“You’re not going to get out of that box until I tell you to get out of that box!” Castro yelled, according to Caraballo.
He liked to play power games, Caraballo says. He’d act as if he were leaving, then sneak back into the house and monitor the phone line from an extension in the basement. If Figueroa called anyone, he’d be furious and beat her. As far back as 1993, Ariel Castro was charged with domestic violence against Figueroa, but a grand jury declined to indict him and the case was dropped.
Figueroa was in and out of domestic violence shelters, her sister says. But she always went back to Castro; she did it for their four kids, relatives say. It was a cycle. Beatings. Fleeings. Returnings.
Relatives lost track of how many times the police were called. “Vienen y se van (They come, and then they leave),” Figuero’s father, Ismael Figueroa Sr., says with a wave of his hand.
The couple separated for good sometime in the mid- to late-1990s, but that was not the end of the violence. As late as 2005, Figueroa got a protective order after Castro broke her nose, fractured her ribs, dislocated her shoulders and struck her so viciously that a blood clot formed in her brain, according to court records. She said Castro had threatened to kill her and her children, but the order was rescinded three months later for reasons that are unclear from court records.
Violence also spread into the next generation. The daughter of Castro and Figueroa — Emily Castro — is serving a 25-year prison sentence in Indiana after being convicted of stabbing her baby with a knife in 2007. Emily Castro thought she’d succeeded in killing the child, telling her mother, “She’s gone,” according to court records. But the 11-month-old survived.
In the years before and after Castro and Figueroa split up, relatives would occasionally go over to the house on Seymour Avenue. And it was a place that made them uneasy.
Sometimes Castro wouldn’t let them go beyond the kitchen, as if he were hiding something. And there was Castro’s creepy, flesh-colored mannequin. It had unruly hair and long eyelashes, and sometimes Castro would dress it up to make it look more realistic. He would leap out from behind closed doors with the mannequin, startling his nephew, Angel Caraballo, to the point of tears when he was less than 10 years old. “I hated it,” Caraballo says.
Windows in the house were nailed shut. Long before police believe that Castro began kidnapping girls and chaining them in his basement, relatives were beginning to call his place the “prison house.”