth to Castro’s daughter; Castro forced Knight to aid in the delivery and threatened her with death if the child did not survive. Castro kept the daughter as his own captive, sometimes showing pictures of her to friends as a child he had with a girlfriend. On May 6, 2013, Amanda Berry managed to escape and run to the house of a neighbor. The man contacted authorities who swiftly rescued Knight and DeJesus. Berry’s daughter was six at the time.
Castro’s case made national headlines, as the disappearance of his victims had already been an ongoing subject of media interest. As details of Castro’s crimes came to light, the utter monstrosity of his deeds shocked and outraged an entire nation. Castro pled guilty to his crimes, but at his July 12 sentencing he spoke for 20 minutes in a vain attempt to portray himself as a good person who suffered from sexual addiction, and who had never really hurt his captives. Castro received the punishment he deserved but had no intention of accepting it, and successfully committed suicide.
As part of his plea deal, the home in which he kept his captives was demolished some two weeks after Castro’s sentencing; DeJesus’ aunt operated the crane that took the first swings at the house. And even though Castro’s victims have stayed far from the media spotlight, fundraising efforts have collected more than $1 million dollars on their behalf to aid in their transition to normal life. For those who have suffered as they have suffered, though, what can ever be normal? They were to have the solace of knowing their tormentor would spend the rest of his live paying for what he did. But Castro denied them even that, rejecting the punishment he deserved in the only way he could. Surely, if he could have run, he would have.
Readers of this obituary column have sometimes criticized the choices of the people who are profiled here. Why should a postulant aberration of humanity such as Ariel Castro receive notice in a national publication when in the time since the previous issue of National Underwriter went to press, more than 400 persons who led laudable, distinguished lives also died? Persons such as Japanese industrialist Eiji Toyoda, English journalist Sir David Frost, National Audubon Society chairman Donal O’Brien and WWII Jewish resistance fighter Shalom Yoran?
The answer is simple. So we remember. Not long after serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer died in prison, the Milwaukee home where he committed his crimes was demolished. Today, my children have come to me seeking clarification that Dahmer was in fact real, and not an internet hoax, as their schoolmates insist. Milwaukee’s efforts to erase a monster from its own history have fueled the notion that the monster never truly existed at all. With Castro gone, with the place of his crimes gone, will he too become just a story? If we let that happen, we disregard the depths of his victims’ suffering, and we ignore the fact that all around us, there may be evil. And there is only one defense against such evil: Eternal vigilance. Even when we would rather not look upon the darkness, we must.