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