I’ve spent most of my police career in Los Angeles working in similar neighborhoods, and even in those that genuinely are “tight-knit” there are always those few individuals who, like Ariel Castro, are themselves at varying stages of coming unraveled. I’ve arrested murderers who had been living right under the noses of people who couldn’t bring themselves to believe that their friend, neighbor, or even family member had shot, stabbed, or bludgeoned someone to death. Once he washes the blood off his hands, your typical murderer looks much the same as anyone else.
Did the police make mistakes in their handling of the three women’s disappearances? Perhaps. Michelle Knight’s name was dropped from an FBI database of missing persons only 15 months after her disappearance, but there is little cause to believe her continued presence in the database would have led to her recovery. After all, Amada Berry’s and Gina DeJesus’s names were in the same database the entire time they were held, to no effect at all. And as for those who say the police should have done more to find the women, one must ask: What more could they have done? In all three abductions the police had no witnesses to describe a suspect and no crime scene from which to pluck forensic evidence. And there was nothing about Ariel Castro that would have offered police cause to suspect him in the cases or to search his home.
No, it isn’t easy to spot the evil person next door. Witness the various characterizations of the Tsarnaev brothers, the Boston Marathon bombers, whom most acquaintances described as ordinary young men incapable of such a horrific crime. And now we know that the brothers have been implicated in a 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Mass., not far from the Watertown neighborhood where the elder brother was killed in a shootout with police and the younger one was captured. How many of their friends suspected they were such cold-hearted killers? How many of the strangers they encountered every day saw even a hint of the darkness in their souls? None of them, I’m sure.
So it is with Ariel Castro. Yes, now that he’s been identified as the proprietor of the Seymour Avenue Dungeon, his neighbors are making claims that they suspected him of bad things all along. There was a naked woman chained up in the backyard, went one report, but the police failed to investigate. All of these tales were concocted after the rescue, police say; there was nothing about Ariel Castro or his house that would have offered the slightest hint at what he was doing behind his closed door.
Ariel Castro is accused of unspeakably evil acts, but like the Tsarnaev brothers, like that murderer I arrested years ago, like all those killers on the loose in Chicago and most other cities you could name, he went unrecognized until the evidence of his crimes leapt out and grabbed someone’s attention.
Not every criminal — or even every murderer — sinks to the level of depravity occupied by the likes of the Tsarnaev brothers and Ariel Castro. But consider: The Boston Globe reported that police solved 43 percent of the city’s murders in 2012, leaving 57 percent of the killers out and about and free to kill again. In Ariel Castro’s Cleveland the police do a better job of things, with a 2012 murder clearance rate of 69 percent, but that still leaves 31 percent of its killers on the loose. And in Chicago, a mere 132 of the city’s 507 murders that occurred in 2012 were solved, for a clearance rate of just 26 percent. That’s a lot of killers running around out there going to restaurants and the movies and partaking in all the other pleasures the less homicidally inclined enjoy, maybe even sitting in the theater right next to . . . you.
Enjoy the show.