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Destroying Ariel Castro’s House — A Ritual Cleansing?

The demolition also serves the practical effect of discouraging sympathetic creeps from trolling a traumatized neighborhood.

by
Sarah Hoyt

Bio

August 12, 2013 - 12:00 pm

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The Telegraph wonders why so much effort was put into demolishing the house where school bus driver Ariel Castro kept three young women prisoners in vile and degrading conditions for ten years:

The destruction of the house in Cleveland, Ohio, where three women were imprisoned for more than 10 years by Ariel Castro, a former school-bus driver, is a bizarre undertaking. There is no question that terrible things happened within those walls, that the three young women were deprived not only of their freedom but of their dignity, reduced to featureless sexual playthings for their jailer, a man whose desires were vile and unpredictable. He was arrested, charged, tried, found guilty, and last week was sentenced to life in prison, plus 1,000 years. That is as it should be, and justice has been demonstrably met.

But what is meant to be achieved by removing the house in which the crimes were committed? The house is merely the décor to those crimes, and cannot in itself be considered part of the wickedness that corroded the lives of its inhabitants.

They intimate that the immediacy of the destruction within days of Ariel Castro’s conviction makes the action a sort of ritual cleansing. They go on to mention several other murder houses in the UK and the US — including Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment building — which were destroyed following the trial of the inhabitants for heinous acts of murder, torture or imprisonment.

There is, however, no mention of the most practical reason to destroy such houses. The community in Cleveland where Ariel Castro’s house was located is a low-income community which neither needs nor wants the kind of attention and visitors brought on by curiosity seekers who would flock to the place.

Most of those visitors would be harmless, of course, the sort of people who keep books about Lizzie Borden an evergreen genre and who pay money to spend the night in the Borden house, which is now a bed and breakfast.

But given the sensational and sexual nature of Ariel Castro’s crime, how many of those attracted by the house would be drawn by a frisson of sympathetic interest? I know if I were the mother of a daughter in the neighborhood I’d feel far less safe with that type of attraction down the street.

So while demolishing the house might serve as a ritual cleansing — humans are, after all, very much creatures of ritual — it also serves the purpose of denying curiosity seekers, perhaps not all of them innocent, a focus for their prurient curiosity.

****

Photo copyright Jill Battaglia, shutterstock.com

Sarah Hoyt lives in Colorado with her husband, two sons and too many cats. She has published Darkship Thieves and 16 other novels, and over 100 short stories. Writing non-fiction is a new, daunting endeavor. For more on Sarah and samples of her writing, look around at Sarah A. Hoyt.com or check out her writing and life blog at According to Hoyt.com.

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All Comments   (16)
All Comments   (16)
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48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
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48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Reason 3: As a distraction from appalling police incompetence.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am reminded of a story years ago where an armed man invaded an Amish schoolhouse, kicked out the teacher and the boys, blockaded all the windows and doors, raped all the girls, then killed them and himself before the police could gain entry. After the event, the community chose to have the schoolhouse demolished and the land returned to that state of being an open field, so you couldn't tell by looking at the place that there was ever a building there. They didn't even put up a marker or memorial. They dealt with their grief in other ways.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Castro's house in Cleveland had been under 24-hour watch by police due to arson threats. The average home price in the area is under $30K. The cops would rack that up fairly quickly. Simple cost/benefit issue.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not to mention it looked in pretty shabby condition. Why not have a nice little park on the spot instead?
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's not like Cleveland is short of cheap housing.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I never would have thought about these places attracting visitors - I figured it was simply for property values. What normal person would want to buy an infamous house? Apparently "normal" is the key word here.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
They attract visitors for the same reason that people buy the paintings of John Wayne Gacy. There's a disturbingly large subcutlure that idolizes this kind of evil. Given the singular nature of his crimes Castro's house would be like Graceland to such people. The neighborhood would suffer accordingly.

Then again, an argument could be made that his neighbors deserve to put up with such visitors as punishment for being so blind and apathetic as to allow the crimes to happen in the first place.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
They don't attract ordinary buyers, just ghouls. "Normal" is the key word. I think the truth lies somewhere between Sarah Hoyt's article here and that of Brian Masters. Sarah Hoyt is quite right that there is a practical issue to be addressed, first and foremost. No neighbourhood needs any kind of "attraction" that attracts outsiders for all the wrong reasons.

I recall the West case, to which Masters refers (it was so horrific that it's impossible not to, for anyone who saw the news story at the time), and I remember that the explicit reason for demolishing the house, which had become a catacomb for the Wests' victims, was to prevent the place from becoming a perverted kind of shrine. The ghouls weren't going to be gawping and then laying flowers to the victims; they would just be gawping. Plainly, no-one, other than one of the ghouls, was going to contemplate buying the property after every appalling thing that had gone on inside it.

Hoyt is wrong, though, to the extent that she denies that a demolition of that type can't also be cleansing, in the way Masters suggests. Surely, removing the presence of the ghouls is a form of cleansing, in itself, isn't it?

The irony is that the Telegraph's article ends with the observation that...

"Brian Masters is the author of 'Killing for Company: the Case of Dennis Nilsen’ and 'The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer’"

I've never read any of his books, but I can't help thinking that, given his choice of subject matter, Masters is contributing to the existence of the kind of sick individual who would go to Gloucester, to gloat at the place where the Wests murdered, or to Cleveland, to see the Castro house.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is pretty common. I know the apartment building in Milwaukee Dahmer lived in was torn down, 1) to prevent families and friends of victims from having to see it, and 2) to prevent it becoming a shrine for the weird.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka house in St Catherine's (where many of the brutal torture and rapes took place) was torn down in 1995. I believe it was torn down for the reasons you mention.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Plus, some home buyers have "dealbreakers" about houses they wish to buy. I'm pretty sure the majority have "not the scene of horrific crimes" on the list.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've heard that realtors have to disclose to prospective buyers if a property has been the scene of a horrific crime but I'm not sure if that law is in effect in only certain cites or states or applies to all 50 states.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
There is a case in New York State where a property seller was dinged for not disclosing the house he had sold was haunted (as he had advertised it as such before selling it)!
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Some states have the opposite rule, that you need not disclose things like that.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
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